Demystifying Life as a Woman in a Tech Startup

In this panel discussion hosted by Archlet, our moderator Corinne dug in deep with the panelists to demystify our all-too-common fears as a women at a tech startup: Too male, too much, too hard. The panelist’s insights ranged from start-up experience, to large corporate, junior to senior. Read more about the key takeaways in this blogpost.

Key takeaways

➡️ It’s not too male if everyone contributes to fostering a culture where what you contribute and who you are as a person matter most.

➡️ It’s not too much if you love what you do and your company helps you make work fit around your life.

➡️ It’s not too hard if you’re in a supportive environment that gives you the mentorship and development opportunities you need.

Introduction of the panelists

Sabine Do-Thuong
Sabine is Head of Development at the Swiss Startup Verity. She brings a wealth of insights from her 20 years experience in Business & Technology, having worked for SME, Start-ups and corporations. Connect with Sabine

Kaho Sato
Kaho is currently a Full Stack Engineer at Education First. She holds a dual master’s degree in Advanced Computer Science and Engineering. Kaho also holds experience working for big corporations such as Apple and Meta. Connect with Kaho

Anaïs Berkes
Anaïs works as a Quality Assurance Engineer for Archlet. She is also a part-time student of Computer Science at ETH Zurich. As a member of CSNow, Anaïs is committed to bringing more diversity into the tech industry. Connect with Anaïs

Joy Yoo
Joy works as a Software Engineer at Archlet. After participating in a Full Stack Developer Program 2 years ago, she successfully transitioned from her Finance role into Software Engineering. Connect with Joy

Myth 1- Too male

The panel discussion started with hearing from the panelist’s experiences being women in tech.  We learned from Anaïs and Joy on how they made very positive experiences working for a tech startup. Thanks to the inclusive environment they’re working in, they feel like valued members of the team, no matter of their gender. They mentioned how cross-team collaboration and interactions with other people besides the actual software team (that might still be quite male-dominated) helped them to feel more included.

Sabine added to that point, that is important for companies but also for every team member to not put people into boxes. People should not get the feeling that they have to prove themselves, just because of their gender. More importantly, Sabine and Kaho highlighted how important it is to create an environment where people can share ideas and make mistakes. One useful tip is to encourage everyone in meetings to comment and share their opinions, so not only dominant people speak up, but everyone feels valued as part of the discussion.

Cross-team collaboration and interactions with people besides the actual software team – that might still be quite male-dominated – helps to feel more included.

Myth 2 – Too hard

While touching on the second myth – working for a start-up is too hard – we talked about self-doubts and how everyone experiences self-doubts in their work and life. No one is born always believing in themselves. It’s important to take it step by step.

As a leader, Sabine pointed out that it is important to talk to every person and connect with them to overcome doubts step by step. Kaho mentioned that self-doubt actually helped her to improve and move forward. Getting feedback from her peers helped her to improve herself and to believe in what she’s good at. It’s all about being open to a mindset of learning and improving.

Myth 3 – Too much

You’ve probably heard the myth of working in a startup: it’s so much work! Hustling 24/7 to get the company forward, get the next round of financing, the next customer, the next hire, and so on. Working at a startup can be unpredictable. There are times where there is more work, but also times where there is less work.

The most important part of this journey, both Anaïs and Joy agreed, is to have fun. Sabine adds how important a good culture is to keep the spirit high but also how setting boundaries is crucial. As a leader, it should be in your responsibility to set an example on how everyone can create their own work life balance. Whether this means working flexible hours, going to the gym at the hour you want or setting blockers in your calendar to detox from work.

It’s important to stick to your own boundaries and not forget about them, even when there is a lot of work to do. There is always a solution on how you can get it done in time while still ensuring enough time for mental & physical well-being.

Kaho mentioned another important point: You should like what you’re doing. If you like what you’re doing, your job becomes a passion that helps you to stay motivated.

Seeing both the startup world as well as a large company has taught me a lot and helped me find the environment I like working in.

– Sabine Do-Thuong

Advice from the panelists

We’ve ended the discussion with a round of advice from our panelists. Here’s their advice for any women working in tech:

➡️ Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
➡️ Jump right in and don’t overthink it. You’ll learn to swim.
➡️ Network! Get out, get to know people, open your mind to other opinions.


Here is a quick recap of a small sample of the questions from the attendees.

Should you start your career in a startup or in a large company?

This heavily depends on you. It can be nice to start in a larger company at the beginning of your career to learn about best practices. It can also be very rewarding to join a startup at the beginning of your career to learn quick & fast, get a lot of responsibility from the beginning onwards.

But working with inspiring people and for topics you care about is more important. Whether this is at a startup or large company doesn’t matter so much. Sabine mentioned how seeing both worlds have helped her to compare them, learn from both approaches and find out for herself which environment she’s most attracted to.

How can a male-only team attract female employees?

It’s important to recognize that this challenge is not only about attracting female employees but it’s actually more about reaching out to them proactively. And then, once done, don’t make the interview about the person being a women. Treat the person for the person she is with the skill set and attributes she brings to the table.

Do you ever feel disadvantaged compared to your male colleagues?

Funnily enough, the question can even be the opposite. It can be that as a women, everybody is extra nice to you. What matters most is that you don’t let different treatments bring you down or bring you off track.

If you ever feel that you’re being treated differently, it can be helpful to talk to other female colleagues to validate your experience. It might be a structural problem that has something to do with your experience or it might be something that only you experience. Try to validate your experience and eventually also talk to HR if you believe you’re being treated differently than your male colleagues.

A big thank you to all attendees, our panelists, and to Archlet for hosting this panel with us. This event was a great opportunity to get together and learn about what it means to be a woman in a tech startup.

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Author: Corinne Ruckstuhl

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