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On the 8th of March, the world commemorates International Women’s Day. Cecelia Regolo, senior Business Development Specialist at Western Digital, recently sat down for a Q&A in which she shares her personal insights about what working in tech entails and how the pandemic has affected the working environment.

  • As a woman, what have some of your biggest challenges been in your industry? How have you overcome them?

As an industry, technology has sometimes been a challenging sector for women to get into, and that’s replicated right the way down to the education level. For example, when I was studying for my Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers degree (IEEE), I was one of the very few women attending these classes. Going back even further, during my childhood in Italy I saw that success for women looked very different and overcoming these stereotypes in my own life and career was challenging.

In terms of how I personally overcame these barriers, my parents always empowered me to build a career in IT. For example, they supported my travel plans and encouraged me to work in different countries in Europe and US. Having a supportive network, whether this be family, friends or work mentors, is crucial in helping women to achieving their goals

When I began my career, I was always the only woman in a customer-facing technical role and over time, I learned how to differentiate myself in the team by leveraging my personal strengths. By proving my value in the team, I believe I overcame any assumptions that colleagues had about me.

  • Has the pandemic altered women’s attitudes toward their career and growth? How did the pandemic affect your work and mental wellbeing?

I believe that the pandemic introduced added challenges for everyone, especially women. In many cases women may be largely responsible for childcare in their families and juggling between working from home, and home schooling has put more pressure on working mothers. In addition, it has become increasingly difficult to take care of mental health during the pandemic. When working remotely it’s crucial to take breaks, step away from the laptop and enjoy some time outside.

  • What, in your opinion, are some of the most pressing gender biases that women face in the technology world?

From my experience over the years, there can sometimes be an assumption that women are not technical enough or could be judged by their looks and assumed to not have the same technical expertise and understanding as their male colleagues. Women who have climbed the career-ladder could also be questioned about their hard-earned skills and successes. There is also an issue where there is a lack of female senior representation in companies, with this context, it could be difficult for young girls and women to aim for leadership roles. 

  • As an industry leader, how are you and your organisation making it easier for other women to achieve their professional goals?

I have been at Western Digital for just over three months and I have seen many positives within the organisation. Transparency is key and it’s vital for female leaders to promote and support other women. Company initiatives can help encourage this process: Western Digital has recently launched an internal programme that connects women within the company, provides information and supports personal development through external lectures, training and mentoring programmes. These mentoring meetings support employees to explore and discuss ideas. Nurturing leadership and communication skills can help drive change within the wider business.

Just as a gender gap exists in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, a gender gap also exists in patenting activity. On its mission to change the reported low representation of female inventors, She Invents began in an effort to ensure fair representation of female inventors with the aim of increasing participation in patenting activity by the company’s female technical staff. She Invents took several steps to achieve its objective. First, the company established a mentoring program, where more-experienced inventors could share their knowledge of Western Digital’s patent process with less-experienced female inventors. Specifically, the mentors help mentees identify potentially patent-worthy ideas, submit those ideas for patent consideration, and turn approved ideas into patent applications. The She Invents program also added women to patent review committees, giving them in-depth knowledge of Western Digital’s patent process and enabling them to mentor and advise less-experienced inventors (especially female technologists, who might be more comfortable approaching a female committee member). Since the program was first announced internally in May 2020, female participation in the patent program has increased by 27%. As more women participate in the patent process, they accumulate the knowledge needed to realize their value, fueling their professional development and giving them the confidence to voice their ideas. As a result, these women experience higher job satisfaction and rise within the leadership ranks. 

By having female employees represented in leadership positions, this has an important halo effect. I have a very personal example of this: the other day I was delighted to be told by my niece that I am a role model and inspiration to her. She is currently in her fourth year of high school and dreams of getting a job in the high-tech field. I believe that by simply thriving in my career, my niece has felt empowered to enter a male-dominated industry. We simply need more female role models who show that gender should not play a role in one’s career.

  • What is your success mantra? Can you share some advice for women and girls who wish to achieve success in the technology space and Break The Bias?

Stand tall, educate yourself, keep pushing, and never give up. Be kind but tough at the same time, and carefully observe what is missing in a situation so that you can fill this gap. Listening is also key and without it, you may not fully grasp the entire picture to make the right decision. Focusing on these areas will help to stand out.