What it’s like to be a woman in tech — 4 stories from STEM leaders

On November 20, RMCSoft will host a Tech Talk focused on women in technology.

The topic is personal: RMCSoft is a software development company with a team dominated by women. It’s also timely: While the gender gap persists across all STEM fields, North Carolina is bucking the trend. For three years running, the state has ranked No. 1 in the percentage of women in its tech workforce, according to the NC Tech Association. And with thousands more technology jobs to be filled, women could play a critical role in the future of the tech sector, both here and across the country.

Ahead of our panel discussion (which will be held Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 11:30 to 1:30 pm at Advent Coworking), we asked several women in technology to share their experiences and to offer their perspectives on the future. Read their stories below.

To join us at our free Tech Talk, click here.

Caitlin Sellers Castevens is a co-founder of Carolina Women in Tech and the Lady Tech Charmers Podcast. She’s also an inbound sales and marketing specialist for Clariant Creative Agency.

“I’m a fourth-generation Charlottean. Not only did I grow up here, but my mom and grandparents grew up here. I have deep roots in the city and a lot of personal interest in the upward mobility of my community and creating change to bridge the skills gap by creating more equity, diversity and inclusion in the city.

“When I graduated from UNC Charlotte during the recession, I started freelancing to supplement my income. A few years later, I realized it was a business, and I needed to formalize it. But when I started going to networking events to build my business and grow my brand, I didn’t see a lot of people like me. I was often times the youngest and the only female.

“That’s when I became a community organizer for Levo League (a professional development platform for millennial women) and brought it to Charlotte. My goal was to surround myself with amazing, influential women who were seeking an experience centered around mentorship, accountability and growth in their career. I did that for 5 years, but when that organization dissipated, I started teaching at Tech Talent South and got connected to Sharon Jones and Carly Gardiner O’Brien, the women who would become my co-founders in 2017 of Carolina Women in Tech. We began connecting all of the dots: There were more opportunities and events for women, but we saw an opportunity to cultivate collaborative opportunities for women and girls in technology and STEM.

“2018 was the year of setting a foundation, creating infrastructure and building a committed board so that it was a more scalable model. Our intention after acquiring two meetup groups (Charlotte Women in Tech and Carolina Women in Tech) and formalizing the organization into a 501c3 has been to use Charlotte as the pilot and launch pad to establish chapters in other cities throughout North and South Carolina. We now have approximately 2,000 members. We launched our paid membership program including a premium membership for mentorship pairings and resources, and have held 25-plus events since inception. Raleigh is the city next on our horizon.

“When it comes to the landscape of women in tech in the Carolinas, I believe we have grown leaps and bounds, but we still have a long way to go. The conversation around mentorship and helping women and girls develop these resources is just getting started. The role of mentorship is not only creating confidence for mentors and mentees, but it is shifting the bias around aging in the workplace. Cross-generational mentorship has a goal of mutual learning and growth. This will not only help bridge the generation and skill gap between generations but is helping to cultivate a succession pipeline in the process.”

Maria Schneider is the CEO of Dynofit, Inc., which is building smart solutions to physical therapy.

“One of my earliest jobs was at NASA. I was there in a technical position with a background in physics and electrical engineering. One of the secretaries confided in me that she had come to NASA to find a husband and that I was being smart in doing the same. She assumed I wanted a husband. I did not. I wasn’t offended. She was not commenting on my ability as much as her own world view.

“I’ve never construed those types of interactions as negative. Often people are speaking from their experience rather than prejudice. People’s perceptions change as the world around them changes, and I am part of changing the perceptions of the people I interact with.

“When I was a kid, I had a refrigerator magnet that said: ‘Anything boys can do I can do better.’ Women can succeed in male-dominated environments like technology by excelling at the same skills and operating in the same environments. Most of science, math and computing was invented by men, and the environment tends to be more masculine. As a result, STEM subjects often seem intimidating, dry or boring to women, leading to fewer female entrants to the field. The next frontier is to bring traditionally feminine qualities to the development of technology and create innovative, feminine high-tech environments. As a tech startup entrepreneur, I see many women choosing to do it their way with their companies and succeeding. I hope this will be the legacy we leave for the next generation of women.”

Olga Muller is the business development director at RMCSoft and an active member of Charlotte’s tech community.

“I can’t say my career is typical of a tech person. I took an over 10-year break after moving across continents and landing with no network. During that time, I tried on various roles: I got to be a college instructor, interpreter, newspaper editor, marketing consultant, math tutor. I thought the period of disconnect from the world of technology meant an end to my career. Yet, having an opportunity to return on the business side has proven I was very wrong. Those experiences enhanced my understanding of the true purpose of technology and increased my value as a tech professional.

“I can honestly say that I would have never made it as far as I did if it wasn’t for other women. For the majority of my career — technical or not — all of my bosses were women. When I was a recent graduate, it was a C-level female who gave me a chance to prove myself when I suggested creating and taking over a large internal process development project. It was another female — my IT manager, a highly accomplished and talented person — who taught me to embrace my femininity and use any prejudice to my advantage.

“Women rarely wear just one hat. Outside of their professional environment, they are all caregivers, teachers, problem solvers, cheerleaders, household executives, financial planners, and so much more. I don’t have to go far for inspiration. Every accomplished woman has a story worth learning. One just has to look around and care to learn more.”

Neeta Kirpalani is a founder and healthcare strategist at NK, a boutique healthcare consulting company focusing on strategy development execution.

“I sought a career in technology, and I am proud to be a woman in tech. By being inclusive and collaborative, I’m able to bring a unique and diverse perspective to my clients. I’m also a listener, and in a field that is frequently dominated by those who are the loudest or the most tenured, that has proven to be a key asset.

“By and large, one of the biggest areas of opportunity in technology is to bring more women to the table. It’s not enough to work side by side with other women in tech in Charlotte. We need to empower these women and provide them with advancement opportunities in their careers so that they can serve in leadership roles and sit on boards of directors.”