“We are influencing generations to come”: Improving the picture for women in tech through cultural changes

A woman's hand using a tablet, to represent women in tech. Decorative: the background is dark.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Improving the representation of women in tech, as well as better supporting the women already in tech roles, is a recurring point of focus for those seeking a fairer and more effective sector. Achieving this will mean addressing inherent inequalities and changing workplace cultures.

ITPro spoke to Shena Newman, associate director of IT digital experience and user feedback at Humana, at Splunk .conf24, about the progress already being made for women in tech and how support can be improved further. 

Making her remarks shortly after appearing at the Women in Tech Breakfast panel, Newman starts by saying that the usual conversation around getting more women into tech – which tends to hinge on increasing the number of women studying computer science at university – is flawed.

“I myself am an example of that as someone who does not have a college degree,” Newman tells ITPro. “And if that was the continued conversation and focal point, I wouldn't be sitting here with you today.

“I believe that we have to look at candidates, women and men, beyond a piece of paper. I believe that it takes an extreme amount of discipline to complete and get your college degree. I think that it takes an even more courageous discipline to say, ‘I'm going to go into the workforce knowing that I'm going to have challenges and barriers at the front door’. As soon as they see your resume, they're going to either ask why your education is not listed or ‘why would you not complete college?’ Or they're just going to skim past you right away. 

Shena Newman, Associate Director, IT Digital Experience and User Feedback, Humana.
Shena Newman

“So one of the things that I have done as a hiring leader is to say, a bachelor's degree and or this many years experience in this role, or this skill set. Because if we focus solely on just the education, we're going to miss out on very top, talented women and men in IT.”

Newman is clear that she’s not advocating for a general lack of training here. When it comes to securing a career in tech, she says, candidates will still have to pursue specialized certifications, formal training of some kind, and seek out networking groups.

This last point is one area the private sector can meaningfully impact, Newman adds.

“I think that organizations can start to invest in their communities and non-profits. There are always experts within organizations who are looking for ways to say ‘How can I get more involved in my community?’ Well, if organizations were to say, ‘Hey, we're starting to invest in our communities, we wanted to get people into tech earlier or get them exposure’, that starts to open up a wide range of opportunities. Because then they get a chance to see women like myself, or some of my peers or male allies, who are saying ‘This opportunity can be yours, you can do this, you can get this done and you don't Have to follow a very prescriptive path to get there’.”

Beyond the hiring process, Newman notes that organizations need to focus on retention. This should be no different from the effort leaders already expend on retaining important customers, Newman suggests:

“We know that it is more affordable to retain a customer that you have, versus to go out to acquire a new customer. If they took that same principle, even just 10% of that, and applied that to how they would retain women in tech in their organizations, we would not see the consistent churn of women in tech.”

Retaining women in tech

Newman acknowledges that some roles come with a heavy work-life balance and that this can put strain on efforts to be present in one’s home life. She says workers should look to treat their home lives as just as important as their work life, but that companies have to do their part.

“I think what organizations are not focusing on is creating an environment where women feel empowered to do that. Because their male counterpart can stay on that call for 17 hours, well we may have a mom that needs to get her kid up to go to school.

Creating this empowered environment, in which workers can create that balance, will help women, Newman says, adding that male allies also have a key role in proactively supporting female colleagues.

A seat at the table doesn't always mean that you have a voice...

“Sometimes women are left out of the conversation and that can become frustrating. It can become [a situation] where a woman questions ‘Am I in the right role? Am I at the right company? Is this what I really want to do?’ and they lose their voice. I think sometimes it’s intentional, but most times I believe that it is an unconscious thing that happens, where the woman is just left out of the conversation. 

“And if we continue to have that happen, we're going to see women leave companies and we're going to see women leave tech, and that would be a tragedy.”

A changing landscape and the importance of allyship

Diversity is an ongoing process, Newman says, and must be treated as such at every level of an organization. This means making sure that women’s voices are heard in the boardroom and continue to be. But all too often, she adds, enterprises treat this with quick fixes or short-term thinking.

“I think that sometimes where it stops is when it comes to ‘Okay, we've done all of this, that’s enough’. No, you're just getting started, it's like a marathon, it's a journey to continuously evolve what the boardroom looks like. 

“Also, a seat at the table doesn't always mean that you have a voice either. And that is where I find where organizations – really large organizations – sometimes drop the ball. I am fortunate enough to work for an organization where I get a chance to witness women at the table leading change, and that's inspiring to me. It makes me know that I'm at the right place.”

Change can be achieved over time with the right focus and proper allyship can mean support both public and private, Newman notes. Mentors are also important here, as they can provide support for women in tech and also ensure that their mentees are getting the proper chance to contribute.

Building relationships outside the boardroom with trusted individuals, and identifying allies at work who can have your back when you next find yourself in front of decision-makers, can be a great path forward, Newman adds.

Improving the cultural conversation

In addition to ensuring women join and stay in tech, there is a growing movement to encourage those who previously held roles in tech but left for a variety of reasons to return to the sector. ITPro has previously covered some recent examples of women returning to tech and Newman says this pattern is likely driven by a few standout factors.

“Women are very driven individuals, so they probably didn't see opportunities where they could become leaders in that space or trusted advisors in that space. 

“I think that because of the work that organizations have done, because of the women in tech panels and conversations that are happening, that women are saying, ‘You know what, my experience is going to be very different than what it may have been, maybe 10-15 years ago when we were just now starting’.“

Though the tech sector is still beset by a gender pay gap, Newman notes that the earning potential for women in tech has nonetheless improved and that this is also a powerful motivator for tech returners. She also posits that social media has had a positive impact, as women in senior tech positions are more able than ever to advertise their successes in the sector and show that they are just as capable as their male peers.

Something that Newman feels should be broadcast wider and which she has seen demonstrated time and time again is the resilience women in tech show in their everyday roles. This is especially important for high-stress roles such as those in security.

“I think that women thrive on pressure,” Newman tells ITPro. “Every woman that I come across in this industry, and I hear their journey, they're successful because they rose above the pressure and always deliver.”

At the same time, Newman thinks that organizations could do more to support workers through those crunch periods and long hours spent fighting cyber threats. This can reduce strain on workers and feed back into the conversation around helping staff balance their work-life balance.


“I think that requires organizations to have a more well-fitted team, where it's not just one person carrying the load or two people carrying the loads. If it's more balanced, then maybe I don't have to work 12 hours, maybe I can just work six of those and I have a team member who's equally as talented come in to work the other six. 

When it comes to shifting the cultural conversation around women in tech, Newman tells ITPro that she looks forward to a future in which the idea of women in tech is increasingly normalized and organically promoted to young girls and boys.

“If you, 15 years ago, asked a young girl, like, what are you going to grow up to be? She'd say a nurse and you say why? ‘Because my mom is a nurse’, right? So now we have a situation where the landscape has changed and it's like, you ask a young girl what does she want to be? And she'll say, ‘You know what, I want to be an architect’. Why do you want to be an architect? ‘Because my mom is one’.”

In these situations, Newman says, there is a positive knock-on effect in which their friends – almost certain to include co-workers who can act as additional role models for young people – cement the normality and aspirational nature of their jobs.

“And so you also are influencing young men by this as well, so you have young boys and they're starting to see ‘She is equally my competition’, right? Where before he probably counted her out like, ‘Oh, I'm gonna get this job’, now there's awareness, like ‘She has the same opportunity to be able to get this job just like you’, right? Because he's seeing it from the purview of maybe his parents. Or he's starting to see it from other people that are around him.

“We are influencing generations to come and, to me, that is my greatest gift: to leave that legacy for the women I work with, the young girls that I mentor in the community, and my nieces. I want them to be able to look to me and say ‘She did it – I can probably do it too’.”

Rory Bathgate
Features and Multimedia Editor

Rory Bathgate is Features and Multimedia Editor at ITPro, overseeing all in-depth content and case studies. He can also be found co-hosting the ITPro Podcast with Jane McCallion, swapping a keyboard for a microphone to discuss the latest learnings with thought leaders from across the tech sector.

In his free time, Rory enjoys photography, video editing, and good science fiction. After graduating from the University of Kent with a BA in English and American Literature, Rory undertook an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. He joined ITPro in 2022 as a graduate, following four years in student journalism. You can contact Rory at rory.bathgate@futurenet.com or on LinkedIn.