Breaking Glass Ceilings: Women in Tech & Engineering Fields

By: Yasmina Abu-Roomi Santana, Managing Director, Rockwell Automation | Thursday, 13 June 2024

Yasmina, a tech leader with 15 years' experience and over a decade in leadership, spearheads digital sales and business development. Fluent in five languages and holding a BA in English, she passionately empowers women and young talent to embrace diverse opportunities and continuous learning.

In a recent conversation with the Global Woman Leader Magazine, Yasmina shares her insights on crucial gender diversity initiatives in tech, strategies for professionals to advocate them, how women leaders ensure equity in a biased industry, and significant barriers to women's leadership advancement, along with methods to dismantle these barriers.

Which initiatives or policies do you believe are crucial for promoting gender diversity and inclusion within tech/engineering organizations? How can professionals advocate for their implementation?

Firstly, I would say training and enablement on what gender inclusion is and means. This actually goes beyond the workforce, and it starts at schools.

There is a lot we can do around investing in mentorship programs to form and promote young female talent inside of tech majors. Exposing female role models and involves them into these mentorships.

Revisiting global and local payment policies to ensure equitable pay and promotion.

As leaders, we have the responsibility both inside of companies and institutions alike, to promote in our messaging the importance of equal opportunities and to monitor closely the reinforcement of a more inclusive recruitment policy, that is measurable and quantifiable, so we can gather comprehensive data that helps reinforce the message and track a positive evolution.

In the pervasive gender biases in the tech/engineering industry, how do women leaders ensure that their leadership style promotes equity and fairness for all team members, regardless of gender?

To ensure equity, you need to exercise it. That is achieved by viewing the potential of your people as individuals and not as men, women or other identities.

Implementing a rewarding mechanism that praises performance, team work, culture…etc. is the best way to remain fair and judge individuals as per their work and contribution to an organization and a team which is completely disconnected from gender matters.

What steps do you believe organizations should take to combat the stigma associated with women working in technical fields? How would professionals actively contribute to changing these perceptions within their team and the broader industry?

If we were talking race like we talk gender sometimes, we would be in a lot of trouble.
We must stop talking about ‘’women’’ as a collective or a minority. We are not. We are talent, we are passion, and we are value, just like any other gender identity out there.

Sometimes I feel we are trying to build a house through its roof. Before we try to reinforce equity, let’s try to understand the value it is designed to bring.

The problem I see is that companies talk about their need for women as if they were ticking a box. This isn’t about ‘’let’s have more women, or more of this and that nationality’’, reality is, most companies today are not looking at the power of diversity and how it balances outcome.

There are many steps a company can promote like invest in girl education, sponsor more female students…etc. but I think the core issue is how companies view this task. A must do, rather than a must have. An expense rather than an investment. In short. It’s a culture problem within organizations.

In your view, what are the most significant barriers preventing women from advancing into leadership positions within tech/engineering organizations, and how would they need to work to dismantle these barriers?

I speak with a lot of very strong individuals in my day to day, inside and outside of my organization, and one pattern always emerges. Ladies tend to doubt themselves more than men.I think this is the consequence of a status quo established through history where men ‘’ruled’’ while the figures of ‘’ruling women’’ were either rare or often in the shadows.

To challenge this status quo, we must invest in enablement and mentorship, to empower women, but also to educate more traditional organizations around praising talent and not gender, religion, sexual orientation…etc. Its all comes down to how we view leadership and how we tie it to what historically we consider power. Leadership should be gender free and talent focused.

In the intersectionality of gender with other identities such as race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background, how do leaders ensure that diversity initiatives in the organization are truly inclusive and address the needs of all women, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds?

To ensure diversity initiatives are inclusive, leaders must adopt an intersectional approach, recognizing overlapping discrimination. They should involve diverse voices in decision-making, collect comprehensive data to identify barriers, and develop targeted support programs for underrepresented groups. Inclusive communication and continuous feedback are essential, using diverse channels and regular surveys to understand all women's experiences. Training on intersectionality raises awareness and understanding within the organization. These strategies help create an environment that supports all women, addressing the unique challenges faced by those from various racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.

How do you measure the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives within an organization, particularly in terms of breaking down glass ceilings and overcoming stigma? Can you provide metrics or qualitative indicators that you find most meaningful?

 I believe the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives is measured through both quantitative and qualitative metrics. Key quantitative metrics include representation rates in leadership, promotion rates, pay equity, retention rates, and recruitment diversity. Qualitative indicators involve employee surveys assessing perceptions of inclusivity, focus groups for in-depth feedback, and tracking participation in mentorship programs.

Leadership commitment, demonstrated through public support and resource allocation, is crucial. Success is indicated by increased representation of women and underrepresented groups in leadership roles, equitable pay, higher retention rates, and positive employee perceptions of an inclusive and supportive workplace environment.