In 1970 women made up 8% of U.S. STEM workers. By 2019, the STEM proportion had increased to 27%, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers. That’s progress worth celebrating, and yet there’s clearly still work to be done in attracting women to STEM careers.
We previously examined this issue in the post Revolution Robotics Finds Power in Transformation, featuring Snowflake’s own Rosemary Hua. Now, as we celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8, we convened a panel of three women at Snowflake to discuss their own career paths, and insights they can share about what makes an effective workplace for everyone.
Our panelists are:
- Amanda Hergott, Senior Solutions Architect, who joined Snowflake September 2021
- Shweta Gummidipudi, VP of Enterprise Applications and Data, with Snowflake since August 2020
- Allison Lee, Senior Director of Engineering and Founding Engineer, SQL, joined Snowflake as employee #13 in 2013
Can you share an experience that confirmed that you made the right choice to pursue a career in technology?
Allison Lee: I think it’s a super interesting area; there are lots of opportunities. It’s hard to imagine not being in tech.
Shweta Gummidipudi: I agree. Every time a new intern population comes in—whether it’s with Snowflake or at my previous experiences—I find it really fascinating that most of the female interns connect with me on LinkedIn and write to me that they feel this is an awesome place for them to make their careers, because they see women represented.
I always appreciate that experience. It never gets old.
Amanda Hergott: It was a career that I fell into. It was a natural fit, so I went for it. There’s a feeling of accomplishment around getting to build things and just working with data. I guess my brain thinks in algorithms, it thinks in problems and solutions, and working in tech is a really good fit for that sort of mindset.
Lee: I love hearing all the ways that customers have found to use Snowflake and all the ways they’re using data, which is obviously more ways than I could ever imagine on my own.
Gummidipudi: I think the common theme that kind of ties us ladies together here is that we love to build and create.
I’m customer zero, so everything that Snowflake builds out from an engineering perspective, we get to lay our hands on it first, when it’s fresh out of the oven. It’s amazing to be able to do that.
Was there any one person or one event that helped you get to where you are today?
Gummidipudi: Having had opportunities earlier in my career, where I was given a lot of trust to get things done, along with the flexibility to work on my own clock—I think that really helped me out. I think women are good at juggling a lot of things, and I’ve had mentors, both male and female, who strongly believed in my ability to give back, even within the constraints that I was working under. I think that had a really big impact on my career.
Hergott: It’s tricky because I did not spend most of my career as a woman—I’m actually trans. The mentors I can think of are the women who welcomed me after I transitioned and said, “We’re glad to have you, and eager to help you through what you’re going to face as a woman in the workplace.” When I joined Snowflake, several women reached out directly to welcome me, and I’m so grateful they did.
Lee: If I had to pick one person, I think it would be Thierry [Cruanes], our co-founder, who I had worked with at Oracle for six or seven years. I don’t think I ever would have come to Snowflake otherwise. He’s always been extremely encouraging and helpful.
As you have all progressed through your careers towards leading technical teams, did you observe or experience any management styles and think, “I’m definitely going to do that differently”?
Lee: I’ve met a lot of really technical managers who didn’t necessarily want to be managers. I learned a huge amount from them but realized they were either talked into it or saw it as the best path to advancement.
Aside from being unhappy with their job, in my experience, they try to hold on to being the most technically capable on the team, which always causes conflict.
So that’s definitely something I try to avoid doing. I have a lot of technical expertise in some areas that the team works on, but my goal is to hire people who are better at technical things than I am.
Hergott: I see that a lot as well. I call it the warrior-chieftain mentality, where the strongest developer leads.
There’s always this jockeying for supremacy about who’s the most skilled. It never works out well; it’s this competitive atmosphere, as opposed to mentoring and lifting up.
Managers have different skill sets than technical people, and so I appreciate working at organizations that recognize that. They put the strongest technical people in charge of technical problems, and the strongest “people” people in charge of people. That’s something I always try to be very conscious of whenever I’m put in that role on a team.
Gummidipudi: I think Amanda hit it on the head when she said it is competing versus collaborating.
Where I have enjoyed the most working with my managers, these are individuals who had a way to tap into larger thought pools. They were very non-hierarchical, creating a more inclusive approach for problem-solving and breaking down silos. You get the best outcomes when you do that.
2.4 million women have left the paid workforce due to pandemic-related stressors, according to Pew research. What have you seen that could help that issue?
Hergott: A lot of it is about childcare. When the school is closed, you know who watches those kids—it ends up being women. It’s mostly women who need to work from home, and a lot of employers don’t support that. We’re lucky to be in the tech industry, which can largely go remote. For a lot of industries it’s just not possible.
Gummidipudi: 100% agree, I think we are very fortunate. It’s really, really difficult for people who do not have the option to do that, but are taking care of elderly family members, or younger family members, or who have spouses who are not able to do the same. As a mom I have gone through it— it’s just not easy.
Lee: And I think people need to prioritize work-life balance more than ever. Especially with working from home, it’s so easy to overdo it.
If you have to take care of your kids for part of the day, then you feel like you have to burn the midnight oil to make up for it. And I don’t think that that’s what [managers] are actually expecting. I think everyone realizes it’s a challenging environment, and you have to be reasonable about what people can do.
About a decade ago, a study found that men apply for a job when they only meet 60% of the qualifications, versus women who will only apply after having met 100%. What do you think is going on there?
Gummidipudi: So, think about that—if a woman only applies for a job when she’s 100% certain that she’s fully qualified, go hire her!
But I think bridging that gap is super important.
How you write your job descriptions, in a way that doesn’t reinforce hardwired biases; how you bring all kinds of marginalized groups into the bigger conversation; how your leadership style doesn’t create fences but creates bridges to include perspectives and experiences … It also fosters innovation: when you have more people with different backgrounds, you have better ideas at the table.
I think it has improved; there are more women in tech now than a decade ago. Is that enough? It’s always an aspirational goal to get us to where we need to be.
Hergott: I have seen some job offerings that list some absolute requirements, followed by some nice-to-haves—instead of making it all one massive checklist of must-haves. I think that’s a really useful thing to see on the job description.
Lee: Yes, and another thing that we’ve done on some of the engineering teams is just having more job descriptions at different levels. At some point, I realized that we had a job description for people who had five years or more experience, and then we had university recruiting, which is like zero to two years of experience. We didn’t actually have an explicit role that listed two to five years of experience.
What we found is that people who had two to five years of experience just applied for the five-plus jobs. But if you’ve got this statistic that women are less likely to apply when they don’t match the exact requirements … they’re not going to apply.
So we actually explicitly created a job description specifically for that two-to-five-year range. And, at least anecdotally, I would say that we got a lot more female applicants.
Amanda, as a trans woman you have a unique vantage point on the difference in how men and women experience tech careers.
Hergott: It’s hard to summarize a very long and complex experience. But the short version is, the further I got in my transition, the more I noticed a difference in how people treated me. I had a few explicitly sexist moments—like, I got the “Listen, honey” when someone would disagree with me, and that kind of stuff—but mostly it was things like this: I’d be talking to developers and want to know, for example, how this database is designed? How does it work? And they would answer my question by explaining how databases work generally.
I would have to interrupt and say, “No, I’m talking about yours in particular. I know how type-2 slowly changing dimensions work— I’m asking how you did it.”
That just became really common. And I developed this habit of thinking, OK, this is a new team, I need to go in there and I need to look for an excuse to say something that explicitly demonstrates that I am smart and experienced and know what I’m doing.
Before, I had a lot of experiences where somebody would say, “Do you know about X?” I’d say I’ve heard of X, and they would talk about it as if I were knowledgeable, and treat me like a peer. And then I’d leave that meeting and go Google “what the hell is X?” That’s how I built up a lot of my skill set, just sort of bluffing like that.
But that’s a thing I could do as a man; as a woman, I cannot do that kind of stuff. That’s a privilege that men have in the workplace, just being assumed to be experts.
Lee: That’s an amazing observation.
What message would you give to women who aspire to pursue a career in tech?
Hergott: At the moment, you kind of have to lean into it; you have to put in the extra effort. It’s unfortunate, I wish I had better advice to give, but you have to learn your stuff, and you have to come in and demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about, to show your capabilities.
Gummidipudi: I think it’s great advice and what I would like to add—I wish I could go back and tell this to myself when I started off in my career—just have the courage and confidence to be who you are. There is a reason why you picked this field. Have the courage and conviction to follow that path. I think women sometimes culturally lack the confidence to do that.
Lee: I totally agree with that. I would also add in finding people that you can learn a lot from. Early in your career, that’s the time when the more you learn, it carries you through the rest of your career. And, sometimes the people that you can learn a lot from aren’t the most credentialed or most experienced. So surround yourself with people that you can learn from.