Portrait: Heather VanCura, Chair of the JCP at Oracle

“Technology reflects the people who make it”

Gabriela Motroc
Hands of woman image via Shutterstock

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Heather VanCura, Chair of the JCP at Oracle.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

SEE ALSO: “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Heather VanCura, Chair of the JCP at Oracle.

Heather VanCura, Chair of the JCP at Oracle

Heather VanCura is Chair of the JCP. In this role, she leads the activities of the JCP Program Office including driving the process, managing its membership, guiding specification leads and experts through the process, leading the Executive Committee (EC) meetings, and managing the web site. She is also responsible for the community building activities, such as the global Adopt-a-JSR program, events, hack days, marketing, social media, communications, and growth of the membership. Heather has a front row seat for studying trends within the community and recommending changes. Several changes to the JCP program in recent years have included enabling broader participation, increased transparency and agility in JSR development. Before arriving at the JCP community in 2000, Heather worked with various technology companies.

Heather first became interested in technology when she was in college. She was intrigued with the amount of things computers could do, and the pace of innovation she perceived in technology versus other career fields. She also saw in technology the potential to change the world and she knew she wanted to be a part of that change.

I excelled in computer science, quantitative methods and math in college. Gaining experience and overcoming perceptions were the main obstacles for me to overcome.

Having role models is key

I am quite determined and my family and friends know that I will do anything I make up my mind to do. My grandmother went to college and was a working woman in the 1940s. She provided a role model for me as a strong, independent woman. I think having role models is key for young women interested in technology.

I received a BS in Business and wanted to pursue CS in college in the 1990’s. I was encouraged to focus on marriage instead. I did not let that stop me from entering the field, but there have been these kinds of career obstacles to overcome.

A typical workday

I am Chair and Director of the Java Community Process (JCP) program at Oracle. Since I am a remote worker, I have some freedom, flexibility and creativity in organizing my day to include my professional, family, personal and volunteer obligations.

My day could include chairing a JCP Executive Committee meeting, either in person or face to face, speaking and giving a presentation at a conference, doing a video call or chatting with Java User Group leaders, doing an interview at a conference, organizing a hack day, having a meeting with people on my team, visiting a Java User Group, or working on email at a drop in office or my kitchen table. My work takes me all around the world – Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America. I have not yet been to Australia or Antarctica, but I am working on it! I volunteer for causes I care about such as leadership and coding workshops for girls and women. I also try new fitness activities whenever I find the time.

When it comes to the Women in Tech discussion, Heather believes that tech provides excellent career opportunities for women BUT …

The pipeline of young women entering tech is a problem that starts in the early elementary years, both through cultural gender expectations and well-intentioned but sometimes misguided adults. In addition, the leaky pipeline is just as much a contributing factor.

I see the number of women leaving tech as a huge societal problem — over 40 percent of women leave tech within 10 years of entering the field. The reasons cited are due to sexist, demeaning behavior from male colleagues, lack of prime assignments/opportunities, or being asked to do lower level tasks, jobs, etc. That is unfortunate because I think tech provides excellent career opportunities for women; however, it does take strength, confidence, self-promotion and negotiation skills to excel in this environment.

The challenges

Women are attributed negative behavior characteristics. Women mirroring men’s behavior are perceived as aggressive, abrasive, obstinate or bossy — these are all traits that are attributed negatively to women in the workplace. Men behaving this way are called strong, determined leaders. Still, perception is reality. You learn to walk that fine line, like a tightrope, between being too feminine to be effective, and too masculine to be likable.

Expanding your network is challenging. It is sometimes difficult to network with men in order to gain mentors, sponsors and allies. I have been fortunate to have many sponsors, mentors and allies. This is partly due to the fact that I am comfortable in an environment when I am often one of the only women, and this can be uncomfortable for some women. If you can get comfortable being uncomfortable, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will find it easier. For inspiration, you can draw on one of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing that scares you every day”.

You will be interrupted more often than men. Your ideas may not be heard. You need to plan for this (ally support is key).

Technology created by and with women will solve problems for the entire population, not just a portion of it.

The impact of bridging the gender divide in tech would be societal, cultural and economic. Technology reflects the people who make it.

Technology created by and with women will solve problems for the entire population, not just a portion of it. The impact on Gross Domestic Product would be in the trillions of dollars according to McKinsey’s research on tech diversity. There are often well-intended efforts to support women that try to change them into being more like men, but it is actually what is inherently built into many women that leads to the success of teams with, and led by women — collaboration, teamwork, communication, long term thinking, limiting risk, and more.

The discussion [about diversity] itself will not change anything. While debates and conversations are healthy – and I am happy to see the dialog and attention in the industry – in order to actually change the representation, we need men to take action — actively ally, support, sponsor, mentor and champion women. When men take these actions, we will see change, starting today. See my slides on How to Ally for Women in Tech:

There is a perception that tech is a meritocracy, and this is not necessarily true. Simply doing your job will not get you anywhere; while at the same time, saying yes to everything will not get you anywhere either. You need to be exceptional at your job to survive. In order to thrive, you need to manage perceptions, increase your visibility and expand your influence. To do that, you need sponsors, mentors and allies.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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