Real Women in Tech: MMI CEO on Balancing Career and Single Motherhood
It’s no secret that women are drastically underrepresented in technology careers, but it may surprise some readers to learn that despite all of the talk about diversity and gender inclusion in recent years, the problem isn’t getting better.
Notwithstanding high-profile efforts by tech companies, industry organizations and women’s associations to increase the percentage of females in the tech workforce, the number of women at the professional level and above in technology companies is expected to decline to 31 percent from 34 percent. To put this rate in perspective, it will take us 170 years to achieve gender parity in tech — a full 52 years longer than estimated just three years ago.
There are dozens of such sobering statistics, but numbers only tell part of the story. What is actually happening to women in technology that is keeping the industry from parity in pay and workforce participation? Why aren’t women entering tech fields, and when they do, why aren’t they staying? What are the actual experiences of women in technology and the channel? And is it as big of a deal as the media make it out to be?
Over the last several months, Channel Futures has sat down with dozens of women to hear their personal stories of forging a career in technology. We spoke with individuals ranging from the C-suite to internship programs, developers to marketers and millennials to boomers. If we stop reducing the problem to statistics and take a closer look at the real-life experiences of women in this industry, might we be able to get to the root of the issue?
Tina Lux-Boim, president and CEO of service provider Managed Maintenance Inc., never intended a career in technology. After graduating from college with degrees in communications and sports management, she landed a job at a company that ran national sporting events and built a career in organizing nonprofit tournaments and initiatives for the National Police Athletic League. It was sports and cops — Lux-Boim was definitely no stranger to being a woman in a male-dominated field.
Life eventually brought Lux-Boim to the tech world, where she worked her way up into executive leadership. Here, she talks to us about her path and experience as a female in the IT channel.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Channel Futures: Women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees in this country, but only 18 percent of computer and information sciences degrees go to women. Were you interested in tech when you were in college? How did you wind up in the IT industry?
Tina Lux-Boim: I’m 52. I come from a different generation than most people in tech. But when I was in college, which was early-to-mid ’80s, really my agenda – and nothing pans out as you think it will – was that I would get my degree and then I’d get married two years after college. I’d have this great little family, and then I’d go back to work and it would be wonderful. Well, I didn’t meet the man of my dreams immediately. I didn’t get married right away. I had to go out and get a job.
I got my degree in communications, with a minor in sports management. I became a national program director and then, later, a general manager of an organization that did nonprofit sports.
I did find somebody that I was really interested in my early 30s, and I had my son. I wanted a change. I said, “I just want to be with my son, 8-5, something simple, close to home.”
I had a girlfriend who had taken a job for this [technology reseller], Champion Solutions Group, and she said there was a job there for an executive assistant. I came in. I applied. Got the job. I’ll be candid. Your personality is your personality, and after about two months I was like, “Oh my God, I’m bored to tears.” So, I really just started asking questions.
They were going through a transition, which I won’t bore you with the details. And I just had ideas, “Let’s try this. Let’s try that. We could do that.” [My friend] went to her boss and said,”You know, I think she could manage this whole group.” And so, he said, “Alright. You want to try it? You can try it, Tina. If you want to try managing that group, it’s a new way of doing things. We’ll let you do it. Give it a shot.”
I ran that whole division. Really built it, primarily, from the ground up. So, it was like a little business within their business; although I didn’t own the overall financials, I owned it. The first couple of years, they would laugh. “Oh, OK. Yeah. Those girls over there, they’re doing a couple million dollars.” It was an all-woman team at the time, by the way. And all of a sudden they’ve turned around, and you know, 18 months or two years later, it was a $10 or $15 million business. Within five to six years we had grown into a $30 million annuity business.
CF/CP: Only about a quarter of professional computing jobs are held by women, and the farther up the food chain you look, the more depressing the numbers get. By the time you get to Silicon Valley’s boardrooms, the average tech company’s board of directors is just 11 percent female. Last year, James Damore, at the time a Google employee, penned a now infamous memo asserting that there are fewer women in technology because they are biologically less inclined toward those careers. How have you seen certain traits we may traditionally associate with gender play out in the workplace?
TL: [The numbers are] even lower when you start to look at the bowels of those tech companies and, specifically in my industry, development and developers. Women tend to live in QA jobs, which, if I’m being candid, women tend to be a little bit better at balancing the big picture with the details. It is what they are. They run households. They do all of those things. A lot of times, there’s an assistant or somebody, kind of, behind the male gender in those roles. Not so much with women.
I’ve seen men be as emotional as women, but it comes out differently, much differently. It often comes out as strength when a man loses his temper and puts everybody in place. And when a woman does that in a meeting, it comes out as the inability to control her emotion. My personal experience is men gossip more in the workplace. Men can make more drama than … I’m shocked at the amount of drama that men can create.
I find women to be very much more pragmatic because I think often times you have to be pragmatic with your toddler, and then your teenager, and then you’re just trying to get through your day, and you don’t have that luxury of having an assistant.
CF/CP: Damore claimed that women are biologically less assertive, that they don’t demand to manage teams or push for tough negotiations. Is a natural passivity partly to blame for women’s lack of power in tech?
TL: I think there are some very assertive women. I do think though, no matter how assertive, they are seen differently. Women do not negotiate as aggressively. I don’t think they are considered for promotions as often because they are seen as emotional or not as firm, and that they won’t be able to manage as firmly, with as much structure. You can compound that with the fact that many of the teams they’re going to have to manage [are men]. That’s a huge challenge, by the way, for women who do get promoted because even their subordinates sometimes don’t see them with that level of respect or authority that they need to be successful.
When you add to that that most of the people that you’re going to be potentially crafting deals with, whether those are acquisitions, mergers, customer contracts, call it what you want, they’re gonna be in that same [male] demographic. That can be very challenging. I have had to learn a lot over the last three to five years, and sometimes painfully through mistakes, and it’s a who blinks first in negotiations.
Ego is much stronger in a man than it is in a woman. So when you’re in negotiations, ego is all important, because you just want to win.
CF/CP: If you recall the infamous 2016 Elephant in the Valley study that laid bare some of the appalling misogyny in the industry, there were statistics in there that are incredibly disheartening. Ninety percent of women in tech reported seeing sexist behavior at industry conferences, 60 percent have had to field unwanted sexual advances from a boss and a full-on third report feeling personally unsafe. Though not as blatant as it was a few years ago, we still see “booth babes” at channel conferences. Has this “bro mentality” impacted your career?
TL: I do remember, even when I started my job in the channel, that that was not atypical, that you would entertain a client at a strip club. I found it very difficult to break into a lot of those meetings in the boys club, because even at conferences it’s about going to a bar and having several drinks and unfortunately, whether we like it or not, that is really not as acceptable for a woman. You can find yourself in a precarious position. So you’re already at a disadvantage because a lot of business does get done, especially in offsite meetings and conferences, in a bar. Business might not be done at the bar that night, but it may be done on the phone the next week stemming from the great time you had. You can go have a drink or two, but if you try to keep up with the men, you, again, are likely going to be in a precarious position. You’re going to be looked at as the woman who drank too much. Like it or not, it’s funny when a man does it; it’s not so funny when a woman does it.
CF/CP: A lot of what we typically think of as workplace sexism is pretty much in the past. For the most part, women aren’t getting groped in the copy room or called “honey” by their boss. But there are so many societal factors that play into the roles women are able to play in the workplace, like to a degree, the cards are stacked against them. Have you experienced this at all in your career?
TL: I’ll be very candid in that I did have the challenge of raising a family. I was a single mom when I started working [at MMI]. And balancing that and not being able to travel as much as maybe a man could, or do as many dinners out, I’m sure there’s a component that kept [the company] growing [more slowly]. And maybe even slowed my career. And that’s a choice a lot of women make, and I don’t think it’s often looked favorably upon.
I think women will find it hard after having a family to come pack into that piece. And that’s unfortunate. Although, I think men who left tech for a period of time, whether it was to have a family or pursue something else, would also find it difficult because the industry is changing literally so fast. I mean, you have to know what’s coming next all the time and start thinking about how you evolve your product quickly or your offering or your company to address that.