Women in Tech: “Technology plays a big role in social justice”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three years ago, we 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 Elizabeth Blass.
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?
Three years ago, we 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 Elizabeth Blass.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Elizabeth Blass
Elizabeth has developed a passion for excellence in customer care with a track record of unmatched energy, responsiveness, and follow-through. Elizabeth believes in positive leadership, innovation, and motivating high-performance teams.
Throughout her career she has distinguished herself with her knowledge and application of sound strategies and planning in customer service management, service delivery, quality and process improvement, and contract compliance. She has been responsible for achieving operational superiority and customer satisfaction in the support of multinational enterprise accounts.
When did you become interested in technology?
I was interested in helping customers first. I started out my career in customer service. When solving problems, I was always interested in understanding what caused the problems impacting customers. Once I began leading teams, I had more of an ability to dig into process improvement and that kind of led me into technology and operations. Typically there was something with the way the technology was working that was causing the problem or there was a technology solution that could fix a problem. I started working for Verizon (back then it was MCI) and technology was a part of everything. I have always gravitated toward technology since that time in my career.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
Looking back, the biggest obstacle for me was young leadership. I worked with and managed people who were older than me and that always required an adjustment on both sides. But the benefit of being a young leader was that I didn’t know the challenges I would face so I didn’t really think about being nervous or worried about the obstacles. Sometimes naivety can be a blessing. And, I had fantastic mentors to watch and learn from.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
I am fortunate to have an incredibly supportive husband (we just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this year). I’ve almost always had a busy travel schedule in my career which has kept me traveling during the week and he is always right there (albeit virtually) cheering me on and reminding me that I have the strength to get through any work challenge. And we’ve moved for my jobs twice in my career and he has always been willing to pick everything up and come along for the next great adventure.
I am also fortunate to have been surrounded by role models in my career. I had strong female role models in my early career and all the way through. I never stopped to think that I couldn’t keep progressing in my career because they showed me that it was possible. I also had a wonderful male executive supporter early in my career. Not only did he trust me with a great deal of responsibility, but at events where I knew no one, he would bring me around and introduce me to other senior executives and he would tell them about the impact I was making in the company. I was grateful at the time, but looking back I can see how that opened doors for me in ways I never realized. My early days at MCI (now Verizon), gave me the best foundation for what leadership should look like.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
If anyone did, I didn’t notice. :)
A day in Elizabeth’s life
I am responsible for an organization which supports our customers. My teams handle everything from Implementation to Customer Success to Technical Support (and many things in between.) And my teams are located around the globe across many time zones, which keeps me busy.
My typical workday has me in many internal meetings to help ensure we are making progress toward our corporate goals and helping to remove barriers. It’s always fun to connect people with the right resources to move a project forward. I spend time checking in with customers (I miss being able to do that in person.) And especially this year, making sure employees have what they need to be successful and happy.
I am also fortunate to have been surrounded by role models in my career. I had strong female role models in my early career and all the way through.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m most proud of the relationships that I’ve built with people during my career. Relationships with team members that have last lasted through the decades. Coaching people and encouraging them in their own careers and seeing them succeed is the best. Helping someone to believe in his/her own abilities is incredible. And relationships with customers that continue on has been meaningful as well. These relationships have taught me so much and have helped to shape my career.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
In the data privacy industry, there is a strong female presence (more so than in technology overall.) I think it starts early on. When girls aren’t encouraged to excel in STEM, or if they don’t see themselves represented in technology, they aren’t as inclined to pursue careers in technology. It really is everything around them – how women are portrayed in TV shows and movies, advertising, stock images, retail, etc etc.
There was a huge push for women in STEM about 10 years ago, so it will be interesting to see what the short term and long term effects of that are. A lot of improvements are being made now, but there is still much more work to be done in this area.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
Even today, there are people who don’t expect women to have technical expertise. In some cases, that means that women still have to “earn their place at the table” when discussing technical issues or ideas. If you can learn more about the tech you are supporting, do. Keep learning. Speak up as well as listen and teach those around you to do the same.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
There is no social, economic, or cultural area that would not be improved. There is always something to fix in technology but the most common barriers I see are related to communication and building relationships. These are areas that are typically seen as strengths for women. If there were more women in leadership positions, there would be more women working in STEM. If there were more women working in STEM, there would be more innovations, better problem solving, different problem solving, and more diversity across companies and entire industries. The advancements in technology would be faster and we would be solving different problems.
If there were more women in leadership positions, there would be more women working in STEM.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
A revolution is happening now and we are starting to see results in pockets. Successful leaders will be a part of the revolution and help to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not merely buzz words but rather are at the heart of every decision (analog and digital.)
Technology plays a big role in social justice. I’ve been learning more recently about algorithmic justice. As technologists, we have a responsibility to make sure that we aren’t coding in the same biases in new technology that exist outside of technology or within older technologies.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
I would give the same career advice to women, regardless of industry.
- You do not need to have all the answers.
- No shortcuts – put in the work.
- Do what you say you are going to do – consistent and timely follow through on commitments.
- Speak up – be persistent if you aren’t being heard and be solution-focused (which makes it easier for people to listen).
- The most important decisions about your career will be made when you are not in the room, so manage perceptions always.
- Sometimes done is better than perfect.
- Be authentic – I was a very young new manager and responsible for people twice my age in some cases. I just focused on what I could do to help them, how I could help them to do their jobs better, and that set the right tone almost every time.
- You can be firm and kind.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “I look forward to seeing how our world changes as more women move into STEM roles”
- Women in Tech: “We need more women in the room to inspire future generations”
- Women in Tech: “It is essential that more women get a foothold in the tech industry”
- Women in Tech: “Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy”
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”