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Inflection Point: Changing The Trajectory for Women in Tech

It’s Women’s History Month. A time when we can reflect on the stories of incredible women who have blazed the trails from which we benefit. But, it’s also a time when we should reflect on our histories and our own stories and find ways to help cultivate a better tomorrow.

When I look back at my story, I see moments—inflection points, where my story could have gone in many different directions.

I was born in 1990, one of the last generations to grow up without high-speed internet. Instead of the app store, we had scraped knees, indelible grass stains, and we used the street lights as the signal that it was time to go home.

Like many, I was born to immigrant parents in a city school district with limited resources. But as I grew older, through my parent’s hard work, we were able to move to a school district in the suburbs with better resources—including technology. At the same time, we were witnessing the emergence of dial-up internet.

With that dial-up came nightly battles with parents over the phone line. From “surfing” the web, to using boolean searches for homework, to learning HTML (to personalize our MySpace pages)--the internet felt like uncharted terrain of possibilities. That introduction started my love of tech.

After high school, I attended a prestigious university known for its highly-rated STEM programs. STEM, or, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, was (and still is) largely dominated by white males. Women made up only 35% of the student body at this school, and minority women rated even lower compared to population size.

But I was excited, I studied hard, earned every A, and pursued my degree—statistics be damned! But one day, when signing up for the next semester, I selected a general technology class as an elective.

On my first day of class, I noticed that in this class of 36 students, only 4 were females. That 2/1 ratio was suddenly 9/1. It made me nervous, but I knew ‘this was the way it was’ at a technical university. By the second week, those nerves felt more justified—I felt a persistent sense that I didn’t belong, like a fish out of water. That sense was pushed to the forefront of my awareness during an assignment. We were instructed to identify a piece of technology that we used daily. I picked something I thought would offer a unique viewpoint—a hairdryer.

As soon as the word hairdryer came out of my mouth, that 36-person class felt like all of humanity was snickering at me. Mocking me for choosing a hairdryer as if it was an absurd idea. I dropped that class the same day.

That was an inflection point. A moment in time, like many before, that altered my relationship with these fields of study, historically reserved for ‘certain kinds of people.’ But while it changed me, when I look back, it also hardened my will to never get pushed out like that again.

I finished my undergrad degree in Health & Exercise Science, Women & Gender Studies, and a minor in Criminal Justice, but rather than going to the medical field, I realized I had an intuitive understanding of business in a way that medical professionals often lack. I decided that I wanted to help Doctors who run their own practices start their operational business, allowing them to focus on what they do best.

That lead me to a pharmacy software start-up—a unification of my passions for tech, business, and people.

However, upon joining, familiar feelings began to resurface. I found myself as the only female in an all-male executive and leadership team. It brought back the feelings of being in that science and technology class, but this time was different. Another inflection point, but one where I made the conscious decision about how I wanted the story to unfold.

I worked, fought, and found myself with a seat at the table. Yet, that seat was still unwelcoming. My ideas, my voice, even my presence was treated like an aberration that would pass. The snickering of my college classmates had been replaced by the cynical eyebrows of my male peers.

That feeling is isolating.

Those years shaped me into the professional I am today. I fought hard and persisted to collect the tactics and tools that allowed me to thrive in that male-dominated SaaS technology industry.

Fast forward to today, I’m thankful to work at Torii where I join with other professionals in shaping the kind of inclusive and equitable culture that should universally define the technology industry. Rather than feeling at odds with the leadership, I am supported in cultivating a culture of support for everyone.

The future of tech must be better than its past. For all the good, there is still more to be done.

This next generation of female professionals grew up with limitless internet and tech at their fingertips. It’s our job to provide the proper guidance, encouragement, and education to the next wave of great innovators, creators, and leaders.

Our different backgrounds and experiences are a feature, not a bug. There is so much to be gained, and nothing to be lost.

Everyone hits multiple inflection points through the course of their life—our work is to ensure that for girls excited about the opportunities in STEM, each inflection allows them to feel empowered to pursue their path—to write their story—to craft their narrative in the way they want.

Rasha Awwad is the Director of People & Culture at Torii. If you’d like to learn more about her role and impactful work at Torii, check her feature in our Spotlight Series

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