'Women Can’t Be The Only Advocates For Change': Github's Faten Healy On Diversity In STEM

"I was working at a tech conference and one of the attendees approached our booth as he had some questions, but he insisted on waiting for a man to answer the question for him," Faten Healy, Inside Solution Engineer at GitHub tells me a story familiar to many women working in tech.

"When my colleague returned he directed the attendee to me as the most qualified person to answer the question."

I recently spoke with Faten about her work, her mentors, and her hopes for the future.

Faten works closely with the sales team as a technical expert, and one of the best parts about her job, she says, is that she doesn't really have a typical day.

"In a day, I could be developing new client strategies, visiting customers and presenting solutions, speaking at events for internal enablement sessions for my co-workers or teaching the fundamentals of coding." Faten says. "It forces me to push my own limits and think outside the box. It is rewarding to be able to work closely with our customers to resolve and deliver solutions that help achieve their business goals."

How has the industry changed for women in the last 13 years?

I’d start by saying the technology landscape was very different 13 years ago – smartphones, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other technologies were not even created! And while technology has changed, as has the same issues I did when I first joined the workforce 13 years ago, including the lack of female representation and ongoing gender bias.

For example, I was working at a tech conference and one of the attendees approached our booth as he had some questions, but he insisted on waiting for a man to answer the question for him. When my colleague returned he directed the attendee to me as the most qualified person to answer the question.

While these stories are not uncommon for women in tech, I do believe that companies are trying to be more inclusive of women, and feel very fortunate to work for a progressive company that values diversity such as GitHub. It gives me hope that opportunities for women in a male-dominated industry will increase in the near future.

Have you had any mentors throughout your career?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with a handful of amazing men and women in the tech industry. They weren’t always i technical roles, but were embedded within the industry generally. These mentors have supported my career, been great role models for me and have championed the work I do. My current mentor and colleague, Daniel Figucio, Director Solutions Engineering at GitHub, is a huge advocate for me in the business. He is a great sounding board, frequently supports my decisions, however is not afraid to challenge me in a way that helps me learn and develop.

It’s these relationships that have assisted my career aspirations and I am so grateful for their support. As a female in tech, it's important to look out for any opportunities to build a support network of mentors. There are people willing to help, but it is our responsibility to find them.

A mentor once said to me: “Never stay in your comfort zone, always challenge yourself and you will be surprised by how successful you can become”. These words have stuck with me since — they inspired me during a time when I was starting to build my life in Australia and was new to the workforce.

What programs are you aware of to help address the gender disparity in tech - and which are working?

There are some great programs out there which tackle gender disparity in tech, such as Women Love Tech, Women in Digital, Code like a Girl (AU partners), Girl Geek Academy and Tech Ready Women, which I was honoured to speak at recently.

These programs encourage women to learn and develop STEM skills while providing a support network, and are all working towards the same cause in different ways. Some organisations provide great mentoring and networking opportunities, while others promote education resources within an industry where traditionally women may feel like outsiders.

Initiatives like these are a great effort to promote gender diversity, change the culture of the industry and actively closing the skills gap by empowering women with the right information to develop their professionals skills.

Tell me about your short courses - do you have any great stories of upskilling women you can share?

There has never been a better time in history to further educate oneself, and I always encourage people to take any opportunity to upskill that they can.

Many universities offer specialised short courses. I recently participated in a Presentation Skills course at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education which I really enjoyed. There are also many useful online resources for continual education such as Pluralsight, Lynda.com and Coursera.

GitHub is a great platform for new coders to learn from experienced developers, and stay up to date with new coding developments.

There are also many interesting workshops, conferences, meetups and free courses available for the industry. For example, GitHub Learning Lab is an app that teaches budding developers a series of practical exercises on GitHub, with a friendly bot that shares feedback along the way, like a project collaborator would.

The burden to change the industry for women often falls on the shoulders of women - is this fair? Can men be doing more?

It is a sad truth, and to ignite real change, effort is required from everyone involved in the tech industry, as women can’t be the only advocates in this change.

The tech industry prides itself on how progressive it is, but what is lacking is the progression of gender-diversity. The reality is that women are under-represented in technology at every level. We’re seeing women make up a small percentage of the workforce at major tech companies, and an even smaller percentage when it comes to leadership and technical roles.

As a proud GitHub employee, I’m happy to say it is a diverse and inclusive workplace! There

are many initiatives in place to ensure diversity, including an Office of Employee Experience and Engagement team, who is responsible for employee advocacy, inclusion, learning and development, and overall, a positive workplace experience.

If other tech companies begin looking into improving their recruitment strategies, employees benefits and workplace practices, I believe they can attract more women to join them.

What do you hope the future holds for women in tech?

One day, I hope that the gender-diversity issue will be thing of the past. We look forward to a bright future for all women in tech, that provides equal pay, equal treatment and equal opportunities offered in line with men.

Last year during International Women’s Day, a campaign was launched for gender equality to be a reality by 2030. It is my wish that the tech industry can one day lead this charge.

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