Women in Tech: “Prejudices against women in IT are still present”
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 Henny Selig, Solution Owner at Signavio.
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 Henny Selig, Solution Owner at Signavio.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Henny Selig, Solution Owner at Signavio
Henny Selig is Solution Owner at Signavio. She makes sure that customers can implement Signavio’s software products as seamlessly as possible. Together with her team, she creates ready-made software content and partner integrations. This is a new and strongly growing area at Signavio that Henny is currently building up. Previously, she worked as a technical consultant for Signavio and SAP. She holds an M.Sc. Data Science degree from the universities KTH in Stockholm, Sweden and UNS in Nice, France.
When did you become interested in technology?
Already at school I noticed that I like STEM subjects. I was fortunate to be accepted into a program at Femtec, which aims to get young women interested in technology. This helped me to overcome my own prejudices against STEM courses. The fact that I decided to study computer science only came in the last year of school. With the realization that our world increasingly consists of software, my interest grew immensely. I discovered how diverse and exciting the field is.
I first did a dual bachelor’s degree in business information technology at SAP. That gave me the opportunity to work in various departments of a software company. There I learned that there is much more to successful software than just programming. After a few years as an SAP consultant, I decided in my mid-20s to pursue further education in other European countries with a Master’s degree in Data Science. This path led me to my current employer Signavio. After two years in technical consulting, with a lot of customer contact and travel time, I can now bring my engineering experience to Signavio. We are currently building up a new division that brings the engineering and customer perspective closer together. This is exactly where I move in my world: customer perspective and technical expertise.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
In Berlin, there is an initiative that regularly invites successful women from tech, start-ups, and other fields to talks in order to create role models for other women.
There are many negative examples that show that homogeneous tech teams do not represent the totality of people in their developed products.
In this context, I was particularly inspired by the conversation with Obi Felten, the chief strategist of Google X. But I also enjoy learning from everyday encounters. There are colleagues from whom I learn communication methods, workshop skills, or their way of analysing problems. I was also lucky to always have excellent colleagues and superiors. Feedback is one of the most valuable forms of support for me.
A day in Henny’s life
I am Solution Owner at Signavio, which means I make sure that our customers achieve the greatest possible success with Signavio’s software. At the beginning of 2019, we introduced the Solution Engineering area at my suggestion. Signavio offers business software that customers can use individually to optimize their own processes. As a consultant, I have often solved similar problems with our products at different customers. We use these overlaps to develop solutions that allow customers to implement our software much faster.
My working day is very diverse. I hardly do any programming myself, but meanwhile I organise a team and their projects. This includes prioritizing topics, defining internal processes, managing expectations, and responsibilities, as well as building the team and communicating with customers and partners.
In the companies mentioned, I was always one of the first to work with new technology in the customer environment. Parallel to my Masters studies I founded a small start-up. The basic idea was that secure and non-traceable communication on the Internet requires some expertise, which not everyone has. Especially journalists, activists or lawyers have to communicate with their clients in a trustworthy way and ensure informants, although they are rarely IT experts. Together with a fellow student, we have developed a device that handles the encryption of data and communication without requiring any further knowledge. We were the winners of a start-up grant at the TU Berlin. After a few months and a working prototype, we decided to abandon the project for the time being for personal reasons. But I wouldn’t want to miss this experience, because I learned a lot from it.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Unfortunately I haven’t found the reason for this yet – but more role models and mentors would certainly help. I am convinced that everyone can do something, men as well as women, to make it easier for women in the tech industry. I am thinking, for example, of obvious disrespect for female managers, engineers, or other “Women in Tech”. I know from conversations with colleagues that many men also feel uncomfortable when they witness sexist comments, but often feel they should not interfere.
Recommendations for action that are as concrete as possible help the awkward witnesses in these situations, such as a simple questioning. Everyone should feel obliged to react here, regardless of gender.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Technical innovations such as the Internet and artificial intelligence already affect each of us today, more than we realize. These technologies can lead to unprecedented justice in the world if we use them properly. But they also carry great risks, for example when data protection is undermined or AI delivers distorted results.
There are many negative examples that show that homogeneous tech teams do not represent the totality of people in their developed products. I am thinking, for example, of the development of safety features in cars that were designed for the average European man, or Google Photos, which originally had problems correctly recognising people with dark skin colour. Diversified teams achieve better results, and success is often more sustainable (economically and environmentally).
Even if we can get more women to work in tech, the challenge remains to keep them there. Most of the women in my environment, who started their careers in very technical professions, have moved into interface areas such as product management or project management in less than ten years (as I did). These areas are important and the positions are challenging, but it means that well-trained experts are lacking elsewhere.
Let’s hope that this development will increasingly extend to other diversity areas, such as gender and skin color.
I hope that the diversity debate will soon be history! While we are making progress in the number of female STEM students and in many other areas, there is always news that makes me sad. These range from the low proportion of women in start-ups to the reports in recent years about women-unfriendly corporate cultures in Silicon Valley.
But I remain optimistic. Examples like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer inspire many young women and men. I now see cultural diversity everywhere: in most software companies, people from all over the world work together. Let’s hope that this development will increasingly extend to other diversity areas, such as gender and skin color.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
There is no path without stones – and that would be boring. Since I have very high quality standards for my work, I often get in my own way. But the day has only 24 hours, so you have to learn to decide which stones to avoid and which to build something new from.
Prejudices against women in IT are still present. This starts with the reaction to the choice of studies (“Why computer science? There are only nerds there.”), affects professors at universities (“No women’s teams, please, I’ve had bad experiences with that”), and continues in everyday professional life (“Oh, you’re not the assistant?”).
This has spurred me on to constantly prove that I am good at what I do. Through this drive I was often better than others. I can imagine that many women in the tech industry feel the same way. It took me a few years to understand that we women don’t have to be better or worse, and certainly not the same as men. We should learn, be proud of who we are and what we achieve.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
I know many great people in tech, as well as many organizations and volunteers who want to help women get started.
I can only advise all women to accept this support and pass it on to the next generation after a successful start.
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!”