We've invited back Arila Barnes (Ep 14) to discuss her journey as a successful woman in tech. There is something here for everyone including Arila's advice, learnings, what it means to be a mentor or sponsor to a woman, and some specific actions that men can take in order to develop and grow a woman's tech career. We hope you enjoy this episode and share your own thoughts and experiences in our VÜE Community.
Listen to other Navigating the Cloud Journey episodes here.
Jim: Hey everybody, Jim Mandelbaum again, and surprise, I've got a return guest. I brought back Arila. Hi Arila!
Arila: Hello, Jim. Glad to be back.
Jim: So, if you don't remember, Arila Barnes, Head of Software Innovation at Veloce Energy. And the reason I brought her back is because we're going after a different topic. We recently celebrated International Women's Day, and I thought it'd be good to bring her back because I wanna talk about women in tech, but specifically women in tech in the cloud. And Arila with Head of Software Innovation, you're kind of a unicorn, right? When you go to meetings, there aren't very many women in meetings that you attend, I'm assuming.
Arila: Not as many as I wish I can say. It's been getting better. It's been getting better.
Jim: Have we noticed the change?
Arila: Yes. I'm noticing a big change, uh, at conferences. For example, at AWS re:Invent this year, there was a lot of, presenters and sessions led by women, which was not the case five or six years ago. Same thing for, uh, Google events and also, there has been an uptick in women focused technology conferences in the past three to four years.
Jim: So, I guess that, that kind of leads into my first question, which I guess you're answering. A lot of times people ask the question, tech and how has that evolved for women? But I want to change that question to evolve it to say, how has the cloud impacted women in tech? Has it made it better? Has it made it worse? Has it just shifted? What has that done?
Arila: Well, cloud offers many opportunities for women. One is the cloud technology of Software as a Service that it enables. So as a small entrepreneur, a lot of women can take advantage of cloud-based software. So that is widely available and has, grown big time, especially for small mom and pop shops. I have a friend who launched her business, Strong Style Coffee. She's leveraging a cloud software like Instagram, Square for payments and so forth to curate her audience, to keep in touch with her customers, and to grow her business. So that's one way Cloud has advanced women.
Another one is when you're looking more like a technologist. It has created opportunities to accelerate the technology path because so much of the tech is available, whether it's certifications, whether it's cloud services available through the major clouds like Azure, AWS and Google Cloud platform. There's a lot of that content and a lot of free tiers that can be leveraged to upskill yourself or try and prototype, software and also engage in forums on various topics.
Jim: Okay. So, you brought up a couple things, one of which I want to touch upon, which is, you know, we hear the, the glass ceiling, right? And, and I will tell you that, being a man, I have witnessed the same problem where you get to certain points and then you see very few women in leadership and in those roles. What can women do obviously this is all your opinion and I welcome the audience to chime in on whether they agree with you, disagree with you; I'm gonna keep my personal opinions to a minimum cuz I'm clearly not qualified. But what can women do to try to help them develop and get to the next level?
Arila: So, I would turn that around to say like, what are some of the challenges of career growth that I have personally experienced and learned the hard way.
Jim: There you go.
Arila: And would like to share and pay it forward. I think one thing that I missed is focus on value. So, if we just focus on the value and reflect on the value that we bring to a company as a resource, right? And what that is. And reflect on that value and extrapolate what that means for our personal development and for our career advancement. So, kind of level set at the beginning of whatever engagement we add and confirm that value and then build around it. So, at work that will look like: set the goals and objectives for the upcoming year against which to track your performance and achievements.
At home is to negotiate depending on your life stage, what is needed from your partner at home or other activities that you have, whether it's pet care or elder care, or childcare, all of those things, and in your community as well. Sometimes your career goals or the value that you bring is not just what you bring to your day-to-day job. A lot of women are heavily involved in Parent Teacher Associations, HOA associations, or their local government or other volunteer organizations. So that is value they bring as well. And those are also opportunities to practice and grow skills that might not be readily available in your primary job.
Jim: That's really interesting. So, I, I guess some of the things that we keep hearing is that, and, and I'm gonna throw it back at me that we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem. Right? What, what can people like me - and you can go ahead, blame me for it - what are people like me doing that you want us to maybe stop doing? Let's start with what can I stop doing? And then we can start, we'll turn that into, what can I start doing?
Arila: Please don't stop having conversations like this with women Jim, I think this is a great idea making room for women at the table. So, I would say one thing is stop excluding women from strategic conversations just because they happen to be invisible or busy making things run. So that's another blind spot for most women is staying focused on making sure things are running and are done and shying away from visibility opportunity.
Jim: Okay. Now turning that around, what can we start doing to try to enable women in the workplace and making them more successful? I know obviously getting out of our own way, but what can we start doing to help?
Arila: One, key point for anybody's career development is finding mentors, sponsors, and coaches. So, stepping up as a mentor or stepping up as a coach, and most importantly as a sponsor to the women in your organization or people that identify as women, it's a great step forward.
And just to kind of, give a brief example what the difference is: mentoring is more like getting somebody up to speed in an area of expertise. So that is how to get better at your current job or your current task. Coaching is more like guide a person, provide guidance and kind of hear how people plan to navigate where they want to get next, and provide feedback as needed. And the sponsor is actually creating opportunity to leverage the benefits of mentoring and coaching to actually be able to apply or guide to apply to move forward to the next level. And sponsors are hard to find.
Jim: That was gonna be a question. How, how do you find a sponsor? How do you become a sponsor?
Arila: I, I don't know. It's been kind of hard, like usually when I have asked for sponsors, I have ended up with coaches or mentors. And when I didn't ask for sponsors, I ended up with one. And I just would like to say sponsors are the people that like to take a risk on you. So those are the people that like, okay, you know, there's an opportunity to break the Bro network. I'm not gonna bring somebody that I have worked with before and have trusted before. Let me see if I can build a new relationship and a new opportunity for brand new person in at a strategic level in the organization.
So, it is a risk on both sides and it's not going to be a hundred percent success. You might get burnt on the way, but just opening the door, taking that risk and seeing it through no matter what the end result, is very important.
Jim: One of the things that you just said that I'd like to quickly ask is, so as a male, and I love to use the word identify, identify as a male, and we're gonna come back to that. How would someone like myself approach a female and say, "I wanna mentor you"?
How would somebody approach that concept without coming across as arrogant, without coming across as that male, you know... how do you not make that a negative conversation? How do you turn that into I'm here to help you, I wanna help you without coming across in a negative light?
Arila: Well, there's several things that men can do is listen more and make room. For example, if you are in a group of people discussing technology benefits of different approaches, make sure everybody's heard, and also call people if it looks like they're ignoring the opinion of certain people.
Jim: So again, that goes into, we have to take risks ourselves to help you take those risks. Because as you said, if you're not being heard, it is our responsibility to step up and say, hey, Arila had a great idea, let's expand on that. So yeah, I think it's, it goes both ways.
Arila: Yes. And another safe way is to, just offer, hey, like if you have observed certain behavior that you think can be done better, right? There's a room for improvement or, just say, hey, I would like to share some feedback, are you open to it on one-on-one? So never put people on the spot and, kind of put them on the defensive because I personally learned the hard way to step away from being on the defensive.
Jim: Yeah, that is natural, right? I think as a human being, we tend to get defensive at certain times.
Now I, I think it's interesting. So, it's, it's really about, in our careers, we always look for mentors, right? So every one of us at some point in our life has looked to someone that says, hey, I want you to mentor me, or I want you to help me. If you haven't. then you really should. And I think that it goes both ways too. There's a woman that I hold to a really high level, she's amazing and I use her as my mentor. And I think that it can go both ways, right? I think that, that women should be reaching out to men as mentors as well as women. If you've assigned somebody that has done what you want to do, don't be afraid to reach out and ask. I think we as humans are afraid to ask for help. So I think that we all need to do it. I think there's nothing wrong with a woman asking a man, but the man has to understand that obligation. I have two daughters, so maybe I'm a little more open to some of that, because I want to see them succeed and do very well. But I think that we all as human beings have something to do with it.
Jim: Now I'm gonna go back to something you said earlier. And you said it's somebody who identifies as female. So that what that means is inclusivity, right? I personally don't care whether you're male, female, gender neutral, whatever. I don't care. But I think that we as a society do. And I think that corporate America does, even though they say they don't.
So, what can companies do to try to invite more talent that doesn't fit under the, you know, typical male persona in tech. What can companies do to try to attract more diversity?
Arila: What companies can do to attract more diversity is to actually have a program for diversity and inclusion and, kind of have a holistic approach. What that means from an organization point of view, from a succession point of view, from a performance view, and from talent view. And have a strategy around how to reduce unconscious bias in that space and be more proactive. What I've noticed is I've been on both sides applying for jobs, and it's always been like, well, I don't really have all of these qualifications; I only have half of them. And you have heard about that bias towards women. Like if I don't have the entire list as a perfectionist, I'm not gonna even try. So, there's a bias as a woman to, to fight it and say, hey, I'll bring my value on the things that I do know and bring my curiosity and learning expertise for the things that I don't know.
The other way is from companies to be aware of that bias, right? And be a little lenient towards female applicants.
Jim: Interesting point of view.
Arila: This is not the same as affirmative action. It's just because there's so few. It's not like if we have 90% of the applications of women and 10% men, right? Just like trying to address all 90% is not the case. It's when you're trying to get three candidates and you only have like one, and it looks like it's not qualified. Maybe it needs a second look and kind of read between the lines.
On the non-binary situation. What I like about that conversation is that it brings focus on the challenges of being female in the workspace which, especially in male dominated industries. It also brings awareness to the different ways of self-expression. So I think it brings more humanity, more of our human self to the workspace as well. So we are not just robots there to fit a certain uniform, a certain standard in order to bring value. It's like I'm bringing my skills and I'm bringing my full self to work. And I really appreciate people like that because they have made me aware that I don't have to play down my femininity to fit in with men. Right To bring myself, of course in a professional context, right? But still, that's not be removing or conforming, trying to be strictly conforming to a particular norm, but kind of open the conversation for the flexibility of appreciating different styles of self-expression and different approaches.
Jim: I'm gonna interrupt you there for a moment. I'm sorry, but I wanna rotate back on something you said. So, I'm gonna turn this into a little bit of a therapy session now. So, I read an article recently and you touched upon applying for a job and applicants that are applying for a job look at the list of wish lists of, you know, I need to have these following skillsets, and that people are reluctant to apply unless they fit the bill and that most of the time people don't realize that it's just a wish list, right? They're looking for applicants; they're gonna put everything they wish for and hope that you meet some of them.
And so I think it's human tendency to look at the list and say, I'm not qualified; I'm not gonna apply. But the recruiters and the people responsible for trying to hire are saying just apply anyway. But I think as a male, we tend to not worry about it. We just apply and say, well, if we get it great. But I'm gonna go back to something you said is, is do you believe that as a woman you are more inclined to be reserved and say, I don't meet all of those checklists so I'm not going to apply? Do you find that that's the case?
Arila: In my personal experience, I have held myself back not applying for certain jobs because, I most recently was a Java programmer, and they were looking for C++ or vice versa. For example, instead of focusing that a language is a language and it's more about the skills that can be transferable, and the rest is something that can be picked up in training.
So, kind of looking at the lists and figuring out what skills are hard to build and take time, and what skills can be picked up as a refresher is something that has helped me, get over "I don't have everything on the list".
The other thing that I have found very helpful, working with career coaches, is to tailor your resume and also try to connect to the, hiring manager through you cover letter or you through your network. So I believe that the network effect is very powerful these days and reaching out in your LinkedIn network for advice, just like a second set of eyes, hey, I'm, I'm thinking to applying for this such and such position with such and such company, what do you think? Or like having that extra help from the network cheering for you or even just, pushing your resume to the hiring manager's email box versus the automated resume scanning systems of most HR departments makes a big difference. And that also takes an effort. What is good to also do is to curate that network. And one way of doing that is paying it forward, providing LinkedIn recommendations and also asking for recommendations. Again, it's always easy to give and when it comes to well, ask, it's a hard thing but it is a good way of building your network and your credibility as you move through your career.
Jim: Okay, we're at the end of our time here, and I'm gonna ask you to do something just off the fly here. If you had an opportunity to speak directly to all the males listening to this podcast right now, if you ask them one thing right now, what would you ask of them? Here's your chance.
Arila: Who are the women in your succession plan?
Jim: I like that. Okay. Now here's your chance. Being a very successful female in the field, what would you say to the women that are trying to get there? What would you say to them?
Arila: I would say don't give up. There's more and more of us. Look for opportunity to lead, not just, in enterprises, but also nonprofit organizations. And there's multiple paths to success.
Jim: Wonderful. Well, thank you very much for being my guest today. This has been a different kind of podcast. Hopefully people will listen to this and take it to heart, and hopefully if we change one person's life, I'd call it a win.
So, thank you again, and thank you everybody, and I'll see you on the next journey to the cloud.
Arila: Thank you, Jim.