A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Laura Drabik, Group Vice President of Business Innovation at Guidewire.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Laura Drabik
What first got you interested in tech?
I have an Honours BA and an MBA from Rotman School of Management. Interestingly enough, I don’t have a tech background but a business one. I became interested in technology because I realized that it was the tool to make my business and innovation ideas happen. For instance, when I was a cat adjuster at State Farm, I realized that we could far better serve our customers with tech. I took those boots on the ground ideas and brought them to Guidewire.
My initial experience of insurance was working on the catastrophe front lines at State Farm (a large US insurance group). I graduated at the height of the recession. It was the only job I could get. That being said, I now see that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me through technology to help carriers better serve their customers. Full circle. I worked 12-hour days, 7 days a week, for weeks on end, estimating and paying for losses to ensure people had money to start repairing their property and lives. I shed tears for those who lost everything and celebrated with those who felt lucky to be spared a total loss. And I would do it all again. Unfortunately, due to climate change, many others will have to do it again, repeatedly.
I used this experience at Guidewire, humanizing the technology and inspiring product features, including Guidewire’s first suite feature that enables insurers to manage catastrophes and help customers when seconds matter. Since then, as a technology provider, I’m bringing real-life change to how tech experts work with insurers.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
The biggest obstacle I encountered was that I had to work three jobs to put myself through university. And, then again for my MBA. It was challenging but it made me want and appreciate my education even more.
Another obstacle I had to face was gender inequality in my career. I saw many lesser qualified men rise above me. I had to work harder than them to prove my worth. I started sitting at the table and asserting my own ideas. Women who say “I” are not seen as team players, so I had to communicate my ideas differently from the men.
A strong support group
I am the first in my immediate family to obtain a university degree. Although supportive emotionally, financially they chose not to support my education. They believed I needed to earn my education and appreciate it by paying for it myself. It was a challenge, but I built grit in achieving my goal.
My role model is Anne Marie Slaughter. She gets what it’s like to be a working mom. Just read her Atlantic article. We are ‘big picture’ thinkers. We multi-task and are expert negotiators. We do it all while raising a human being.
Did someone ever try to stop you in your professional life?
Yes, I had to deal with gender bias. I work in sales! A male dominated field. Insurance is also a male dominated (leadership) industry. I am a thought leader in our industry. I created a new product idea and presentation – all my own content. It took months. And, “someone” thought it would be better represented by a male presenter. It ended taking two men to present on what I had created. That never happened again after I explained to our amazing leaders like Steve S and Brian D.
A day in Laura’s life
I’m Group Vice President of Business Innovation at Guidewire. In this position, I keep my finger on the pulse of P&C industry disruption to coach insurers on how they can innovate their business and achieve a competitive advantage.
There isn’t a typical workday! I spend much of my time on the road traveling to meet carriers, speak at industry conferences and support as well as at carriers’ sites. But, a “typical” day would start with a run, 30 minutes of industry or thought leadership reading and then onto carrier + Guidewire internal meetings. I work closely with our product, marketing and sales teams to assert an innovation perspective. I get to test drive innovation in the field and then bring the feedback into our department for development. After my day ends with Guidewire, I do industry advising sessions where 100% of my fee goes to charity.
My day ends with the sacred event of putting my 7-year-old daughter to bed.
Weekends include community events that I bring my daughter to, for example supporting or judging hackathons as well as speaking at community events.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Adopting my daughter. I put off starting a family for years. Then, it was too late for me. But a new path emerged when one day a beautiful baby girl was born at a local hospital and needed a family. Without any notice, without a car seat, diaper or crib we adopted her and thus, my life as a working mom began. It is the best thing that has happened to me in my life, not just my career.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Unfortunately, gender roles are still deeply rooted in our society. Already in school, girls are not encouraged enough to engage in ‘typically male’ subjects like Science or Math.
This gender indoctrination throughout school leads to fewer female university students in MINT-subjects. It’s a vicious circle that keeps reproducing itself generation after generation. This dilemma cannot be solved at once and is at different stages in different countries.
Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?
Unfortunately, gender roles are still present in some enterprises and women in high management positions often have to struggle with a lack of trust and confidence. In order to be accepted, women always have to work harder and proof themselves. The leaders we typically see are male, but if women act like a male leader it’s not well received either. We need to find role models.
Even technology itself can be biased. Artificial Intelligence for example is created by male white people instead of a diverse developer workforce. Often, men are looking down on their female colleagues and feel superior to them. Even a word has been invented for this behavior – mansplaining.
Not to forget working mothers. They have it far worse than anyone. They are expected to be at work but then frowned upon for choosing a meeting over a child’s event.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Diversity is the key for driving innovation! A diverse workforce that represents different nationalities, interests, social backgrounds and attitudes is the basis for development. This of course also includes a good mix of male and female colleagues.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I hope that when my daughter enters the workforce, I along with other women leaders have helped to create a more diverse, tolerant and accepting workforce. Just like my mother did. She started her own business; renovating and selling properties. She opened doors and broke down barriers in a male dominated industry.
What advice would you give to women who want a career in tech?
I have four pieces of advice for young women who want to thrive in tech careers:
- Sit at the table! Don’t feel inferior to male colleagues.
- Find your voice and use it.
- Don’t let someone steal your ideas; represent them yourself.
- Work your butt off and always give back what you take.