The greatest obstacle women face in the tech industry is not that they don’t have much female company (even though they don’t). It’s that they don’t speak up about wanting to climb the career ladder.
So says Laxmi Arte, a systems architect and co-owner, with her husband, Ashish, of Twin Shores Consulting in Princeton Junction. Arte knows this because it’s how she left her career at Verizon lower in the food chain than she should have.
“I was hoping the work would speak for itself,” she says. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Being one of the few women in tech — at Verizon she was often the lone female among 20 or 30 men — is a disadvantage, Arte says. Without a lot of women role models, tech industry women simply don’t have a lot of opportunities to learn how to advance their careers. They end up having to figure things out for themselves, and usually with their mouths shut while their male peers get better and better positions in the company.
This realization led Arte to launch the Princeton Women in Technology Meetup group, which, as its name suggests, is an opportunity for women in the tech industries to get together and learn how to navigate career advancement.
The group had its first meeting on November 30. Arte says around a dozen women, a good mix of new and and veteran tech women, attended. She skipped December because of the holidays, but otherwise plans to host the meet-up once a month. The next meet-up is scheduled for early January, but as of this printing the location was not determined.
Arte says, however, that the branches of the Mercer County Library System will likely be the locations for future meetings. The group is free to join and open to all women in technology. More information on the Princeton Women in Technology Meetup is available at Meetup.com.
One thing the group is not, Arte says, is a complaint desk.
“I don’t want the group to just be a place to come and vent,” she says. “Moan-and-groan won’t do anything.”
Arte started the group because she felt the need to give women a place to learn about career advancement and a place to network, but she also wanted to have a meet-up closer than New York City. Women working in and around Princeton, she says, usually can’t head all the way to Manhattan just for a couple hours on a weeknight.
Something Arte hopes the group will accomplish is steering tech women away from the mistakes she made as a rare female amid several men. One of the issues she says women need to overcome is the fact that they’re not as strategic as men in that they often do not have the same drive to navigate the system and advance their careers that men do.
“Women are a lot less strategic in terms of ‘What can I do,’ and ‘How can I take my career to the next level,’” she says.
Speak up. If there’s one thing women can do to advance their careers and get promotions, Arte says, it’s to actually state that they want to advance and that they are looking for opportunities.
She admits to having been “too passive” while at Verizon. While she loved the company and maintains that she was never made to feel uncomfortable or discriminated against for being female, she says that fear of being perceived as aggressive kept her from letting her bosses know what she wanted.
That same fear, she says, is a common one for women. “Being able to assert yourself and not being afraid of how you’re perceived” is a real struggle for professional women, especially in a male-heavy field like tech, she says.
“Women have a lot of doubts about speaking up. How do you open your mouth without being perceived as pushy or rude? There are worse words, but I’ll stick with those.”
Beware the “mommy track.” At Verizon, Arte says she was automatically put on a ‘mommy track’ without knowing it, and had to work hard to get back on the rails.
The mommy track, she says, is the assumption that when a woman is at an age when career women tend to start having children she won’t be interested in taking on new responsibilities; that she will start taking flex-time and early days away to raise the kids. She says the assumption at Verizon was that she was probably not interested in growing her career the same ways men would be.
The irony is that now that Arte owns her own tech consulting firm, she is a mom. The Artes have a small daughter, which she says is a reason she left Verizon to start her own company. She wanted to advance her career and have the flexibility to be there for her little girl.
Arte grew up in India in the 1980s and ’90s, knowing for the most part who she wanted to be. In the 1980s in India, she says, there was a general consensus that the fields of medicine, architecture, and engineering — all things technical, in other words — were the surest and most respected avenues to a good life.
“I always loved math, I always loved programming,” she says. “I fit within one of the boxes.”
Her mother taught high school, her father was an engineer, and her aunt owned her own software company. Arte worked for her aunt in India after getting her bachelor’s in computer science from the University of Pune in 1999.
She then came to America for her master’s in computer science, which she got from Georgia Tech in 2003. That year Verizon found her through a company recruitment program; Arte worked for Verizon in Texas for about a decade, in systems architecture and tech management .
In 2014 her husband found work at a startup in New York, and, considering Verizon has a campus in Basking Ridge, Arte easily found a place to transfer to in-company. The couple settled in Princeton Junction and in 2015 launched Twin Shores Consulting (www.twinshoresconsulting.com.)
As the boss she has come to understand how much she has had to learn on her own in terms of career. And, she says, it has given her time to reflect on the things she “did wrong” in that regard at Verizon — like assuming the company would just know she is awesome enough to promote without her seeking opportunities.
What women bring to tech. Despite being literally outmanned in the tech sphere, Arte says that women need to be aware of what they have to offer to the field.
“In a lot of ways our brains are wired a little differently than men,” she says. “In my experience I’ve found that women are a lot more detail oriented.”
And, there’s this, which could only come from the perspective of a working mother.
“We work smarter, especially when there’s a family,” she says. “Women are still the ones who do most of the family care.”
As her own boss, Arte still doesn’t plan on standing still. She wants to keep advancing through her career because, well, that’s what she does. She just wants women, especially in the male-heavy world of tech, to know they now have a place to learn how to stay on track in their careers, whether they’re on the mommy track or not.