Portrait: Dr. Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president of Phone2Action

The tech industry tends to lose women along the way. Change is underway

Gabriela Motroc
tech
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

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 Dr. Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president of Phone2Action.

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?

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 Dr. Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president of Phone2Action.

Dr. Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president of Phone2Action

Dr. Ximena Hartsock is the co-founder and president of Phone2Action. The company’s technology enables businesses and citizens to connect with policymakers via email, Twitter and Facebook using their mobile phones.

She first became interested in technology when she was an elementary school principal — she recognized how much easier it is to facilitate differentiated instruction using technology.  And then, in late 2012, when she was the National Director of Advocacy for an education organization, she saw first hand the need for people to connect with their lawmakers. The problem was they didn’t know how, nor knew where to begin. At that time, mobile tech was not the boom that is today. She was driving to San Francisco one day and her GPS yelled a directional command, and it hit her: “Why not use GPS technology to match people with their lawmakers through their phones?” It was a great aha moment. From there Phone2Action was born!

Sometimes you have to go through to get to

As a child, I was lucky to have experiences that inspired my curiosity. My father was an avid reader. His love of books led me to begin reading at age 3, and so, of course, I fell in love with books too. Throughout my career, I have always had a support network. Sometimes the higher the position, the lonelier it gets. While working in DC, I encountered some political issues that were pretty painful, but the amount of support and love I received from my friends and colleagues was much greater than those issues. Going through that difficult time taught me that there is always a silver-lining. I learned that sometimes you have to go through to get to. And after you get through a tough challenge you become stronger and more humble.

A day in Dr. Ximena Hartsock’s life

I am the COO and President of my company, Phone2Action.  Phone2Action is a software as a service business. We build digital tools for digital grassroots advocacy.  My role is to make sure everyone in the company has what they need to be successful. Several teams report to me, so my day is a combination of management and operations work.

I wake up around 5:30 am and read the news of the day, from my phone, check email and Slack messages. On Mondays when I am not traveling I arrive in the office at 7 am. My day is a combination of planning and execution. I also love the inner workings of operations,  so I am very hands on.  We have an excellent Director of Operations whom I work with closely.  Right now, I am focused on putting in place a new performance management system and recruiting new talent.  But, I also enjoy working with the product team and engineers on ideas for new tools.  We have an amazing Customer Success team, and I try to work with them every day on support.  I never want to be far from our customers.

Everything I have accomplished in my career, I have done so with help from former bosses and colleagues who supported me along the way.  I did what all of the immigrants do when they come to the US: I was a waitress; a bartender and I even cleaned houses. And through all of those jobs, I met people whom I learned from and are now close friends with.  I love to work. Some folks call people like me “workaholics,” but I find work therapeutic and I feel much happier when I am working and creating than when I am trying to find “work –life balance.” Being productive and working toward a goal gives me pride. In my opinion, there is no menial work, just opportunity.

Without diversity, we limit the ability for technology to fulfill the needs of all people

While men may outnumber women in the industry, let’s not ignore the thousands of women who enroll in STEM college programs. I find that the tech industry tends to lose women along the way. For some female engineers, it can be difficult to be the only woman in a fellowship or internship program. And those experiences can be so poor that some women would rather work in other fields.

Employers can solve this problem, but we need to talk about it in a more pragmatic way. We also need to highlight  STEM role models for young girls so they can aspire to follow.  We need to create benchmarks to expose kids, especially little girls, to STEM in elementary school so that they can build on their knowledge and become more familiar and comfortable with it.

Research shows that women tend to be more collaborative in the workplace.

In general, we need more diversity. Without diversity, we limit the ability for technology to fulfill the needs of all people. It’s important that the industry hires and utilizes a variety of agents in the input process so the output is better for everyone. Right now we have very important social issues that affect women, and therefore we need more women building solutions to address those problems women face.

Research shows that women tend to be more collaborative in the workplace and are more detailed oriented team players. There’s also research that suggests that companies, where women make up 50 percent or more of the workforce, are more productive and profitable.  

Right now, companies are held more accountable for diverse hiring practices and treatment of women. The letter written by a former female employee that describes her experiences at Uber brought overall concern and pushed Uber to investigate their practices.  Five years ago, I think the reaction would have been different. In terms of having more people of color in tech, I see some results already. It will take a more concerted effort to bring diversity to the industry, but I see specific and pragmatic efforts to reform the way our schools introduce tech to kids.  Laurene Powell Jobs’ High School initiative is an example of a public/private partnership that can enhance our schools.

How to build a career in tech: Tips & tricks

  1. It’s never too late to start, no matter your background.
  2. Keep in mind, tech is much more than programing.  Cybersecurity and networking are always in high demand.
  3. We need more women in the venture capital arena.  For example, one of our investors is a woman who used to work for the FBI. She is fantastic! Her advice is creative and unlike anything, anyone is doing. I think her untraditional background gives her a more interesting perspective.
  4. You can be a tech entrepreneur!  Being a tech founder is not that different from running any other business.  Trust your guts! You know more than you think.

 

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is an online editor for JAXenter.com. Before working at S&S Media she studied International Communication Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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