Tech she said: insights and life hacks from women in the field

Women in tech

Many countries mark International Women’s Day on March 8. In the tech industry, we see a significant gap: women occupy only 22% of the tech roles in Europe. The Economist's glass-ceiling rating reveals that not even the wealthiest countries have achieved gender equality.

This led us to have a conversation about gender equality with two accomplished women in tech, Shelby Dacko, a Human Risk Analyst at Social-Engineer LLC, and Gintarė Milkevičiūtė, a Product Manager at NordLayer. We explored issues related to gender equality and self-confidence among women. We also talked about ways to empower women and took time to celebrate their successes. 

The interview highlights

  • To increase the number of women in tech, it's essential to both encourage young girls and support women who are already in the field.

  • Role models are crucial for inspiration; they can be everyday people you know, not necessarily famous women.

  • When feeling stressed before something important, reassure yourself by remembering just to do what you do every day.

  • A useful strategy during stressful times is to believe that you are the most knowledgeable person in the room.

  • Being mindful of your current situation, preparing adequately, and investing in presenting yourself confidently are key.

  • Diversity is beneficial for business as people from different backgrounds and mindsets enhance performance.

  • The tech field is exciting and welcoming, affirming that women are fully capable and belong in this space.

NordLayer: Let's introduce Shelby Dacko, a Human Risk Analyst at Social-Engineer LLC. She's skilled in open-source intelligence and has made over 20,000 vishing calls. Shelby, can you tell us more about yourself and being a certified ethical social engineer?

Shelby Dacko: I started as a sign language interpreter before shifting towards tech. I was drawn to social engineering after a course recommendation. That course sparked my interest, leading me to join the field. I've been in tech for nearly five years now.

NordLayer: Thank you. We also welcome Ginte Milkevičiūtė, Product Manager at NordLayer. She focuses on product development and management.

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: I joined the cybersecurity sector and NordLayer just over half a year ago. Understanding how users interact with and utilize the product is my area of expertise. Before that, I spent my career in similar positions, leading tech-oriented projects, products, and transformations in both B2C and B2B organizations. 

Insight #1: Boost women in tech by encouraging young girls and backing the women who are paving the way

NordLayer: Increasing the number of women in tech is key. A McKinsey analysis suggests that if Europe could boost women's presence in tech to 45% by 2027, it might close the talent gap and potentially increase GDP by up to €600 billion.

There are programs aimed at including women in tech, such as Black Girls Code, among other initiatives. Shelby, what do you think about strategies to further empower women to join and thrive in the tech industry?

Shelby Dacko: It's crucial for young women to see other women in tech. We need to encourage opportunities from a young age, and the organizations mentioned are doing a great job at this. Involvement in programs targeting high schoolers and younger to foster a love for the field is necessary. My company has engaged in such activities, with my boss speaking to children about social engineering. These are just a few actions we need to continue and expand upon.

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: I strongly agree that seeing women in technical roles early in life can be as inspiring as knowing Barbie can be a doctor or an astronaut. It shows there are more alternatives. 

Another important aspect is how we communicate with children and young adults. Often, girls are complimented on their appearance, while boys are praised for their intelligence. This reflects a societal bias, emphasizing the need for society, including parents, grandparents, uncles, friends, and brothers, to recognize and nurture individuals with a suitable mindset for tech, regardless of gender. Let's not limit our children's opportunities based on gender stereotypes.

Talent Acquisition insights 

In my time hiring for tech roles, I've noticed a big increase in women applying over the last five years. More and more women are showing interest in a variety of tech jobs, like engineering, cybersecurity, and data science.

At Nord Security, diversity matters a lot to us. We make it a priority to encourage women to apply for positions. Our NordSwitch program is a great example of this. We run it every year to bring in people from different backgrounds. 

We're looking forward to it this April just as much as in past years. It's worth noting that half of the people we hired from this program were women. What's even more heartening is that 90% of them have stayed with us for more than six months, and they're happy in their roles.

Lauryna Girėnienė, Head of Talent Acquisition at NordVPN and NordLayer

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Insight #2: Your role model could be someone you know; heroes aren't just those in the spotlight

NordLayer: Let's talk about the role of models. Shelby, how have role models influenced your tech career?

Shelby Dacko: Three women come to mind as my role models. First, there's Dr. Abbie, a scientist, not specifically tech-focused but a mentor who significantly helped me step out of my comfort zone. Then, Amanda Marchuk, my colleague, is my biggest supporter. Finally, Rosa Rowles, a fellow researcher I work with daily, brings a different perspective to our work, which is fascinating. We tackle problems from varied angles but always support each other. 

NordLayer: That's wonderful. Having an empowering atmosphere within the team is vital. Ginte, could you also share your story and role models? 

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: It might sound cliché, but it's my mother. She's had a 55-year career in civil engineering, specializing in drafting blueprints for large buildings, such as refrigerating facilities the size of football fields and various industrial buildings. When she started her career, it was a highly male-dominated field.

She's taught me to be logical, focused, and thorough, which has been invaluable. Growing up, her example made me confident I could succeed in technical areas, especially ones involving physics and math, which I loved. 

When I started my professional life, I finally met other women in tech. A standout was the head of our architecture department, the most senior woman I'd seen in my field. She was incredibly skilled and supportive. 

Now, at NordLayer, our CTO, Juta, is a fantastic leader I admire. I'm lucky to have a great circle of friends at work to share ideas and challenges with.

Take a moment to read about the women at Nord Security who have found success. They work in roles such as Product Owner, Solutions Architect, Employer Brand Manager, and Information Security Manager. These women are challenging stereotypes and playing a big part in the tech industry, helping to create a future that includes everyone.

There are chances for you to get involved and make a difference in this exciting area too! Learn more about their paths and see how you might begin your journey in tech.

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Insight #3: Stressed? Remind yourself, "I've got this, just like any other day."

NordLayer: Now, let's touch on challenges and setbacks. Shelby, could you share some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a woman in tech, the mindset that helped you overcome these obstacles, and any particular stories, lessons learned, or achievements that make you proud?

Shelby Dacko: Many of my challenges have stemmed from my own doubts about my capabilities. Once, my boss asked me to conduct a live vishing call in front of about 300 people. The prospect was daunting because the success of such calls is never guaranteed, and I was worried about failing publicly. However, my team lead at the time, Ryan, noticed my anxiety and encouraged me by simply reminding me to do what I do every day. His confidence in my skills made a huge difference, and I've carried that mindset forward into other aspects of my work, from on-site jobs to various projects. Whenever I doubt myself, I remember Ryan's encouragement and remind myself that I am qualified and capable.

Shelby Dacko quote

NordLayer: Where do these insecurities stem from, in your opinion?

Shelby Dacko: It's a mix of personal and societal factors. While my parents have always been supportive, not everyone has that kind of encouragement, and societal influences, like teachers not promoting STEM subjects, can play a part. Imposter syndrome is particularly prevalent in our industry, and it can be more intense for women. Reading "Swing Away" by Billy Boatright, which focuses on imposter syndrome, helped me a lot. One key takeaway is that if you're chosen to take the stage, you have the skills needed to compete, even if you don't always come out on top.

Talent Acquisition insights 

Regarding imposter syndrome, we've noticed women often request lower salaries than men, particularly in tech roles in Europe. This could be because the rise of women in tech is relatively recent, and many are unsure about the salary they should expect. Often, women entering tech in their late 20s or 30s, possibly from different fields, opt for stability over risking higher salary demands.

Lauryna Girėnienė, Head of Talent Acquisition at NordVPN and NordLayer

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Insight #4: In tough times, own the room. Believing you're the smartest one there helps

NordLayer: Considering the competitive nature often seen as a male trait, how do you view the role of confidence and emotional intelligence in your field?

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: In my first job, I was lucky to work in an environment filled with experienced business consultants. They taught me that you need to appear knowledgeable and confident, even if you don't feel it initially. This is about your internal belief in your capabilities, projecting self-confidence and expertise that you might not feel you possess at the moment but will develop over time. 

One colleague advised me always to consider myself the most knowledgeable person in the room, which really helps set a positive attitude. This advice seems to come more naturally to Americans than Europeans, who tend to be more reserved. But maintaining this confidence internally can significantly influence how you handle difficult situations, find patterns, and guide conversations effectively. 

NordLayer: That's a useful tip—having a mindset of "fake it till you make it."

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: But it's not really faking. You have the knowledge, and if you don't, you navigate the conversation until you do. It's not faking; it's believing in your capacity to learn and adapt.

Insight #5: Face reality head-on, prep thoroughly, and shine with confidence

NordLayer: Do you have a motto or something that helps you when you're nervous or stressed?

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: My biology teacher used to say before tests, “If you haven’t learned it by now, that ship has sailed. Just make sure you look good and dive in.” It taught me that fretting doesn’t help; being prepared and confident does. It’s about facing those tough moments head-on and growing from them. As Sheryl Sandberg suggests, leaning into discomfort is how we expand our comfort zones.

Shelby Dacko: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Gintare Milkeviciute quote

Insight #6: Diversity isn't just nice; it's smart business. Different perspectives drive success

NordLayer: Let's discuss diversity. It's clear that diversity, including different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, is key in a team. It not only boosts the economy by increasing employment but also enhances productivity and creativity, as diverse teams often make better decisions. Shelby, can you share how diversity has impacted your team's dynamics and decision-making?

Shelby Dacko: This is something I see clearly on my team because we all come from different backgrounds. For example, my colleague Rosa came from the hotel industry, and on her first day, she managed to achieve a goal in a client task that I never approached because I couldn't figure out how. She just blew me away with her approach, which I had never considered, even though I had been with the company for a year. This is a great demonstration of how diversity adds so much to a team. 

NordLayer: Thank you so much. Gintarė, as a manager, how do you approach diversity in your team?

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: Diversity is essential, yet it can sometimes make things uncomfortable. I've noticed teams and managers where all members have a similar profile, not just in terms of ethnicity, gender, or age, but also in mindset and way of thinking. However, diverse teams need people who ideate, challenge, plan, execute, and review. Although it might slow down work or complicate agreement on certain topics. 

For instance, when a developer in our team started asking unusual questions, it initially seemed disruptive. Yet, by exploring these questions, we uncovered a new use case that prevented users from misusing our product and opened up opportunities for monetization. Product development, built on the pillars of product, engineering, and design, benefits greatly from diversity.

Insight #7: Tech's cool, and so are you. Women belong in this innovative space

NordLayer: As we close, let's talk about our drive in the tech industry. What excites you about it? Shelby, can you start?

Shelby Dacko: The constant change in tech is what's exciting. It means we need to adapt our techniques to keep up with the bad actors. We have to evolve our methods and help train and protect those we work with. 

The fact that bad actors won't stop means we can't either. We must continue combating them, and it's thrilling to see the technological advancements made in response to these challenges. That's what motivates me—to keep growing in our efforts.

NordLayer: Great insight. Gintarė, what about you? What's your favorite thing about working in tech?

Gintarė Milkevičiūtė: For me, it's the complexity and the need for teamwork. The predictability of past jobs bored me. In tech, especially in the product field, things are constantly changing and everything is interconnected. I enjoy strategizing and leading projects. The feeling of managing a complex task, like keeping a fast-moving train on track without it derailing, but maintaining its speed, is exhilarating. That's what motivates me in the product field, and I think it's the best job.

Talent Acquisition insights

When it comes to applying for tech positions, women often only apply if they feel almost overqualified for the role. They want to be sure they can handle the interview process. Men, on the other hand, typically apply when they meet about 60% to 70% of the requirements. They're confident they can learn the rest as they go, unlike women.

Remember, job descriptions outline the ideal candidate, but perfect matches are rare. Hiring teams value not just technical skills but also your attitude and values. These often determine whether a less experienced candidate gets the job. 

So, to all women out there, don't hesitate to apply if you think you can learn the skills you lack. 

Check out our career page!

Lauryna Girėnienė, Head of Talent Acquisition at NordVPN and NordLayer

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