Women in Science and Technology: Feature Interview with Lucrezia Pirani (Head of Product, Global at MarketForce)
During the recent celebrations of International Day of Women and Girls in Science and Tech, celebrated on the 11th of February, we had a sit down with one of our very own Lucrezia Pirani to understand why is that despite the progress that has been made in the industry there is still a gap in terms of representation and pay. She also gave us some insights on how we can continue moving in the right direction as well as the advice she would give to women or young girls looking to get into the industry. Here is what she had to say:
What role do you play at MarketForce and what does your work entail?
I am the Head of Product, on a global level. I supervise the process of our product development, from user research and product discovery, product design and software development, to testing and release. I act as the bridge between the end user, the other departments (sales, operations, customer experience, etc) and the engineering team, with the ultimate goal of providing the best product to our customers. Finally, I also supervise product training and product support.
What prompted your interest in the tech industry?
Tech in Sub-saharan Africa has brought disruptive and radical changes, filling the gaps caused by the lack of infrastructure. This is what attracted me to the tech industry, especially in Africa.
…And the career?
As for the career in product management, what I particularly like about it is that you get to see all the aspects of the business, both the commercial and technical side of it. Product management is a very complex role, which requires a deep understanding of the business context and of the company’s value proposition, but also the knowledge of a quite diverse range of skills and competencies. Some of these include: human centred design, project management, agile development, sales and marketing tactics, route to market strategies, and customer experience. I love the complexity of the role
What do you love about being a product manager?
What I love about being a product manager is that you get to influence people without having formal authority over them. Normally, software engineers report to the Tech Lead and not to the Product Manager. However, it’s the product manager who needs to guarantee the smooth work of the engineers and the timely delivery of the product roadmap. I find this dynamic most interesting.
What makes you proud to be a woman in the tech space?
It makes me proud to testify, through my experience, that it is perfectly possible for women and girls to have a successful career in tech.
What do you think is lacking in the tech space that could encourage other women to join the industry?
It is always hard to challenge the status quo. Since the tech industry has been strongly male-dominated for a long time, I believe that many women, even if interested and capable, are afraid to put themselves out there, and to take their “sit at the table”, to quote Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (see Lean In, 2013). They feel insecure and suffer from imposter’s syndrome, thinking things like “I will never succeed in this role because men are usually better at it”.
This is a double-edged sword. Let’s take the role of a software developer. It so happens that both recruiters and employers are unconsciously biassed towards hiring men for the role, because we have it ingrained in our culture that men are more naturally inclined for tech roles. At the same time, the women themselves will think the same, so they either don’t even start a career as a software engineer, or even if they have already studied for it, they will be less confident and less aggressive than men when applying for jobs, thus sabotaging their own chances of success.
Who then ‘bears the cross’ of ensuring that there is a change in how things are done?
First of all, we need to understand that this is not the women’s fault or the men’s fault. Throwing blame will not help anyone. We need to start from understanding that these stereotypes and biases are mostly unconscious, coming from our cultural heritage and strongly ingrained in our mental constructs. So the first step is raising awareness around them. Every woman and every man, every teacher and every student, every recruiter and every candidate should always question oneself: “Am I thinking that this male candidate is better for this role than the female candidate because it’s true, or because my cultural baggage makes me biassed towards women in this particular situation?” And the answer does not always have to be the second one. The important thing is to ask ourselves that question.
Second of all, we need to encourage women in tech or women who want to pursue a career in tech to take their ‘seat at the table’. This can be done in many ways and should be done from an early age. For example, schools should continue organising fairs, seminars, workshops or even mentorship talks curated specifically for girls looking to get into tech. In the work environment, companies should be very intentional in searching for female candidates for their technical and engineering roles, by getting in touch with female tech communities and associations, asking specifically for female referrals, and by having targets in terms of man/woman ratio in their engineering department.
Once again, the goal is not to discriminate against men at the advantage of women, but to find those women who are interested and skilled in tech roles and help them to come forward, to feel safe and confident in the fact that they are just as capable as men.
Final remarks: what advice would you give to a woman looking to join the tech space and build a career out of it?
Be confident and aggressive. The world is your oyster. No one is going to give you anything. Take it for yourself.
Don’t think you need to tick off every single point of the job description in order to apply for the job. Just try it out.
Don’t be afraid to ask for support or mentorship to other women, or even to other men. No one is perfect or perfectly prepared, yet women feel that they need to be perfect before applying for a job, asking for a salary raise, or proposing herself for a promotion. Anytime you are feeling insecure, or burned out, or you don’t know how to manage your career together with your private life (especially your children), feel free to talk about it with your colleagues and your manager. Choose a work environment that makes you feel safe doing that.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a salary raise and don’t over justify it. Focus on what you have achieved and give maximum 2 or 3 reasons why you think you have earned it.
If in the work environment or among your peers, you feel that you are being discriminated against because of your gender, or you witness a sexist behaviour or a sexist comment from another man or woman, don’t attack them, but don’t be silent either. I found out that often the best approach is to calmly reason about the fact that their behaviour is gender-biased, by making a compelling example or by asking “Would you have said or done the same thing if the genders were reversed?”
Read “Lean In” from Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most illuminating books on women and careers.