Susana Prestel, an IT Specialist at IBM Vienna, shares her personal experience as an IBM woman in a technical career, and her advice on how to succeed.
I studied informatics in the ‘80s, a time when there were more women in the STEM fields than we have today. Despite that, we were not many. What counted (and still counts) for me was to be acknowledged because of my competencies, and I did not pay much attention to my minority status. After university, I joined IBM where I get to enjoy my job a lot due to the many new technologies I could learn, many roles I could develop myself into, and the lots of great IBMers and clients I had a chance to engage with.
How IBM Supports Women in Technology
IBM has a continuous commitment to diversity. A worldwide Women in Technology (WIT) program was established a long time ago to support the development and career progress of female technical employees. Although worldwide support and overall structure are provided, one key element of our IBM WIT are self-organized WIT activities. As an example, in Austria we setup our WIT@Austria community where we meet regularly to share and discuss diverse technical and soft-skill topics. Additionally we also initiated ‘BLUE&MINT’, a cooperation with the Technical University of Vienna, to exchange with female students in STEM (=MINT) fields. At the DACH level (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) two female colleagues and I started a mentoring and networking program for young female IBM talents. In Europe, we organized an IBM WIT conference this year. There are many ongoing worldwide activities as well.
Networking with Other Technical Women
One of the first topics I heard in regard to WIT was the importance of networking among women. At the beginning, like in my student years, I was skeptical and wondered why it should make sense to focus on connecting to a minority instead of leaving it to chance. But with very few of us, without an explicit environment like our WIT community, I would not have met many great technical women. Thus I would not have had the opportunity to exchange with and learn from female role models who for sure had a positive impact on my development. Ideally, taking part in such WIT activities involves a ‘give-and-take’, for me it is a matter of consciously helping each other grow.
My Advice for Women in Tech: Dare to Succeed
I can’t say I personally have been discriminated by others because of my gender. For whatever reason – and I think this happens both inside and outside IBM – I was mostly hindered by myself.
In case you want grow in your technical career, my primary advice would be to dare to do so. If deep down you want to achieve more, don’t stop yourself because you may think it is presumptuous and not modest to want it. Preparing yourself emotionally for any outcome is OK; but this is very different to not honestly admitting to yourself that you would accomplish that dream.
Dreaming is about aspirations, visions and hopes. But sometimes wishes and dreams cause fears. Almost everyone has fears and it is important to overcome these fears instead of giving up on your dreams.
I like a (slightly modified) quote from Nelson Mandela “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave (wo)man is not (s)he who does not feel afraid, but (s)he who conquers that fear.”
Susana is an IT Specialist, Technical Expert Council Member for Enterprise Application Development at IBM Vienna
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