5 things I’ve learned over 30 years as a woman in tech

Kim Custeau, AVEVA Executive Vice President of Portfolio, began her career in tech as the only woman in a room full of men. She shares the life lessons she learned along the way

Posted: March 25, 2024

Building a career as a woman in tech is a journey that requires making tough decisions, thinking out of the box, and sometimes taking new developments in stride – even when the exact outcome isn’t immediately obvious. That’s true for any career, of course, but I’ve built mine by learning from and remembering some valuable lessons.

I’m proud to work for a company that fosters a culture of belonging and inclusion, with transparency around ethnicity and gender pay gaps, as well as initiatives such as our grassroots Women@AVEVA employee group.

It’s clear the tech sector needs to do more to inspire inclusion, to echo this year’s International Women’s Day theme. As of 2023, men continued to outnumber women in tech at approximately 3:1 in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.

When I began my career selling maintenance management software over 30 years ago, there were far fewer women in the industry. I wasn’t an engineer, and when I presented our software, the audience of male engineers would typically spend the first 20 minutes peppering me with questions. They didn’t understand why I should be the one telling them what software they should use.

The lessons I learned then – and along the way – have been integral to my career as a woman in tech.

Become a domain expert.

For me, becoming an expert on asset performance management was a great way to debunk stereotypes and earn my customers’ respect. When I’m asked, I always tell young women coming into the company: learn the value proposition of our products in detail and go visit a customer to see how our products are really used. This kind of experience is the ultimate currency. When you address bias confidently and professionally, your expertise overrides other people’s preconceptions. It breaks down stereotypes and creates a more inclusive and diverse environment.

Claim your space.

We’ve all heard about the importance of leaning in. One way to do so is to recognize the importance of being an active participant in decision-making and bring our own perspectives to the table. When you’re surrounded by strong personalities, you have to use your voice. That includes advocating for yourself in the workplace. You’re your own best cheerleader. So, claim your space. That’s a good lesson for everyone, really.

Make listening well a habit.

On the flip side, it’s equally important to listen well. What are people trying to say? I’ve found you can get more accomplished with collaboration and listening. Not only does each team member – or customer – feel heard and valued, but active listening also promotes empathy and ensures diverse viewpoints are considered when making decisions. You learn new things; you can overcome potential challenges and build a supportive professional environment. It’s been said that success belongs to those who listen more than they speak.

Build a versatile skill set.

We’re living in a world where it’s uncommon to have one job for life. My own career has transitioned from technical pre-sales to product management to portfolio marketing to business lead to my role today in Portfolio Management. To thrive in each job, I’ve had to cultivate a diverse skill set along the way.

The World Economic Forum estimates that within the next five years, 23% of global jobs will change due to industry transformation and we will all need to be familiar with new developments and technologies to succeed. At AVEVA, we promote continuous learning as a member of The 5% Club; we’ve committed to employing 5% of our workforce in “Earn & Learn” positions within five years. Upskilling and reskilling are essential to navigating the tech industry, enhancing your versatility, and to ensuring you’re a valuable asset to any team or project.

Knock on closed doors.

Not everyone encounters an overt glass ceiling – I don’t believe I have – but nevertheless, the percentage of women in leadership roles in tech stands at just 28% today. As a leader, I believe companies need to recognize that people may have experienced discrimination and that they should have systems in place to address it.  I think it is always worth asking yourself whether you’re holding yourself back because you see a barrier that isn’t there. Challenging your own perceptions and celebrating your achievements can help build confidence, propelling personal growth and contributing to paving the way for other women. My own approach along my journey has been to reframe challenging situations positively and think about what I can learn from each situation. It all begins with curiosity and knocking on doors.

AVEVA recognizes the importance of a diverse and inclusive culture and has clearly defined it as one of our core principles. This was recognized in an FT survey of European corporate sector employees, where AVEVA emerged as a leader in diversity. 

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