The lack of women in technical roles stems from the lack of mentors & skills-based training
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Nancy Wang, CEO & Co-Founder of Advancing Women in Product (AWIP).
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Nancy Wang, CEO & Co-Founder of Advancing Women in Product (AWIP).
Nancy is an experienced enterprise software product manager and VC. In 2017 she joined Rubrik, a billion-dollar unicorn startup company invested in by Lightspeed, Greylock, Khosla, and IVP. As the company’s first female product manager, Nancy currently leads core product lines and is working on a stealth product line to be launched in 2019.
Prior to joining Rubrik, she was also one of the only female product manager at Google, where she led product development for the Google Fiber network monitoring platform. Nancy is passionate about diversity and is an avid supporter of women empowerment in STEM, which led to the creation of Advancing Women in Product, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing equal opportunities in tech for men and women. Nancy graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied engineering, European history, and biotechnology.
What got you interested in technology?
I developed an early interest in technology – my father was an engineering professor and my mom is a math teacher. Growing up in the Midwest, while I was mandated to take home economics classes (learning how to take care of children, cook, and sew), I was always more drawn to the ‘shop’ class – where we could build and solder. In addition, I was also active in my school’s Science Olympiad (once ranked in the country for entomology), Academic Decathlon – and led both teams to place at state. The very apparent gender divide growing up (women were taught to pursue domestic careers, while men taught to be the breadwinners of the family) is what actually inspired me to pursue engineering in college.
I was very fortunate to have come to Google by way of referral from a classmate from college. At the time, I was in technical consulting at Deloitte in Washington, DC and from the way she described Product Management, it seemed like the perfect career: solving problems with technology, talking to customers and validating hypotheses, and launching products that users love! 3 months and 8 interviews later, I landed my dream job at Google Fiber, charged with bringing connectivity to millions of Americans and US Businesses across the country. Along the way, I think the biggest challenge was the lack of role models (women who I could identify with, who were in leadership or key roles) – and while I was super fortunate to have had the awesome male mentors and role models, I was determined to overcome that disparity for others. This then became my inspiration to start Advancing Women in Product (AWIP), a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring equal opportunities for women and men in technical leadership roles.
A strong support system
I was fortunate to have a family where education and being in a technical profession was encouraged. However, given the fact that I attended college far away from home (I grew up in the Midwest and went to UPenn in Philly), I was lucky to have found amazing mentors every step of the way. I recall my first technical internship at DuPont – where my manager (who holds a PhD in organic chemistry) was a great champion of women in STEM, to women tech leaders who continue to inspire me today. If I had to name one role model, it would be Connie Chan, who was recently promoted to General Partner at Andreessen – not only is she a role model for women of color, but she has also had success in technical roles in the US and China.
When I was young and growing up in conservative America, gender determined a large part of what you would do in life, starting from the mandatory ‘home ec’ classes I took from a young age. It’s hard to imagine what you could become if everyone surrounding you followed the gender status quo of men being the breadwinners and women rearing the children. So it was an unstated bias that had me believing when I was young, that my track wasn’t in academia or having a career, but at home with the children. However, growing up and attending UPenn for college exposed me to many strong women who were very accomplished in their careers – which is why I wholeheartedly believe in mentorship to grow in your career. A great mentor can be a sponsor for you: whether it’s in your career, how to navigate organizational dynamics, or how to balance the demands of family and career.
A day in Nancy’s life
Currently, I lead product at a fast-growing startup called Rubrik. Since we sell to Fortune 500s and large enterprises, the best way to describe Rubrik is to liken it as that service that backs up your files and data from the iPhone and provides a point-in-time copy for when accidental file deletions or you break your phone. Now expand that to data center environments, and that is Rubrik. A typical workday for me is a combination of calls with customers and our sales team, to briefing leadership on the status of various product development efforts (I lead 8 product lines at Rubrik), to working alongside engineers in technical spec scoping.
I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to inspire other women in product and tech, both through 1:1 mentoring and through my efforts with Advancing Women in Product (AWIP), a non-profit that I founded to change the status quo for women. I’ve discovered that I can have a big impact by training women on key product skills and guided exec mentoring, and my vision is that via my efforts, I will see many faces like mine in 10 years in technical product management roles.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I believe the lack of women in technical roles stems from the lack of mentors and skills-based training, which are two gaps that AWIP aims to solve. Many women job applicants are unsure where they can obtain quality skills-based training, and can be discouraged from lack of proper guidance and mentorship.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
The answer to this question really depends at which level we’re measuring impact. From the education perspective, I’m really hoping that organizations such as Girls Who Code and other programs will encourage more women to pursue engineering degrees in college. And I’m optimistic that we’ll see higher rates of women enrolling in STEM programs in the next 3-5 years.
If we were to switch perspective to women in technical leadership, I think that may require a longer time to get more women in the door, to have enough candidates who will eventually make it through the process to obtain positions in leadership. It’s often said that people will hire candidates who look and behave like them – so it becomes necessary for more women today to get into positions of leadership, so that they can bring up the next generation.
Women in STEM
There are many studies that point to the fact that having more women on boards will increase a company’s revenue (see HBR study). Fundamentally, I believe that women think and approach problems differently from men, which makes logical sense that different opinions will help you avoid certain risks and have a more holistic understanding of the problem.
Tips & tricks for women who want a career in tech
As a woman, you can succeed in tech just like any other industry – every industry has its specific nuances and specialized skills, and tech is no different. However, some unconscious biases can exist – the representation of women in technical roles is low and there is often a lack of women role models at the top. That is why honing your skills and getting a supportive mentor will make all the difference.