Moving on up, Part 1: How Seattle women build their community in the local tech scene

by Quinten Dol
April 23, 2019

While the industry may be improving its record on gender equality — albeit slowly — women in tech still face significant headwinds. A recent study by the American Association of University Women found that, on average, women in Seattle still make $15,000 less than their male counterparts — the largest gender pay gap out of 25 major U.S. cities. In the local technology industry, the picture is even more grim: on average, female techies in Seattle make $33,000 less than their male colleagues.

While Seattle leads the world as a technology hub, it’s obvious that many local companies can do a lot more to leverage, elevate — and properly compensate — the talented women in our community. Luckily, some Seattle tech companies are making leaps and bounds in the right direction.

In part one of a two-part series, we found that despite Seattle tech’s less-than-stellar record on gender equality, the city’s progressive culture; booming economy; and supportive companies and communities have all helped women professionals shape careers in engineering, sales and product, advancing their careers in tech.

 

Check out Part TwoHow Seattle women build careers through community

 

sarah shewell gravity payments seattle tech
photo via gravity payments

While big enterprise businesses get all the customer service and customized offerings they want from credit card processing providers, small businesses often struggle with high fees and the sense that they aren’t valued. Ballard-based Gravity Payments seeks to flip the script on this dynamic, aiming to empower small business owners with rewards programs, point of sale software, e-commerce solutions and credit card processing technology.

Northwest native and Software Development Manager Sarah Shewell says Seattle’s diversity and progressive culture helps women thrive on the local tech scene.

 

What do you think makes Seattle unique as a city for women in tech?

I am a Seattle native and I’ve watched the city evolve into a major tech destination. We are a progressive and culturally diverse city, which I feel makes the community approachable for women. We have a little of everything when it comes to company size and culture, types of technology and education opportunities. There is something for everyone.

I have found the community to be very generous with time if I simply ask — and these are meaningful collaborations.”

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I take advantage of book clubs, lunch and learn sessions and speakers within my company. Being an introvert and mother of two busy kids under 10 requires careful planning for anything outside of normal working hours. I choose events carefully, and look for people to connect with outside of the event. I have found the community to be very generous with time if I simply ask — and these are meaningful collaborations.

The Seattle Design Thinking Meetup always has interesting topics and a diverse group of people. I’ve always left with a new tool I can use in my daily work, and at least one connection. My other favorite is SeattleCoffeeOps, which is a welcoming and highly collaborative community.

 

vcita seattle tech startup
photo via vcita

While there is plenty of client engagement and business management software on the market for enterprises and larger companies, vCita steps in to address challenges unique to small businesses. The Bellevue company helps small businesses manage scheduling, invoicing, billing and marketing operations through its platform, which also integrates with Facebook, Paypal, Google and Quickbooks.

Product Support Specialist Jess Craig and Customer Success Manager Jayne Towles speak highly of the way their company empowers all team members to take ownership of the company’s success.

 

What do you think makes Seattle unique as a city for women in tech

Craig: There is simply more opportunity for women in Seattle. There are way more job and training opportunities here. I know for a fact that is why most of the women on my team chose to make their home in Seattle. My struggle hasn’t been finding a job — it’s been finding a company whose culture I believe in, and one that makes me feel like I can really grow into a satisfying and fulfilling career.

I have met my core group of local tech friends through vCita.”

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

Towles: vCita is a very female-friendly workplace in all tiers of management, and focuses on empowering its staff — regardless of gender — to improve the company and culture as a whole. I have met my core group of local tech friends through vCita, and we’re all female. That speaks to the culture that vCita looks to create within the hiring choices that are made — past and present employees included.

 

skykick seattle women in tech
photo via skykick

As cloud computing becomes the new normal across industries, IT providers and consultants use SkyKick’s software to help small and medium-sized companies with their cloud migration, backups and general management. SkyKick says it can automate up to 90 percent of the work involved in moving operations onto cloud-based servers, and is careful to protect the integrity of the data they’re moving around.

Global Account Director Michelle Tatom has made the most of her company’s willingness to elevate diverse voices to high places.

 

What do you think makes Seattle unique as a city for women in tech?

To begin with, the opportunities are abundant. Since Seattle is a hub for some of the country’s largest tech companies, the region offers women a plethora of career paths. In addition, Seattle fosters a culture that is not only accepting of women but also embraces the contributions and intellect we bring to the tech industry. I’m lucky to work for a great company — in a great city — that recognizes the impact and importance of having a female voice at the table. I encourage my fellow female Seattleites to seize this unique opportunity to live and work in a region where you can make a difference in your company, community and the tech industry in general. Seattle is a great city to test your voice, find your passion, ask for what you know you’re worth and change the face of technology.

I strongly encourage everyone — regardless of gender — to find a mentor.”

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

Whether they’re professional or personal, I feel very fortunate to have some amazing mentors, coaches and role models that I connect with regularly. I strongly encourage everyone — regardless of gender — to find a mentor who can challenge and inspire you while helping you navigate your next step, or just to stand still with you as you enjoy the ride. Over the years, I’ve found that connecting with these mentors and coaches are my best source of information, from keeping me current on industry trends to helping me grow in my career and pushing me outside of my comfort zone. If it wasn’t for these impactful human connections, I wouldn’t be working in the technology industry today.

Microsoft Alumni and the local networking event scene have also been useful resources for me. Sites like Eventbrite are a great source to find events throughout the region that can be an education tool and an opportunity to build and expand your network.

 

realself seattle tech startup women in tech
photo via realself

RealSelf arms its users with the information they need to learn about cosmetic treatments, find a doctor and book appointments, all through its online portal. Users can leave reviews for surgeons, ask treatment providers about procedures and connect with the wider community. Founded in 2006, the company is headquartered in Pioneer Square and ranked as one of Built In Seattle’s 50 Tech Companies to Know in 2019.

Software Development Manager Alyssa Irwin cut her engineering teeth at Microsoft, and has tapped into that community to help her find her feet as a manager at RealSelf.

 

What do you think makes Seattle unique as a city for women in tech?

Seattle has been hugely influenced by the two largest tech companies with roots in the area: Microsoft and Amazon. Both have built a reputation for Seattle, not only as a huge tech hub, but also as a place where you want to have your backend engineers stationed. In the last decade, so much growth has happened in Seattle’s tech sector, many large companies are opening offices here and, more recently, a lot more startups are starting to appear. I think this also had a huge impact on the University of Washington, which recently opened up a school of Computer Science and Engineering to accommodate the large amount of interest in the space. Having a high amount of tech jobs and a university with a growing CSE school, Seattle is uniquely positioned to produce and employ a large number of women in tech.

I have only recently stepped into a management role, but I think it has been helpful for me to participate in mentorship opportunities along the way. ”

 

Are there any local or company programs, networking events, or spaces that have helped you navigate your career?

I grew up in the area, went to UW and up until recently I was working at Microsoft, so much of the networking I have done has been a product of those things. I try to make it over to the UW campus when they are doing research symposiums, and in the past I have gone to mentorship events with the current female students in particular. I had the opportunity to mentor a few interns not just through my team at my previous job, but also through a program that Microsoft has called the New Technologists Program. I have only recently stepped into a management role, but I think it has been helpful for me to participate in mentorship opportunities along the way before making the leap.

I’ve also been fortunate to have been on teams with a higher number of women than average. I have a quarterly dinner scheduled with five other engineers that I met on a previous team — we’ve been doing that for four years now. I also have a number of former managers who I still keep in contact with, and from whom I received a lot of advice from before stepping into this role.

 

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