Katie Burk, Chief People Officer, HubSpot speaking at Inspirefest 2018 about the gender gap
Katie Burke, chief people officer, HubSpot. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

How to help make women’s career paths more straightforward

12 Jul 2018

HubSpot’s Katie Burke has three important steps we can all take to help close the gender gap.

“I’m here to talk about how we get women to change the world.” HubSpot’s chief people officer, Katie Burke, opened her Inspirefest 2018 talk by introducing the audience to two people.

The first was Fia, the “feisty, spunky daughter of our culture programme manager at HubSpot, Kate Moran”. The second was Barbara McCarthy, HubSpot’s director of engineering.

Burke used these two as a prime example of what a typical career trajectory should look like versus what it actually does look like. Burke highlighted the former as a nice, straight line from Fia to Barbara. The reality, which looked a bizarre maze full of twists and turns, made the audience giggle slightly at how undeniably true it was.

“Studies show that when women enter the workforce, their aspiration to become C-level executives is roughly the same as their male counterparts,” she said. “Just five years into the workforce, that drops precipitously.”

She said this shows that we all have work to do when it comes to shaping women’s career trajectory. Luckily, Burke wasn’t just there to tell the audience what needs to be done, she was there to tell them how to do it. “Spoiler alert: both men and women need to be part of the solution,” she said.

Confidence really matters

Burke said that because women start off in the workforce with the same aspirations as men, it’s not about giving them aspirations in the first place, it’s about reinforcing confidence.

She referenced a Carnegie study that showed that newly graduated women expect to earn an average of $16,000 less than what their male counterparts expect to earn.

Burke said it’s imperative that we fight against the perception that women are OK with deserving and earning less than men.

Take micro-risks

Part of the process of building up confidence is encouraging women to take micro-risks. “Many women I talk to think of courage as something you either have or you don’t,” said Burke. “I think of courage much like a muscle, it’s something you have to train on a regular basis.”

Burke said the way women should flex their courage muscles is by taking micro-risks – small risks in your career that help you grow. She urged managers in the audience to encourage women on their team to take micro-risks that will help bring forward their career.

An illustration of Katie Burke by Liza Donnelly. Her speech bubble says "Courage is something you can train."

An illustration of Katie Burke on stage at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Liza Donnelly

Change the conversation

“I’ve been on countless panels on ‘women in tech’,” said Burke. “Every single one, I’ve been asked about work-life balance.” She added that her male counterparts are rarely asked that question.

She implored the audience to think about how they can change the narrative by altering the questions they ask men and women. “What if we asked more of our male leaders: ‘How do you balance work and family? How are you an amazing working dad? Tell me about that. Do you feel pressure to have it all?’

“Imagine that!” Burke said, as the audience vigorously nodded in agreement. “If we change the conversation, we meaningfully change the trajectory of gender in tech and, I think, the world.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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