International Women’s Day is on Friday, March 8. Groups and organizations around the world are gathering to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness for women’s challenges and help foster a more equal and empowering environment for women everywhere.
This year’s theme, #BalanceForBetter, is all about creating a gender-balanced world in business, a theme that the men and women at BlueSnap understand well.
As an international company where about half of the senior leadership is women, BlueSnap is not shy about women’s rights. In all of our offices around the world, we work to create a balanced and supportive workplace where both men and women can thrive.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we interviewed several key women at our company. Here’s what they had to say.
What are your thoughts on International Women’s Day in general?
The women of BlueSnap have varied reactions to this important day. Some, like Rachel Trueblood, Senior Vice President of Strategic Partner Relationships, feels that this is a great way to continue the dialogue about diversity in the workplace.
Most agreed, however, that the day is both a time of celebration for women’s accomplishments and a time of reflection for the many challenges we have yet to overcome.
“Such a day would not exist in the perfect world,” said Maria Davidov, Business Intelligence Team Leader. “However, I think that nowadays, International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate how far women have come over the past decades, and most importantly, to examine gender equality problems we still have as a society.”
Cynthia Eisele, Account Manager, echoed this bittersweet sentiment about this special day, describing it as “an excellent way to celebrate the achievements women have made throughout history and those who have ‘broken through the glass ceiling,’” but also a day to spread awareness that “gender disparity still exists in many professions and cultures throughout the world.”
Considering the innumerable other inequalities that exist in the world, Shevie Chen, Senior Programmer, felt that the day overemphasizes the discrimination against women in comparison. “People are people regardless of gender,” she said. “But on the other hand, I do want to empower women, to make them think of themselves as equal (if not better), so I think this day is important.
However, Susan Madden, Senior Vice President of Business Operations, summed it up well when she said, “I am hopeful that we will move toward not just having a single day for [celebrating women], but have it become part of our every day.”
What attracted you to BlueSnap as a company? What does BlueSnap do to support the equality and advancement of women?
As we mentioned earlier, about half of the senior leadership team at BlueSnap is women, which is relatively unique in the industry. It’s clear that women are empowered here. Cynthia put it simply when she said: “women are recognized for their achievements. Women hold executive roles within the company.”
However, most agreed that equality, work-life balance, and recognition of achievement is embedded in the company culture for both men and women.
“What attracts me to BlueSnap is the fact that I have the ability to significantly contribute to company success while working in a warm, friendly environment,” said Maria. “I feel that BlueSnap does not differ between women and men. Everyone has equal opportunities based on their professional skills.”
Shevie voiced the same sentiment, noting instead that “it’s your talent that matters.” It seems that, rather than a concentrated effort to advance women in particular, it’s BlueSnap’s de-emphasis on the gender gap that allows women to truly thrive. “Each person counts tremendously and you can always voice your opinion,” said Shevie. “I feel useful and appreciated.”
Likewise, Susan described BlueSnap as “a meritocracy allowing for advancement based on skill and contribution.” She said that BlueSnap’s energetic, creative culture is “good for people who want to be able to have an impact and learn.”
It’s no secret that women tend to be under-represented in the field of technology. What effect has diversity (or a lack thereof) had on your experience in the tech industry?
Historically, tech has been a profoundly male-dominated industry; in the U.S., women hold less than 20 percent of all U.S. tech jobs, even though they represent more than half of the U.S. workforce.
Shevie has had first-hand experience of this lack of women in tech. “In the past… I was always the only female programmer, or maybe one out of two,” she said. “BlueSnap is the first workplace where there are more, which I am happy about.”
Luckily, the women at BlueSnap have avoided much of the discrimination and bias that the industry is infamous for.
“Since the beginning of my professional career, I was lucky enough to work in companies that support diversity. BlueSnap is definitely one of them,” said Maria. “I believe that diversity (not only gender-based) is a key to creative and innovative solutions and fun work environment.”
Rachel thinks of diversity as a key driver for innovation, too. “When the leadership team or broad swaths of the team are of one gender (or one of anything — nationality, race, background, personality type, etc.), it can be difficult for the ‘outsider’ to naturally participate, contribute and have standing within the team,” she said.
“Something as seemingly insignificant as the small talk that happens in the hallways or before a meeting can make the minority feel even more of an outsider,” Rachel continued. “Meanwhile, there is tremendous benefit to having a diverse team — it brings out the best ideas, new thinking, perspectives, opportunities, etc. Study after study shows that diversity in the workplace leads to higher growth and profitability.”
Where do you think the world stands today in regards to gender equality?
Every woman held a similar opinion about the state of gender equality in the world today: that we’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to be done.
“The fact that we’re still talking about gender equality means there is more work to be done,” said Rachel. “Until every employee/associate can look across the company (and the leadership in the company) they work for and find a fair representation of their gender, race, orientation, etc., we still have work to do.”
“Statistics show that there is still a gap in women’s vs. men’s wages,” noted Cynthia. “Sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace is still very prevalent in all cultures. Many cultures and countries do not provide the same education to young girls as to young boys and much more.”
Shevie noticed this disparity in girls’ and boys’ education as well. “Boys are shown wonders of nature, science, and technology,” she said, whereas girls are more likely to be provide images of fashion, hair and clothes. When society pushes these limiting ideas about femininity onto girls at such a young age, they’re less likely to opt for hobbies and careers in science and technology.
What’s worse, this gender bias continues into adulthood as well. “The society still expects men to be the main providers of the family while women are expected to be the main caretakers of children and home,” said Marie. “Once such perception of gender roles changes, we’ll start seeing much more equality between genders.”
How can we actually push for that change? In Susan’s opinion, “education and awareness are the keys to making sustainable change.”
Likewise, Shevie thinks we should put a greater spotlight on women in non-conventional occupations like business and technology “to show the young girls that they can dream and become whatever they want to be.”
Who are your female role models? Who inspires you to push the status quo?
For the women of BlueSnap, inspiration is eclectic and expansive.
Rachel said that her sources of inspiration have been both positive and negative, but they’ve helped guide her in her life and career: “I have many brilliant women I’ve learned from (both what to do and what not to do).”
“I’m impressed by all women who go out there and follow their dreams while finding the right balance between their careers and families,” said Marie.
“Throughout history there has been women who have represented their ideas and ideals in the face of strong opposition,” said Susan. “I think it is important to take lessons from history to stand for and represent the positions in which you believe.”
One such woman in history is Malala, the young Pakistani activist for women’s education and Nobel Prize winner, whom Cynthia cited as one of her primary role models. “What she has overcome and how she turned a horrific situation into a positive and became such an activist for education and equality for young women is amazing,” said Cynthia of Malala. “Her courage and strength is phenomenal.”
Shevie felt similarly about Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady of the United States, who served as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, and nutrition — while also emerging as a fashion icon: “I admire women in positions of power that do not behave ‘like men,’ but who are confident without being mean to others, and take advantage of their position to mediate between sides and forward good causes.”
However, for Shevie, her primary role model was a little closer to home. “My mother is my role model. I can’t even say she encouraged me to do anything — she just brought me up feeling completely equal and confident in my abilities,” she said. Although Shevie’s mother was a teacher, she encouraged Shevie to forge her own path and do something she was truly interested in. “As a kid, I wanted to work in NASA, to invent something to make the world better. Then I went into the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and was picked for computers. I liked it, and [I’ve] stayed in that field ever since.”
Although women everywhere have cited their mothers as their main role models, Cynthia shows us that the roles can be reversed too: “My grown children inspire me to challenge the status quo. They constantly instill in me that ‘you can do it’ attitude.”
What excites you about the future for women? What scares you?
The women of BlueSnap have a number of high hopes for the future, as well as a number of deep fears. However, as Cynthia said, “we can’t let inequality scare us — we must use it to empower us.”
And empower us, it has. “I think we’re seeing women make inroads in traditionally male-dominated roles and arenas — whether it is the record number of women entering politics, or women CEOs, or women in the military,” said Rachel. However, she worries about the way bias may still cloud the achievements of those women.
On the other hand, Shevie worries about the internal bias and pressure that might interfere with women’s success in the future: “I am worried about the tendency of women to think they have to do everything themselves and be perfect about it — it just means they feel guilt most of the time (and tired all the time), because obviously they can’t do everything.”
“I hope that as women get more involved in politics and higher management, less testosterone will bring more peace,” said Shevie. “I am happy that nowadays young women can become fighters in our army, or technicians, or pilots — almost anything, instead of just making coffee for the male commander.”
Similarly, Maria believes that in the future, “more and more women will be able to fulfil their potential.”
Susan’s positive expectations for the future have been set by the highly successful women of the present.”The women I work with now and those in my extended network continue to impress me with their abilities, creativity and ability to balance work and family. All these women make me excited about the future,” she said.
What have you achieved this year that you’re proud of?
A number of personal and professional achievements have recently brightened the lives of these women, including the birth of Maria’s second son, Zohar. “I’m proud of being able to combine my new role as a mother of two and bouncing back quickly to my full-time, demanding position as BI Team Lead [at BlueSnap].”
Shevie has been sharing her passion for Karate, which she says helped her develop more confidence and a sense of inner peace. “This year specifically, I started helping my Karate teacher with the younger kids and giving a few lessons to the grown-ups as well,” she said. “I’m hoping to be able to give classes to girls and women from difficult backgrounds, to boost their self-confidence and give them tools to defend themselves (physically and mentally).”
What advice do you have for women and girls who are interested in business, technology and innovation?
“There is a place for you!” says Cynthia. “Think of what makes you happy and what motivates you and go after it. Don’t be intimidated by barriers. Find a mentor in your field. Ask questions. Use your voice.”
Use that voice, not just for lifting yourself up, but also for forming a supportive and encouraging community. “There is strength in numbers,” says Rachel. “Pursue your interests, encourage others to do the same, support each other, form a network, find allies.”
Shevie agrees, advising “do not stay at a place that puts you down. Surround yourself with supporting, good people.” She also says to “dream big, learn all you can, get together with other experts and make it come true,” but cautions not to dream so big that you lose sight of reality. “Follow your heart, but also [use] common sense.”
Susan emphasizes taking personal responsibility for your success and taking concrete steps to build your authority and competence. “Take responsibility for your own career and learning,” she says. “Do not expect or wait for someone to give you an advantage — make it yourself. Continue to add to your skills throughout to increase what you offer to a position. Find people that you admire and ask for coaching and mentoring. Have a voice and use it.”
Finally, Maria reminds you that every new achievement made by an individual woman can have a positive impact on the perception of women by society: “Go out there and show what we’re capable of!”