Women in Tech: “Empathy is a key”

  • August 4, 2021

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?

Three 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 Anastasia Astakhova, Product Manager at Boxmode.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Anastasia Astakhova, Product Manager at Boxmode

Anastasia Astakhova is an experienced Product Manager at Boxmode (USA/Ukraine) who has worked with various product sizes and niches. As a result, she acquired expertise in Strategic Thinking, Implementation Planning, and Customer Experience.

Now she’s in charge of Boxmode’s product strategy and development. Her goals include applying a customer-oriented approach to provide customers with targeted solutions.

When did you become interested in technology?

To tell the truth, I was never interested in tech before I tried it. I grew up in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, an industrial city with a huge number of factories. Although now it is a relatively tech-developed city, in the early 2000s, I had no people from IT in my circle, so I hardly understood the potential this industry opens. So the IT industry wasn’t my first career choice.

When I got the chance to try it for myself, I really didn’t have many expectations. However, I found fantastic opportunities to apply my skills, experience, and knowledge, as well as a place to grow and develop.

Back then, I didn’t think whether I was right for this job or whether I fit in. I simply knew my strong points, and I was willing to learn new skills.

How did you end up in your career path?

After graduation, I got my first Marketer Assistant position, and I mainly was in charge of various marketing activities such as events’ organization, merch design, and so on. But one of the most challenging tasks was bringing a corporate website to life. You see, 10 years ago in Ukraine, we didn’t have any considerable knowledge base on this matter. So my assignment was to take the website creation process under control and help finalize it.

This truly captivating experience led me to fall in love with technology and helped me boost my management and product vision skills, so I started to look closely at tech vacancies.

Around the same time, a recruiter called me, offering to try my skills in IT. It was a Linkbuilder position related to website promotion and SEO optimization. I did my best to prove myself, and soon the company’s CEO noticed my efforts. He involved me in more managerial activities, expanding my area of responsibility. After two months, I was promoted to Product Manager. This job required strong empathy and organizational skills, and this was what I did best.

In the following four years, I devoted myself to improving my product management skills in various companies. Then, I received an offer to become the Head of Product of one well-known ecommerce product in Ukraine. My main challenge there was to develop digital product management thinking in the team and optimize the sales funnel.

The further my career went, the deeper I realized the importance of listening and hearing customers, business owners, and teams rather than simply relying on numbers.

Currently, my career path has led me to Boxmode, a modern, cutting-edge website builder. This is a technically complex platform, which we want to turn into a scalable and consistent WEM (web engagement management) system.

The further my career went, the deeper I realized the importance of listening and hearing customers, business owners, and teams rather than simply relying on numbers.

Did you receive support from your family and friends?

Even though my parents and friends are far from technology, they supported me and never questioned my decisions. I am so grateful for their unconditional trust and the freedom of choice they gave me.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

I wouldn’t say that someone was trying to stop or impede my career development knowingly. Instead, I faced an incomprehension of why I chose this career path. Switching to a smaller salary seemed an irrational decision for my closest ones. Only a few people from my social circle understood the full potential of the IT industry in Ukraine at that time.

A day in Anastasia’s life

At Boxmode, I am in charge of product strategy and development. Shifting from a simple website builder to a more complex system requires a massive amount of UX research and active strategizing, which I perform daily. As a product manager here, I try to apply the customer-oriented approach as much as possible and empathize with the founder’s and team’s needs. I see this approach as more effective, and it lets me feel more value and satisfaction. I think empathy is an essential skill for product managers. We are a bit of a psychologist for everyone we come across at work.

It’s rather hard to describe my typical workday because they all are usually really different! My tasks depend on the current project’s lifecycle and its requirements. For example, some days may include synchronizing with various teams and setting tasks and priorities. In contrast, others are devoted to conducting market research or testing new ideas or prototypes of a future product for demand, and many more.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m proud that I’ve developed the most valuable skill – the ability to understand the needs of the business, the user, and the team, and be a mediator between these parties to find the most effective solutions.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

It feels that a possible reason why more girls don’t pursue math and science-related degrees is due to the ‘pinkification’ of girls at an early age. Toys, clothes, and job possibilities are still marketed toward either gender, despite recent developments in breaking this historical trend.

In Ukraine, I still occasionally hear that women are not made for STEM disciplines. It leads to fewer women studying STEM subjects. This means that employers have a gender-biased talent pool to recruit from. Nevertheless, there’s a positive tendency, where the share of women in the IT sector is gradually increasing, particularly in 2017-2020 when it increased from 20% to 25% in Ukraine.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

The competition in the IT industry is fierce, which stimulates its hyper-dynamic development. So any pause in the work can result in falling out of context. Because women are more likely to take maternity leave than men in Ukraine, they risk falling into the parent trap.

What has the most significant impact on women’s careers in IT is that even before a woman has children, management of the company can assume that as soon as she gives birth, she no longer can or want to do her job as well as before. And that’s why it can be more challenging for women to get promotions and leadership positions.

Gender-balanced tech teams can develop better products for broader audiences and achieve their goals faster.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

I think both men and women have strong suits that help them build careers in STEM. Men are believed to rely solely on logic and evidence, while women’s strength is empathy and sensitivity. Though a set of human characteristics doesn’t always depend on gender, recent research demonstrated that women are likely to have higher levels of empathy. And my experience proves this too; female managers tend to be more creative and open-minded.

Besides, the more diverse the people are on the team, the better output the team can deliver. Gender-balanced tech teams can develop better products for broader audiences and achieve their goals faster.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

It seems to me that we have already made quite a lot of progress on this matter. More and more women have assumed leading positions in various industries. Due to their tendency to empathize, women leaders can find such ways of motivating their teams that it positively affects the results of work.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

I would say, “You’ll never know until you try.” The fear of trying is inherent, but real success comes to those aware of it and capable of overcoming it. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it is vital to be mindful of them. Shifting the focus on your strong points and their development will help you succeed in a tech career or any field you want.

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Source : JAXenter