Couchbase is proud to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) 2023. The theme for this year is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. This year’s theme recognizes and celebrates the women and girls championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.
Our lives depend on strong technological integration. From paying bills on your phone, to calling loved ones thousands of miles away for free, to even having a medical consultation with a doctor – technology is something that impacts pretty much every aspect of our lives. But, did you know that although women make up close to half of the world’s population, 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men? Beyond not having access, research has also shown women have fewer opportunities for education and development of al skills to engage in digital spaces. That in turn diminishes their opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related fields.
We turned to a few of the women at our company globally to help share their experiences as women working in technology. We hope that their experiences can shed some light on how to have a successful career in technology for women who aspire to enter the space, and help guide women who feel that their voices aren’t being heard in the technology industry.
Fidelma Butler, Chief People Officer
First up is our newly-appointed Chief People Officer (CPO) Fidelma Butler. Fidelma is originally from Ireland, but lives in San Francisco with her husband and two small children. She leads the People and Workplace teams at Couchbase, which is a role that comes with a big responsibility for ensuring that all employees can thrive in a safe, inclusive environment, no matter their gender identity.
Tell us a little bit about your career journey in Technology, as a woman.
I started my career in consulting, working on change management, org design and training on large scale technology and business transformations. We were mostly females sitting alongside more technical, male-dominated teams and were often known as the ‘chicks with slides’. I took my career journey in-house leading HR in technology companies and while I’ve typically worked in progressive organizations with supportive and well-intentioned men, being female can feel like having an extra weight to carry. I’ve felt the burden of being ‘the only’ female in the room too many times. Men have had to apologize to me for their behavior on several occasions. Once while I was working with one senior leader on his organization design, he labeled a particular job as “needing to be done by a man”! I am determined to ensure that my daughter doesn’t have to experience any of that in her future and I’m proud to work at Couchbase where our values drive inclusive behavior.
What are your thoughts on the digital gender gap?
Girls and women often have less access to technology and the internet compared to boys and men, full stop. This means they have less opportunity to be heard, to be educated and to access employment opportunities. This is particularly profound in developing countries but I see this with my own nieces and nephews too. There can be a bias in the gifts that are given to the girls compared to the more technical things given to the boys, and in the expectations associated with their career interests. Furthermore, how girls experience digital tools differs from boys: the internet can be a very dark place for a young woman as she negotiates body image challenges and females (including me) face significantly more harassment online than males.
What does ‘power’ mean to you?
Power means being able to do something, say something, get something, behave in a certain way. To have power, you need freedom and courage to be able to express that power. In a gender sense, men often don’t need to question the power they have in a situation – it’s implied. They can assume that they will be able to do what they need to do to achieve what they need to achieve. For example, they have the power to go for a run in the dark, or can assume they will be heard in a large meeting room. Very often, female and non-binary folk have to find alternative ways to access their power, due to implicit assumptions and biases about how they are supposed to behave, and because they are often representing the minority in a situation.
Have you been in a situation that made you think that ‘women’ and ‘power’ are two incompatible concepts?
Women and power are absolutely compatible – but it can be really hard to claim your power sometimes.
I’ve walked into meeting rooms where there are 60 men and 5 women and I’ve been totally deflated by that. I’ve had to take a moment to remember why I’m there, focus on what I want to achieve from the meeting and steady myself before proceeding. I’ve been talked over by men and I’ve asked questions of professional service providers who have directed their answers towards my husband. I’ve had to find the energy to repeat myself and firmly express my power in those situations.
But I’ve been able to do that because of my privilege as an experienced, senior, Western, white woman. I have so much empathy and respect for those who have to work even harder to express their power.
Anam Mahmood, Global Sales Development Representative Director
It was great chatting with Fidelma and hearing about her experiences, next up, we spoke with Anam Mahmood, Global Sales Development Representative Director. Anam is a British Pakistani woman, the youngest of 3 siblings. She’s been at Couchbase for over seven and half years – based out of the London office and is extremely family oriented, and passionate about what she does for a living.
What would you define as your biggest success working at Couchbase?
The very first thing that came to mind when thinking about my biggest success working at Couchbase without any doubt has to be seeing my team grow and progress within the company.
Nothing gives me more pride for being in this role than seeing those that I have trained and nurtured go on to do great things and be successful.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to give to women entering the workforce today?
As a woman in this industry, it took me some time to learn this as I grew within the company, but you must learn to trust your instinct and ability. Do not let a male dominated environment make you doubt yourself in any way. Your gender does not and should not have anything to do with your talent and ability to successfully do your role. I have been lucky enough at Couchbase to be encouraged on this aspect by all leaders across the company regardless of gender.
What’s one piece of advice that has stuck with you in your career?
“Let success be your noise”. This is a quote that has truly inspired me and I find that I remind myself of this very often if not daily. This has stuck with me and has shaped a lot of how I handle myself in the work environment, especially in the Technology industry, as a woman.
Priya Rajagopal, Director of Product Management
Loved that quote, “let success be your noise.” Great to see the work that Anam has been doing, but now we head back to the United States, this time to Ann Arbour, Michigan, where we had the pleasure of speaking with Priya Rajagopal, Director of Product Management. Right out of grad school, she started her career as a software engineer and worked across a spectrum of companies – tiny startups to Fortune 500 companies. She now heads product management efforts for Couchbase’s developer platforms for the cloud and the edge.
What is a challenge that you’ve overcome in a generally male-dominated industry?
Participating in large meetings used to be a challenge at the early stages of my career. That can be quite intimidating for any junior engineer but it is especially hard if you are the only woman in the room, which was often the case in engineering-led meetings. Now, imagine doing a demo or a presentation to a large group- it was not easy at first but with experience, I developed strategies to overcome those insecurities and now, I enjoy public speaking.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to yourself, if you were just entering the industry?
Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment. Whether you are trying to convince someone that your decision is the right one or if you are critiqued for a task not well done, it is more constructive to look at things objectively.
Do you think the workplace has changed in the last 20 years for women?
Yes, I do believe that the workplace has significantly improved. We still have a long way to go but it is trending in the right direction. At the early stages of my career, more than 2 decades ago, there were several instances of sexism which I have ignored and even reconciled with. Probably not the best way to deal with the issue but back then, you didn’t have much of a voice. I think there is more diversity and awareness at the workplace now, so women can stand up against acts of discrimination without fear of retaliation. At the same time, women are finding more support from their partners when it comes to household responsibilities and this, coupled with flexible work schedules has allowed them to take on more responsibilities at work allowing them to advance in their careers.
Talina Shrotriya, Manager Cloud Systems Engineering
As she said, we have come a long way, but we still have a very long way to go. Women have made tremendous strides, specifically in the tech world, but there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. Let’s head to Bangalore, India now, where we spoke with Talina Shrotriya, Manager Cloud Systems Engineering. Talina has worked at tech companies of various sizes across the tech stack – from writing core software to testing and maintaining it in production. More recently she’s gained engineering management experience, which has given her greater insight into cross-team collaboration and the role of technology in driving product decisions.
What’s a challenge that you’ve faced in your career – and how have you overcome it, specifically with regards to working in a male-dominated industry?
Prior to Couchbase, the lack of women representation on the leadership team made it difficult for me to break the glass ceiling and restricted my professional growth. I used to shy away from leadership positions, but eventually, I found my mission – to become a highly visible woman leader in tech. I took it upon myself to solve this problem. This helped fuel my desire to seek out a leadership role.
The incredible culture at Couchbase provided opportunities for those who make an impact, which enabled me to thrive. Today, I feel empowered being in a position where I can drive change, and looking back, taking the courage to pursue my goals has brought me happiness.
I’m proud to say that Couchbase has more women in leadership positions than ever before, thanks to the supportive culture and impactful contributions of women at Couchbase.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to the next generation of women in tech?
Advocate for yourself – speak up and make sure your needs and goals are heard. Persistence is key in the competitive tech industry, so stay focused on the big picture and work hard to overcome any setbacks or obstacles. Don’t give up on your dreams and keep pushing forward.
Is there something that a mentor has said that has stuck out to you in your career? If so, what did they say and how has it helped you build your career so far?
“Identify your unique offering. Take some time to assess your strengths and what you bring to the table.” By leveraging my strengths, I have found ways to help my teammates and make an impact for the company. By focusing on what I do best, I can stay true to my principles and I know what my non-negotiables are. This gives me the confidence that I am making a meaningful difference.
We hope you have enjoyed reading the experiences of some of the women in our company, as much as we have enjoyed speaking with them. We’re so happy to have been able to showcase the amazing work done by women across the organization all over the world. It’s incredible to see their journeys in technology, both at Couchbase, and in general.
At Couchbase we are always looking for ways to improve our employees career paths, and strongly believe in helping our own achieve their goals. Be sure to check out our careers page if you are looking for a head start in the tech world, and again Happy International Women’s Day!