Natasa Jovanovic, senior product manager at TomTom, discusses the importance of having male allies to increase diversity in tech.
When we talk about encouraging more women into the STEM industry and supporting them while they’re in there, we sometimes only focus on women and occasionally leave men out of the conversation altogether.
However, the message of gender diversity is rarely a shock to women. This becomes a case of preaching to the converted, and so it’s essential to open up the circle. This is exactly what Natasa Jovanovic believes.
Jovanovic is the senior product manager at consumer electronics company TomTom and she’s responsible for the company’s user experience. “The beauty of my job is that I get to help build products that people love to use,” she said. “I really enjoy working with talented designers and software engineers to build technologies that are moulding the future.”
Jovanovic always had an aptitude for maths. When she decided to study computer science, she didn’t know what to expect but, luckily, she fell in love with it from the get-go. “Not only was it challenging, but above everything it drove and required more creativity from me than anything else I’d tried. Some people don’t associate computer science with creativity, but creativity is essential in problem-solving.”
Jovanovic said having the courage to speak up is essential for women and it can increase visibility and respect from more senior members of a company. “Unfortunately, we live in a world where women face many obstacles in their journeys to reaching the top, and the tech world is no exception. I think that breaking down these walls is the most important change that needs to happen moving forward,” she said.
While she said she is happy to see the progress that has been made in the last decade, she noted that this progress has been slow. “I think part of the problem is that women are discouraged at a young age to pursue subjects related to STEM,” she said. “There is a stigma that needs to be broken about working in tech and that it is too ‘geeky’ and ‘boring’ and lacks room for creativity because that couldn’t be further from the truth. Tech in the 21st century is all about creativity and creative problem-solving.”
However, Jovanovic added that it’s not just about women being left out from the industry, it’s also about men being left out of the conversation about women in STEM. “I often attend and speak at events that bring to light gender diversity and I’ve noticed that what we’re missing in the audience is men. If we want to make a significant change in the long run, we need to get men on board,” she said.
“We talk about women role models and women mentoring other women. We talk about what advice women should give their little girls. And don’t get me wrong, this is all very important, but these alone won’t get us to where we want to be.”
‘It is important for men to play an active role in creating an inclusive environment and being more proactive’
– NATASA JOVANOVIC
Jovanovic talked about a few different ways this could be achieved, starting with parents, saying that they need to raise their sons to embrace diversity as the norm. “It’s important to have engaging conversations with little boys about these topics. The changes need to happen at an early age with the guidance of parents, schools, and then on to the universities.”
She also said it’s important to recognise men who see the benefits of diversity and support them in making necessary changes. “Together with men, we need to rebrand technology in a way that speaks to both men and women,” she said.
“It is important for men to play an active role in creating an inclusive environment and being more proactive – not only about understanding and acknowledging the topic, but coming up with concrete plans and suggestions.”
Men make up a huge majority of the tech industry, so naturally they can play a huge role in creating positive change in the industry. Jovanovic advised talking to other men about diversity, correcting gender biases, proactively hiring women and, most importantly, listening to women’s stories. “It’s important for them to understand this is about collaboration, not putting women ahead.”
One of the most important things Jovanovic said she has learned from her career is that being a perfectionist is not a recipe for success. “Do what matters the most and do that really well. You can’t spend too much time on the things that aren’t as important,” she said. “It is not important to be perfect, but to understand the big picture – the full business context and strategy.”
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