An Eye-Opening Conversation about Gender and Tech

As part of our student-led series of events celebrating International Women’s Day 2021, the MBA’s Tech Club recently hosted a roundtable discussion with three female managers – and recent HEC Paris MBA alumnae – about their recommendations for working in tech. Insights (edited for clarity and length) from their eye-opening conversation.

It’s an industry where innovation surges weekly, and people rely on it for everything from grocery shopping to writing texts. But as much as technology is retooling the 21st century, there is one realm where the industry lags woefully behind—namely, in the hiring of women and underrepresented minorities. To learn more, the HEC Paris MBA’s Tech Club recently held a virtual roundtable discussion, organized by MBA student Saumya Ailawadi, with three alumnae working in tech. This far-reaching dialogue touched on topics including AI, STEM, and imposter syndrome. It featured Maria Elena Martyak, MBA ’18, Head of Product Marketing at Sellics; Nupur Tiwari, MBA ’20, Program Manager at Microsoft; and Priya Ramkissoon, MBA ’18, Senior Business Operations Manager at Amazon Web Services.

A few of the highlights:

Saumya: Tell us about the measures you’re seeing from companies to encourage STEM skills and help bridge the gap for women?

Nupur: Technology is a field where your skills can be out-of-date in a year. One of the challenges is to stay relevant. Companies are offering recertification possibilities, and expanding the reach of their diversity programs. To give one specific example, Codess is a Microsoft initiative that supports female coders and explores ways to promote gender diversity.  It exists in many countries around the world. Before the pandemic, Singapore was the only Southeast Asian country in which it existed. Microsoft decided to ramp up its investment, and now Codess is in 5 countries in the region. It is one of many specific programs the company has in place to address the issue.

Nupur at her work at Microsoft

Nupur Tiwari pictured at Microsoft’s Singapore office

Priya: Amazon provides certificate programs and has specific IT programs for women, with mentorship included, where you can gain skills and receive certification. It’s the type of ongoing training and mentorship that will help address the issue and bring progress.


Saumya: Is artificial intelligence the ultimate solution to removing gender bias in recruitment?

Maria: Absolutely not. When the applications come in, they are being scanned for very specific keywords. It’s common market knowledge you can Google ‘how to write the best resume for a software to scan,’ so that you have the best chances of getting into the applicant pool. That leaves the applicant pool slightly tainted.

As a hiring manager, I’m looking for a combination of skills, competencies and experiences, and also cultural fit, attitude, and willingness and ability to learn. You can’t bypass human intervention. You have to make sure the person is going to fit within the team. You will always have interviews with the HR team, with hiring managers, and with potential teammates, and there’s too many human touch points to fully remove bias across the entire application and recruitment process.


Hanging out in the S building back in 2018, then-MBA students Maria Elena Martyak and Yoshiko Tokuchi

Hanging out in the S building back in 2018, then-MBA students Maria Elena Martyak and Yoshiko Tokuchi

Saumya: What are some of your tips to speak more confidently and show off your work?

Maria: The best way to be confident is to know your material. Especially in this industry, where there are technical competencies to master, you have to be at the top of your game. Make sure you know how things work and understand who is responsible for what.

I also recommend having internal sponsorship of your ideas. In order to drive new projects, get more budget and increase your head count, you have to have internal support, whether it comes from your managers, your co-workers or HR. Develop your internal network and build your professional presence.


Saumya: Do you have any advice about overcoming imposter syndrome?

Priya: When I worked in finance, imposter syndrome was never talked about, or if it was, it was regarded as a ‘women’s thing’. But since I moved into tech, the number of times I’ve heard both women and men – even developers and extremely technical people – talk about it, is incredibly hopeful. My advice is don’t be afraid to talk about it. You might find that the person next to you feels exactly the same way.

Maria: It also goes back to having the right mentor. The right person will tell you what you need to learn and what you need to do move forward in your career. My advice is to work towards gaining the skills that you need to feel comfortable.


Saumya: How can MBA students work to become the unbiased leaders of tomorrow?

Maria: Your network is one of the most powerful things that you have. HEC really hones in on this, but I didn’t actually realize how powerful it is until I after I graduated. Having a network of strong, successful women can be very aspirational as well as very helpful. They can give you the right kind of guidance and feedback, whether it is on technical skills, on managerial skills, or on the experience you need to get to the place you want to be.

Nupur: What I found most special about the community at HEC is that it is incredibly inclusive. Whether it’s an alum, a professor, a staff member or another student, you never find that the person is unavailable to you. My advice is to take advantage of this. Work with people with whom you otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with and who are different from yourself in terms of nationality, profession, background and age. HEC is a great place to overcome any unintentional biases you might have.