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Turnitin Women in Tech panel recap: Celebrating International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, an internal employee-driven panel was hosted by Women at Turnitin Thriving (W.A.T.T.) about the challenges women in tech face, and exploring opportunities for growth and empowerment. In this post, we offer a snapshot of their authentic and uplifting conversation.

Here at Turnitin, we’re big believers of empowering everybody on our team to succeed through diversity and inclusion, and encourage employees to bring their authentic selves to work.

On March 7th, in honor of International Women’s Day, an internal employee-driven panel was hosted by Women at Turnitin Thriving (W.A.T.T.). Titled ‘Empow[H]er: Celebrating Women in Tech’, it was about the challenges women in tech face and exploring opportunities for growth and empowerment.

One of five employee-lead resource groups (ERGs) at Turnitin, W.A.T.T. is “A supportive community of women-identifying Turnitin team members and their allies, who advocate for and advise the company on issues affecting the community, such as talent acquisition and development. W.A.T.T. provides a safe space for members and allies to share their experiences and learn from each other, through both personal and professional development opportunities, coaching, and mentorship; uplifting women and helping to build a Turnitin where all team members can thrive” (2023).

Lead by the indomitable Iana Mykhailenko, Director, Software Engineering, the engaging panel discussion featured the perspectives and insights of three other strong and talented women at Turnitin:

  • Stephanie Gomes, Database Engineer
  • Nosizwe Moyo, Associate Technical Project Manager
  • Sarah Rose, Senior Machine Learning Scientist

Too good not to share, in this blog post, we offer a snapshot of their authentic and uplifting conversation. Read on to hear from Stephanie, Nosizwe, and Sarah—describing in their own words—what it’s like to be a woman in the technology profession, and what International Women’s Day means to them, personally and professionally.

Do you feel you’ve had to work harder than your male colleagues to advance in your career?

[Nosizwe] No, and I say that because everybody starts their careers at different points and personally, and general advice that I've been given, is to always just do better than yourself. Most times, when I know I need to do something or progress, it's on me, regardless of where other people are. Although I do know and acknowledge that the inequalities are there in different ways, and inequity, but generally, on a personal level, action and ownership comes to mind, and just doing better than myself.

[Sarah] I haven't felt that I needed to work harder than my male colleagues, but I have been in some situations where I had to be louder for my ideas to be heard. In insurance and technology [industries] that are more male-skewed, I’ve had unfortunate situations with past management where they’ve made misogynistic comments or if I would share something, it would result in silence in the room, but if a male colleague shared the same idea, then everyone would jump on board and say that's a great idea. So I wouldn't say that I've had to work harder, but I've had to learn how to get my ideas out there and be heard.

[Stephanie] I feel quite lucky that I've never felt like I had to work harder. I think my managers always appreciated my competencies and skills. But it's true that maybe also because I'm still quite new in this career, I feel like, maybe it’s also in my head that I have to be extra prepared, bring loads of data to back up whatever idea I have.

Why is it important for you to celebrate International Women’s Day?

[Stephanie] Before joining W.A.T.T. as a member, I didn't really think much of that day; it just felt like another title. I didn't really mark the day, or even Women’s History Month, but since joining the group and hearing everyone's stories and struggles as a woman, I feel like it's such an important time actually to reflect on how far we've come, but also all the barriers and obstacles that are still affecting women every day. I think it just highlights how important it is to foster an environment of diversity and inclusivity for all women. This year, the theme is ‘inspire inclusion’, and we just want women to feel heard, seen, and valued at Turnitin, so it’s a very important day to me.

[Nosizwe] I mean, have you met women? Have you seen women? Do you know women? Why wouldn't you celebrate them? And in many spaces when women are not there, it’s not that great. So men are great, but women definitely make a difference, and bring such a strong value, and sometimes it is immeasurable because of the ways [society] tends to measure things. Having women involved in all spaces is also good business. There are studies and statistics around on companies that have women leaders and how well they do. In addition to women just being qualified, there is another superpower that comes with all the things that women are, so why wouldn't you celebrate women all around the world when they're so awesome?

[Sarah] I'll echo the same as the other panelists here, and I’m loving all these answers! International Women's Day gives us that opportunity to pause and reflect and maybe reach out to people that we hadn't talked to in a while. Or if you're wanting to pursue a career in technology, maybe you feel that extra oomph to go talk to someone who's in tech, and I just love that. It highlights all these wonderful women from the past, but it also gives that space to talk about what's the positive change moving forward, too.

What actions can Turnitin take to attract and retain talented women?

[Sarah] I think having ERGs like W.A.T.T. to connect women is very important, as well as promoting a culture of active listening, that everyone's voices are heard, encouraging inclusivity and challenging any harmful stereotypes, too.

[Stephanie] I think it's so important to build a culture of inclusivity and belonging for our employees, everyone, including women, and some things that can be done like promoting diversity initiatives such as attending panels like today, getting involved, creating safe spaces for women to be able to express their concerns if they are any. Also, I think as a mother, one of the things I've appreciated from Turnitin is the flexible work arrangement, like having flexible hours that fit my work-life balance has been very important, and also, great benefit packages.

How do you develop skills in your area and how do you stay up-to-date amid innovation, including AI?

[Nosizwe] Ultimately, I think not being scared and always learning. Tech is always evolving, like every day, every month, there is a new iteration. But fortunately, there's a lot of learning opportunities. There's a lot of places where we can learn and develop our skills, and some of them are much quicker than the longer ones. Just being intentional about staying on top of your own path and what you learn is really important. One of the sort of abstract goals I have for myself is to future-proof my career. A lot of things are changing very fast. So for myself, it would be keeping up my passion for learning, and just not being intimidated by what seems like a big thing or the bigness of things.

[Stephanie] I think for me also, it’s continuous learning and just having an open mind. I think embracing the change like with AI, because it's not going anywhere, so we have to start using it and embrace it. I try to use it at work to better my writing or help me with my code, and I think that's an important thing to do, and also develop skills and keep working on skills like critical thinking, creativity, innovation. These are things that AI won’t or at least shouldn’t replace, so I think it's important that we work on that as individuals.

[Sarah] A few ways I've tried to keep up is not only following a lot of the leaders in the generative AI space, as an example, but keeping up with those AI articles when the new publications come out, listening to AI-themed podcasts; there's ‘Machine Learning Street Talk’, ‘Women in Data Science’ is a great podcast, and ‘Data Skeptic’. As well, finding opportunities to connect with other tech professionals, learn through certifications or conferences. And if you see something really interesting and you’re curious how it works, see if you can test it on your own. Pull it down and kind of work through, and not accept all these new technologies and just say ‘okay, I'm gonna grab it and use it’, but kind of think critically on what pieces should we use, should we have safeguards around any of these new technologies? Explore it in that way, too.

What advice would you give yourself when you started your career and to others that are starting their careers in tech right now?

[Sarah] My advice would be to be confident in your skills as well as pushing yourself past your comfort zone. Imposter syndrome is huge in this space, because there's so much to learn, and it’s something that I've thought myself, going through my career. And one of the ways that I learned to kind of fight that was to take time each year to write down everything I've learned, from small Python packages to more efficient ways to write code, because there's so much that we learn that we don't really give ourselves credit for. We're just moving really fast. And so to take that time to pause and realize all we've learned, I think, is a way - at least it's been successful for me - to kind of fight imposter syndrome and to push yourself past your comfort zone. I think when we stretch ourselves a little past what we think our limit is, that's where a ton of growth happens.

[Nosizwe] I think working in ‘tech’ sounds like this big thing. I mean, yes, it is, But tech isn't just tech, like here at Turnitin. There's the tech organization, but there's all these other functions that are part of the tech world that people should remember are there, and so much happens in tech that isn't just the technology. It's creativity. It's people skills. It's organizing events. It's so many things that are not just ‘the tech’. I personally do not know how to code, but here I am. So whatever field you're in or anybody is in, pivoting into tech is just finding out what opportunities are there at a tech company.

[Stephanie] I think for me, it would be to embrace failure. Throughout my life, I've been quite hard on myself if I failed or didn't get a job I applied for, feeling like it’s the end of the world. But no, actually, it's just part of your growth and getting where you need to be, so I think that's really important. And also being proactive, so take ownership of your career. I think maybe in my past, I've kind of waited for a manager to say ‘Oh, your next step is this’, but no, it's really on you, because no one's gonna hold your hand throughout your life and tell you where you need to be. Just see, find what you like, and then take steps, small or big, to get there.

In sum: A commitment to women’s empowerment

Empowered women are unstoppable, and Turnitin’s W.A.T.T. community is an embodiment of women and their allies standing up to champion women’s visibility, access, and wellbeing. Opportunities such as this panel discussion to celebrate women’s achievements and call attention to ongoing obstacles, are a unifying force and catalyst for change. Case in point, W.A.T.T. has seen a 22% increase in membership within the last year, yielding 242 dedicated members and allies across Turnitin.

Women’s own resilience in overcoming barriers in the workforce that disproportionately affect them is remarkable, but they can’t do it alone. Especially in male-dominated industries where bias and systemic inequity are a factor, we all have a responsibility to help empower women and move the needle on women’s representation.

As a leading technology company with a culture of integrity that reverberates throughout our people and products, Turnitin believes in advocating for and investing in the needs of women. Important initiatives such as W.A.T.T. provide a platform for women’s voices and consultation, and we’re using these learnings to inform our approach to driving meaningful change and empowering our women-identifying employees to thrive. Currently, 47% of leaders/directors globally at Turnitin identify as women, and we are committed to increasing women’s representation in technology roles to support them in realizing their full potential and enriching the technology sector.

Let’s work to make women’s empowerment and inclusivity the norm in technology and beyond, so that everyone can thrive and belong.