Kitchener-Waterloo·Q&A

3 Google engineers on women in tech, what's going well and what can be better

Google engineers Joanne McKinley, Melissa Dominguez and Komal Singh joined CBC K-W's The Morning Edition for a panel on some of the challenges facing women in tech and some thoughts for young women considering entering the field.
Google engineers Melissa Dominguez, Komal Singh and Joanne McKinley joined The Morning Edition to talk about the industry, what's going well and what can be improved. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The role of women in tech has been a major conversation in Waterloo region for years. 

The CBC's Craig Norris sat down with three female tech leaders with decades worth of experience in the field to talk about barriers to entry for women and some solutions for young women hoping to launch their own careers. 

Joanne McKinley, Melissa Dominguez and Komal Singh are all engineers at Google.

They shared their story of entering the industry and some suggestions for young women hoping to enter. 

CN: What is it like being a woman working in tech, at Google, here in the region? 

MD: It's kind of a funny question because ... I've been in tech my entire career, so I don't really have a whole lot to compare it to. But one of the interesting things about being a woman in tech is that because you are a visible minority people remember you. So that has its good points, it has its bad points. If you do something awesome, everybody is going to know it was you. If you do something less awesome, everybody's going to know it was you.

KS: So I think, you know, being a woman in tech is like a spectrum of things at any day. I'm also a mother of two children. I'm also a person of colour. I'm a first generation immigrant. And of course I'm a woman in tech. So on certain days I feel certain things. I think, you know, the world and the industries recognizing that diverse workforces are the right and the smart thing to do. So we've seen a lot of progress toward that. But there are days when I wish that there were more people like me around in tech so that we can all uplift each other. So yeah, it's a spectrum of things being a woman in tech.

JM: I was actually going to follow on Melissa's comment. One interesting thing to note is it wasn't actually always this way. Like 20 years ago, it wasn't actually part of the conversation. It was just the way that it was and today there's a lot more awareness, which can be good and bad. It's good in that there is a lot more awareness but it's bad sometimes [because] I feel like I'm under a microscope.

CN: Is it good also because there are more women than there were 20 years ago?

JM: I would say that there are more women. I think we've done a fairly good job of getting more women into the industry. One of the things that we haven't done as good a job of is retaining and promoting women to higher levels. And so it's still definitely a work in progress.

CN: Melissa, as you said, you've been ... in tech your entire adult life. You are an engineering manager at Google. You have a doctorate in computer science. We hear tech classes can be unwelcoming to young women. Was that your experience?

MD: I don't know if I'm just oblivious or not but I didn't really feel unwelcome ... I did once, when I was in undergrad, have my lab mate who I was working on a project with me just say, 'Oh there is no attractive women in computer science.' I thought, 'Am I invisible or hideous?'

CN: I was going to say, how layered is that statement?

MD: So, I mean I think, in classes I also found that I was noticeable. There was one time when I was in a class of about 200 students and I sent an email to the professor who I had never spoken to directly. And then when I went up to him and after class he was like, 'Oh Melissa, I got your e-mail' and I was like, 'How do you know who I am?' But I personally found that I was welcomed. I had a relatively positive experience.

CN:  I would love for you to tell me that the gentleman that made the comment about attractiveness is now working for you. That would be wonderful. What about other barriers? I mean do you feel that any of you have faced any barriers? Joanne? 

JM: My experience was pretty similar to Melissa's. I've actually, to the contrary, felt fairly included and supported most of my career actually.

I'm very fortunate to work with a really strong set of allies who generally appreciate. I was listening to [Melissa's] story about her experience in school and maybe that's what was happening to me. I did feel like people knew me and I wasn't sure why.

But again, like I was saying before, that was just kind of the way that it was. But it was really never in a negative way. And even going for co-op jobs and things like that, I think I was able to just be more memorable as a way to, you know, possibly even get more opportunities as a result. So, I don't want to dismiss any of the negative experiences that any other woman has had. But I also want to point out that it's done it's not necessarily across the board.

CN: Komal, you're nodding. Is that in your experience?

KS:  Yes and no. So, I grew up in a different country. I grew up in India in the 80s, right? And I was among the minority girls who were in high school computer science courses. Or when I went to undergrad, of course, we were a minority as girls right through grad school. 

I did face that sometimes when we would get an assignment right, the teachers would have a hard time believing that we did it on our own. So there was that extra friction we had to overcome. And I feel that it shouldn't be that way, right?

And in the workplace I feel extremely supported. I am fortunate I have not faced any overt discrimination. But like Joanne said, I don't want to dismiss that. Yeah, there are women out there who do and might face it. So there's a lot of subconscious bias that happens at the workplace, which we might condition ourselves to ignore. And I just wish it was not that way.

CN: Things move so quickly in the tech industry when it comes to innovation and when it comes to advancements. What would you like to see happen in the industry in the next five years? 

MD: I would like to see diverse voices included in the process, so that all of the products that we're building reflect the world around us.

CN:  When you say diverse voices what do you mean?

MD: I mean women, people of colour, people from different walks of life. I think that the more different kinds of people who have different life experiences are involved in building our products, the more that the products will serve those different communities.

KS: Yes, so that would be wonderful and I think once that happens, what will also happen is that we will focus tech on solving, you know, the crucial, critical problems such as ... food scarcity or child trafficking. So how is it that we can apply technology to more social causes and inclusive innovation is what I believe strongly.

JM: I cannot add any more or less into those answers. I mean I have to leave it right there.

CN: Before we let you go. If there are young women out there watching this right now what would you like them to know? 

MD: I would like them to know that if you have two choices, an easy choice and a hard choice, that you should try the hard one because you might surprise yourself and you might find things that once were scary are actually fun and open up whole new worlds for you.

JM: I would just like them to know that it is not a scary, computer science is not as scary as they might think. It drives me crazy to hear even from a very young age, you know, girls thinking that they can't do math or computer science and that sort of attitude drives me crazy. Also, I do want them to understand that even if they don't end up going into a career in high tech specifically, computer science specifically, just having some knowledge and appreciation of this area is an asset no matter what career that they end up going into.

CN: Komal, we'll let you have the last word.

KS: Yeah sure. So firstly, I'd like them to know that engineers are not just boys. They're girls too. They're people. And play to your strengths too. Like, try to understand what is it that you feel passionately about and try to play to those strengths. And thirdly, I think ... girls are conditioned more and more to think about perfection. So, don't think about being perfect. Just think about being persistent more than perfection. And I think, over time, perfection will follow, or may not even follow, but persistence to me is more important than perfection.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

You can watch the full panel below:

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