Women in Tech: “It is not a revolution, but an evolution”
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 Eveline Oehrlich, independent research director at the DevOps Institute.
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 Eveline Oehrlich, independent research director at the DevOps Institute.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Eveline Oehrlich, independent research director at the DevOps Institute
Eveline is an independent research director at the DevOps Institute. She held the position of VP and Research Director at Forrester Research, where she led and conducted research on a variety of topics including DevOps, Digital Operational Excellence, IT and Enterprise Service Management, Cognitive Intelligence and Application Performance Management for 13 years. She has advised executives and teams around the world on challenges and potential changes in people, processes, and technology. She is the author of many research papers and thought leadership pieces and is a moderator and speaker. She has more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry.
Eveline helps companies adapt their IT organization, processes, and tools for high-performance teams that enable their business partners to achieve better business results. She has helped some of the world’s largest companies implement new strategies, workflows, and automation tools.
When did you become interested in technology?
Before I moved to the USA for love in July 1996, I worked as a research and development assistant at Hewlett Packard. In this position, I already had a lot of contact with software and hardware, but I wanted to study at the FH in Pforzheim. Then I fell in love with an engineer and moved to the USA.
After an initial culture shock and a year of waiting, I enrolled in “Computer Information Systems” and “Computer Science” as a Bachelor, or Master of Science. I came across this rather by chance and had originally planned to study sports. When I told a friend about this plan, he looked at me as if I had just told him that I wanted to fly to Mars.
One day I was at the College of Business and met a professor there, with whom I talked about Computer Information Systems and Computer Science. Right after the first lecture I knew that I liked this subject, but that I didn’t want to just sit behind a screen.
How did you end up in your career path?
I started my career in the IT industry as a vacation worker at HP in the United States, where I also got a permanent contract after my master’s degree. Until 2006 I worked at HP in a software team as well as in the positions of Integrated Marketing Manager for Software and World Wide Competitive Intelligence Manager. After this time I joined Forrester Research as a Senior Analyst and worked my way up to VP and finally Research Director. At that time, 80% of my time was spent travelling, which prompted me to resign in 2018.
I then returned to Germany and worked for a short period of three months with a software team at New Relic before taking up my current position as a Research Director on an independent basis at the DevOps Institute.
I have worked in many different areas throughout my career: Marketing, Presales, IT, Sales, Operations – which helps me to understand the current digital revolution. This is also necessary. As an Industry Analyst, I advise and support software companies that sell different products to further advance automation and digitization. I do this for various companies, whether they are in healthcare, administration, finance, retail, or manufacturing. My current horizon and understanding of these many areas is very helpful.
Do you have a role model?
Yes, there was a professor who always encouraged and supported me. Dr. Susan Athey was my great role model and I did my master’s degree with her. She was with Hewlett Packard for a few years after her graduation. This of course also connected us. But she realised that industry was not for her and instead she became a professor for databases. In my student days at that time, her technical understanding and her way of asserting herself were very impressive. She was also on the university committee to change the curriculum. We often had long and intensive discussions about women in the technology industry. She always had good ideas about how women can behave to be heard and seen. I still follow many of these tips today. For example, she never wore dresses or skirts (that was in 1993). She always said that in trousers or pantsuits she felt more prepared to face her colleagues. When I go to meetings today, I still wear a suit. This also has something to do with my job as an industry analyst.
Two other female role models were the company’s CEOs. Patty Azzarello was appointed CEO of HP Software in 1998. She came from a different department and had headed the marketing department. She was very direct, focused, and introduced several new methods, processes, and products. I volunteered to lead Environmental Health at that time. These are the people who ensure that the workplace is safe and ergonomic. I always had a good connection with her and was enthusiastic about the way she worked. She was a very good boss and didn’t care about someone’s gender. Instead, she cared about the subject and the facts. I have gotten into the habit of doing that and it is very helpful.
Right after the first lecture I knew that I liked this subject, but that I didn’t want to just sit behind a screen.
A new CEO followed, Nora Denzel was hired by Carly Fiorina. This woman was very technical and came from the hardware group of HP. She immediately had a guiding hand over our R&D team. Our team leaders were almost a little scared of her. That was almost a little bit frightening for me at that time. But she also inspired me because she was also focused on the products and strategies.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
There have been many of these obstacles, but I have never seen them as obstacles specific to women. Here are some examples.
When I got my first job as a programmer, back at HP in Fort Collins, I actually wanted to join another product development group. I had a Masters of Science with a 4.0 degree. I didn’t see myself as a programmer, so I applied to this other group. My boss at that time called the responsible manager and told him that I was not allowed to change. His reason was that he would need me because I was the only person who knew Ingres DB. Unfortunately, that made me immobile.
In retrospect, I think that probably another person would not have put up with that.
During this time they kept testing me to see if I could keep up with the men in the group. Would I be able to wear a pager and do support at night? We had a lot to do back then in Y2K. Various programs had to be changed and when they stopped, someone had to go to the data center at night and intervene immediately. I always had the feeling that my colleagues were a bit sceptical when we, as women, gave 24/7 support. But we always had the best results because we could work together better, had more empathy and collaboration.
My daughters were born in 1995 and 1997, I then left work for 12 months. After I came back to the office, I switched to another group. There were a lot of women with children and as head of business development and marketing. I didn’t really have any problems until I started my job as an industry analyst at Forrester Research in Boston. At that time my children were 9 and 7 years old. I had to travel a lot. I was traveling almost 70% of the time, which was very difficult for me with the kids. Many clients and colleagues did not have children or a partner to take care of the children. Meetings during the day were scheduled early or late so the trip to school or ballet became a running the gauntlet. We had only so many possibilities back then without Skype or mobile phones. I always had to remind my colleagues that on certain days I just couldn’t join a conference call or that I couldn’t travel during the holidays, be it Thanksgiving or Easter.
In 2011 I became Research Director and had some women in my group. I introduced some new rules to support these women in their jobs and to make life with children easier.
A day in Eveline’s life
I am a research director at Research In Action and DevOps Institute. In this position I am responsible for the research on DevOps. On the one hand I work with many software vendors to evaluate their software. At the DevOps Institute I am responsible for surveys, results, and other research projects which are then sent to our members. The work is that of an analyst, which I already did at Forrester Research. I have no liability for staff and work in a diverse team around the world.
My working day is very different. I have been working in the home office for 16 years. Emails, meetings on the phone, or via ZOOM are more in the evening because a lot of my clients and colleagues are sitting in the USA. I usually travel to an event once a week to give a presentation.
Why aren’t there more women in the tech industry?
Unfortunately there are many reasons for this. Young girls are not encouraged at school. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) has made a big difference, but there are still too few women who take up these subjects at universities. Unfortunately, the image of a woman is still not seen in technical terms. Media and marketing are unfortunately still busy presenting us in gowns, make-up, and as a companion to men. These are often role models that our children see. Many young women look for these role models in their families and in many parts of the world women are still predominantly employed in professions that are not technical. We as women in technical professions are our own best enemy. We are simply often intimidated too quickly or are too reserved. I see this time and again in colleagues. Women are interrupted when they speak. At the end of an agenda, we are asked if we could make the coffee – honestly, that is what happened to me first. I was in a meeting and had a black suit and a white blouse – a mistake, as I now know. I was standing at the coffee cart and a meeting participant asked me if I could make sure there was hot coffee. I left the room and looked for the catering team. Hot coffee was served, I put my business card in its place and started my presentation. Some members in the room winked at me and the meeting participant felt caught.
Which stereotypes have you already encountered with regard to “Women in Tech” and what problems do they cause?
There are some clichés. First of all, that we as women are only there for a short time because we will have a family soon anyway. Unfortunately this is still the case. As women we are asked this question as if we don’t need fathers for that. In addition, it often seems that women are not smart enough to understand technical issues. This has changed somewhat, but it is still in the air. I often hear that women are often labelled as “tough women” because these technical professions are not as feminine. This is so old-fashioned, but it has something to do with the image of us that is still present everywhere. Then there is the big problem that we as women ourselves determine many clichés of our self-perception. Are we really more sensitive, more detailed, more communicative in a negative or positive sense, maternal etc.? These clichés change how we work and deal with others. In other topics, such as sexual orientation or skin colour, we have learned to stop speaking out about clichés or prejudices.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
In a recent survey by the DevOps Institute, we asked about human (or soft) skills. The result: cooperation, interpersonal skills, empathy, and many other things are important. The culture of a team is determined by how much Emotional Intelligence a person has. But this EQ cannot only be shaped by a certain group of people. The group as a social unit consists and must consist of many different people.
We must all contribute to allowing diversity in opinion, skin colour, sexual orientation, and as human beings. We must see ourselves as human beings. That is why I simply no longer find this question appropriate. A better question would be “How can we as people with different backgrounds deal with each other to achieve a better team, product, or result?” Goals and results are measured by how each individual contributes to them and we have to encourage this kind of work in projects, not just by asking for women or men.
Culturally, as women, we have to be aware that these clichés of the weaker sex keep coming up and we have to fight against them. Be it in conversations with friends, family, or at work. This is difficult and we need arguments and data. These arguments and data should help and if we keep reporting them again and again, hopefully equality will be achieved at some point.
I use examples from IT or F1 sports, where women have achieved great success. Unfortunately, this is often very tedious and difficult, but it is also fun and I see how many of my friends and family members are slowly changing their minds. My daughters have understood this – one is leading a group of women architects in Minnesota and the other has chosen a political science path. Unfortunately, neither of them are in technical professions like I am. They’re both STEM kids, I should ask why they didn’t choose a technical profession.
Economically, I still see a lot of men in management positions. Is a quota the right thing to do? This is a difficult topic, because it is again only a must in order to hire women.
We must all contribute to allowing diversity in opinion, skin colour, sexual orientation, and as human beings.
Performance and success are rewarded no matter what level. Maybe I am too naive, but if we start to bring women into management levels just because of a quota, then we have another problem.
What does the future look like – will the diversity debate soon be history?
If we look at time in steps of 100 years, we are still far from where we want to be. I think these discussions are encouraging and help us move forward – every day, week, month, and year. It is not a revolution, but an evolution. We have to be patient and, as I said before, it is the data, facts, and arguments that help us move forward as women in the technical environment. We are united as women and should remain so – supporting each other as well, if possible. Unfortunately, I still see women who either favour or even ignore other women. I was in Amsterdam last autumn at the Women In Technology conference. I was very surprised to see how many booths there were there advertising beauty products and other things. The most visited sessions were not the high tech sessions, but the ones where it was all about competing in the technical field. That’s when I realized that we were still in our infancy.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
It’s a great world, but it’s also a hard world. The digitalisation and industrial revolution are in full swing. We see skill gaps everywhere and especially in technical professions like DevOps, application developers, engineers in software, hardware, cloud etc. The time has come where young women could secure a place for themselves with these topics. There are study places and job offers. It would be nice, for example, if organisations like the World Economic Forum tried to motivate young women.
What is important is that you should not be shy and see yourself as a member of a team. Old clichés or clichés, in general, should be addressed and discussed. Only in this way can we create clarity about what is on our minds. This is not easy, but it is worth it.
Networks are important. Create a network of like-minded people who can help and motivate.
Take it with humour when someone makes a stupid remark and don’t feel offended as a person. Self-pity and being offended are not the right ways.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- Women in Tech: “Degrees can matter but they aren’t required”
- Women in Tech: “The IT sector requires a lot of energy and will”
- Women in Tech: “I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”