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Women in tech — are we making enough progress?

On January 6, we celebrate a tradition that’s unique to Ireland — Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas. Traditionally, it marked the day when women enjoyed the last of the Christmas cake visiting friends, while men took over household chores and looked after the family.

Over the years as gender roles have evolved, Nollaig na mBan has turned into a celebration of women’s contribution to Irish society. Women are no longer seen as mere houseworkers who deserve one little day a year to eat leftover Christmas cake. And well into the first week of the new year, the tubs of Heroes and Quality Street are long gone anyway!

 

At Matrix we didn’t give all our female staff the day off (although we do encourage cake!), but we’re taking time today to celebrate their contribution to the team in all departments. All our departments have key female members who drive strategy, contribute to company policy and make key decisions in our processes. However, we know that tech is a traditionally male-dominated industry, and in Ireland, only 20% of ICT employees were female in 2021.

We are acutely aware of these statistics, the need for change, and the importance of gender balance across all industries.

Women in Tech was a key theme of the Web Summit at the end of last year, and we sent four of our female team members to Lisbon to represent Matrix, and gain valuable insights into inclusivity and whether the tech industry is making progress with gender equality.
We’ve asked Fionnuala, Charlotte, Zahra, Keelin for a few thoughts on the Summit and their years of experience as a woman working in tech. Matrix co-founder and Director Michelle also shares her thoughts on how the industry has changed since we launched in 2000.


Michelle Sheridan – Company Director

Coming from a business management background, I never anticipated running a web agency with over 50 employees. I started working in Matrix over 22 years ago with Jeff, and felt we had a natural balance between the male and female management styles. Over the years my role has evolved from having full hands-on-deck management to becoming a mother and taking a back seat for a few years. I am grateful to have the opportunity to step in and out of my management role when required.

When Matrix first started the ratio of women to men was 80/20, however we have evolved quite rapidly and I’m happy to say we are nearly on level ground. The male-female management dynamic is crucial, as women sometimes see the bigger picture, while men are more focused on a specific project.

I also think that women are more emotionally intelligent while males are keener to think big and grow bigger — sometimes I feel I have to reel them back in and apply a more sensible plan! Having a mixture of both men and women in the tech industry is crucial as women and men see things differently and think differently, which leads to a creative and interesting environment.

Numerous studies have found that when men suggest ideas to their team, they are perceived as leaders and their ideas get more attention. But when women make the same suggestions using the same language, their ideas are not appreciated in the same way. I can hand on heart say that within Matrix my voice and the female voice is heard, and I make it heard when necessary. I feel that the right idea and suggestion wins overall.

The yin and yang approach works great for Matrix — I feel we have a well rounded approach to leadership and management style as a result.

 

Fionnuala Mahon — Technical Project Manager

I am from a creative background, and I will always be a creative at heart. However, very early in my career I realised I enjoy dealing with people directly and helping clients figure out what they really need, which is why I chose project management.

Initially I studied Visual Communications and I started working in this industry in 2004, initially focusing on graphic print and then delving into web design. At this stage I felt users were not always understood, and clients’ visions weren’t being realised, so I started leaning towards project management. I then felt that I needed a more technical grasp to fully take on this role to the level I envisaged, so I completed a MSC in Multimedia Systems.

This gave me a great foundation and after working a few years in Ireland as web project manager and driven by my love of travel and passion for documentary travel photography I started working as consultant on projects worldwide for almost 10 years until I joined Matrix full time in 2021.

Working internationally I learned a lot as a woman in this industry. Study and work experience has given me a unique set of skills — I can understand the technical aspects as well as the final impression of the visuals, and I can act as an intermediary between the technical and design teams for clients. I am very happy to be back working in Ireland and able to live in the West of Ireland as we are now a fully remote company, but it’s nice to meet up in person in the office in Dublin occasionally.

I am always reviewing and hoping to improve my processes, and I’m happy that Matrix encourages this. I was delighted to be given the opportunity to travel to the Web Summit, and many talks resonated with our working environment at Matrix as well as my work philosophy.

Key takeaways for me were:

  • Empathy and life quality for employees is key for success
  • Know your market, know your customers and know what you will deliver
  • Make a promise be diligent and live up to it
  • Share vulnerabilities which demonstrates you are real person 

At Matrix it’s about the person best suited for the role, not your gender. However, there is a disparity in the number of females vs males applying for jobs so we are hoping to start bridging that gap — and we want to call out to Women in Tech to join.

 

Keelin O’Keeffe — Digital Marketing Co-Manager

As a woman, and particularly a mother of two young kids, working in technology was not something I had planned or assumed was a career option for me. I needed flexibility and understanding, and didn’t think the world of technology embraced these needs. I associated working in tech with long hours and fast-paced, family-unfriendly environments populated by mostly men.

This was a few years ago and I’m happy to say I have been proven wrong. The tech world doesn’t have to be this way and the culture and environment in each organisation is driven by the powers that be. If you have the right company that fits you and your lifestyle, I believe you can embrace a role in any industry, regardless of the perceived barriers.

I’m lucky to be in an environment that embraces diversity, flexibility and empowerment. Results are hugely important, but the best results come with a happy, empowered team. If you can create a flexible environment with space for people to create their own style of working, I guarantee you will harness a team who will go out of their way to do the best work possible, in an environment that’s welcoming and collaborative (two key factors in employee retention).

On our recent trip to the Web Summit, we heard many talks on the importance of mental health in the workplace and in particular the importance of honing in on key areas that women can bring to senior leadership roles. We heard how empathy, emotional intelligence and creativity are just some of the core strengths that female leaders can be especially skilled at.

For me the conversation isn’t about males vs females — it’s about the strengths each individual can bring to the workplace. If we harness these skills while also facilitating different lifestyle needs, we can create that magical sweet spot of high productivity and a happy, healthy workforce.

 

Charlotte Vial — Senior Developer

I started working for Matrix in 2012 as a French Erasmus student looking for an internship, after knocking on web agencies’ doors to see if any place would take me, with my not-so-fluent English and very basic knowledge of web development. Now 11 years later I’m still working at Matrix, as a Senior Developer.
Web development is a field that was dominated by men, but with time more and more women are coming through. I’d love to see a 50/50 ratio!

 

If you’re considering web development but feel like it’s more of a “man’s job”, you’ll be hearing from me. There are no such things as gender binary in development! If you like logic, speak English (most APIs are in English), enjoy when things are tidy and don’t mind spending all day behind a computer, you should absolutely consider it.

 

Zahra Alboqub — UX Designer

As a creative person technology was not on my mind when I started my career journey in visual communications design. During the first few years of my career, I quickly discovered that I preferred design backed up by data. I started working on app branding and created a few screens on Adobe Illustrator (back when Figma was not a thing!) and since then I’ve fallen in love with apps and web design.

However, I was focused solely on the visual aspect of the digital screens — not how the end user would interact with them. I wanted to validate my design decisions, empathise and understand the end user a lot more and find out if my work had a positive or a negative impact. It was then that I discovered the UX world and I have not looked back ever since.

The tech industry was intimidating at the start, due to the lack of diversity for both women and POC. Being a woman of colour in the UX industry I don’t see many people who look like me working in tech, but this gives me a unique perspective on the work that I do.

However, all my worries and doubts have been so far from reality. The tech world is growing with supportive and friendly people who are always ready to help and support one another. It offers great flexible hours and many opportunities for remote/hybrid working. As a woman, if you are considering a career in UX or a start in the tech world, the UX discipline is a great way to start.

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