Q&A with Bill Woehr – Career Coach at Aykaza

Allies Who Inspire Us

We believe the tech industry is not only lacking female role models, but also allies who are outspoken about driving efforts around diversity. Therefore we will occassionally feature an ally who is an inspiring advocate for diversity in tech and can serve as a role model for other allies – or for those who want to become allies.

The Allies Who Inspire Us series continues with Bill Woehr, a career coach based in Vevey who is on a mission to help 1000 women in STEM to find their dream job. Bill is a strong supporter of increasing diversity in tech and wants to create change in the tech industry by elevating women. He advises companies to proactively look for female candidates as men will pop up automatically. And his valuable message for men: do not sit on the fence when it comes to allyship.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current position.

My name is Bill and I am an engineer by training. I originally studied ocean engineering and learned how to build submarines, but never pursued it as a career. I am half Spanish, half American, I am married and have 3 boys that are all in their 20’s. I lived in many different countries over the years.

My family moved to Geneva in 1981 from Minnesota with the goal to spend only 2 years here, but we ended up staying much longer. I also met my wife in Geneva and we always knew we wanted to come back here one day, and we are now living in Vevey.

Over the years, I had many different jobs. In 2019, I left corporate life and started my own company. I first thought that I wanted to do consulting for companies until someone suggested that I look into coaching because they believed I’d be a good coach. I got certified in 2020, and since 2021 my focus is on coaching women in STEM.

What triggered your interest in coaching women in STEM? 

My son came up with the idea of career coaching. While I was doing my certification, I was doing a lot of free coaching sessions for training purposes and 75% of my coachees happened to be women. I realized that I could provide a lot of value regarding career coaching.

As someone who has worked in tech in a previous life, I was mostly working with people that looked like me. Through my work as a coach, I saw an opportunity to help change that from within.

What does diversity in tech mean to you personally? Why do you care about it?

Many of the discussions about new technologies such as AI are showing the vulnerability of a white male environment producing products that are used by everyone. The example of the crash test dummies that are not built to test the impact on female bodies really stunned me and made me worried. We should accelerate the rate at which equality is implemented.

As a career coach, I am also experiencing every day how looking for jobs is not a fair game. Not everyone knows how to get a job, and the issues that women are bringing forward in the job search such as lack of self confidence or the tendency to undervaluing themselves, they are very relatable.

We should accelerate the rate at which equality is implemented.

– Bill Woehr

What are some insights that you have gained from coaching women in STEM?

I have mainly two types of coachees: a 45-49 year old that is fed up and feels stuck in their career, and just needs to do something else because they completely lost passion, and the 35-39 year old that feels like they can do more, are lacking recognition, and want to explore a fast career progression.

60% of the jobs out there are from referrals. If you go out and network, you have a high chance to get a job. If you’re applying for a job, it’s a buyers market with a low probability to get a job. You want a seller’s market, so you have to create opportunities for yourself to get referrals. When you get in through a referral, half the interview process is done.

I see a lot of people shooting arrows in all directions instead of clearly knowing and communicating what they want. For your dream job, you need to stretch your imagination, use your creativity, and focus towards the future instead of the past.

What I do see is that especially parents and in particular moms are lacking the time to self-reflect, to craft their dream job and to put together the right story. This is where I can help and provide an environment where we can figure this out together.

What are concrete actions that you are taking to help increase diversity in tech? What impacts are you seeing from these actions?

I truly believe that not enough men in leadership positions are putting a focus on the topic of diversity. The best action that you can take as a hiring manager is to proactively approach women when looking for the best candidates. Men will pop up automatically. Make sure your pool of candidates is diverse before going into interviews.

Another problem is that men have privileges and distinct advantages, but they aren’t necessarily aware of them. You need to be sensitive to the topic, and recognize the challenges that women are facing in teams where they are clearly in the minority. Men need to recognize their unconscious bias and work on their language. You have to put in the effort.

When I was 30, I was still struggling with this. Back then, women were only in HR, most of them secretaries, and a few in marketing. That’s just how it was. But times have changed and the industry will continue to change. Women are a great fit for any role.

Something else I can highly recommend is to go out and join communities like Girls in Tech Switzerland, even if you’re the only guy in the room. Don’t be afraid to get yourself involved. Listen and show your support by being there. Get out of your comfort zone to experience what it’s like to be the only female in a room.

Not enough men in leadership positions are putting a focus on the topic of diversity.

– Bill Woehr

Who’s been the most important influence on you?

I have two sisters and one of them is an activist in feminism and societal change. She’s always drilling for consciousness. My sister was the first one on my Spanish side of the family who stood up to the men in the family that were very dominant.

I’ve had a number of female managers when I was working in Belgium that had an important influence on me. One manager in particular helped me see that women can achieve anything in the workplace. I also worked in pharma and the food industry later on where there were many more women, and I always enjoyed working in such an environment.

Is there anything you wish you had known earlier or would advise your younger self?

Luckily, I have learned a few things early on in my life. At the age of 20 I learned about meditation. In my 30’s I learned about the importance of having a mission and objective in your career and life, and that this may evolve over time. Recently I learned about the brain and how it works from my sons that are all studying psychology.

I am still struggling with comparing myself. I need to keep telling myself that I don’t need to compare myself,  but instead get inspired by what others are doing. It’s extremely helpful to learn about gratitude early on. Being grateful for what you have. That’s the thing I would tell my younger self.

Our school system gives us a mindset of rating ourselves. We’ve all grown up with standards, tests, ratings. Instead of focusing on the scores, just focus on you, your strength, your aspirations. Just be yourself and everything becomes a lot easier in life.

What advice would you give other allies in tech?

First of all, you have to label yourself as an ally. If you want to become an ally, if you want to empower women, you have to start thinking about this every day and figure out how you can do it. Build up the mentality and program your subconscious to focus on it.

If you don’t do that, you are not attracting anything. Where there is focus, there is energy. Tell yourself every day to put your energy in it. Make it your mission. That’s what I did.

I was on vacation in Australia and I put out a crazy mission for myself. My mission is to help 1000 women in STEM to find their dream job – that mission keeps me focused.

There are early adopters on one end and there are dinosaurs on the other end. But 70% of men are sitting on the fence when it comes to allyship. Some of them are even a little resentful and will make seemingly harmless comments like you have to change your gender to be promoted today. These comments are problematic. Don’t sit on the fence. You have to pick a side.

It’s important for allies to know that women don’t necessarily want your help. They are completely capable of figuring it all out themselves, all they want is your support. Show your support for example in a meeting when they are presenting by staying friendly and encouraging.

You don’t even have to say anything, you can just listen, ask questions, and be curious. If they want your advice, they will ask for it. As a coach, I always ask: What do you want help on? How do you think I can help you?

70% of men are sitting on the fence when it comes to allyship. Don’t sit on the fence, pick a side.

– Bill Woehr

Is there anything else you want to add?

Just a shoutout that I am giving away 1000 hours of free coaching. If you are currently looking for a job or want to refine your career strategy, you can schedule a discovery call with me.

I am also currently working with another coach to build a university program for students that include free training courses. Unfortunately, skills such as networking, looking for a job, and crafting your dream job, are not yet taught in school and at university. We are trying to fill this gap with our program.

Thank you Bill for your dedication to empowering and elevating women in STEM, and for taking the time for this interview with us. Thank you Bill for being an ally who inspires us! 💛

Author: Lisa Staehli

Allies Who Inspire Us

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