Women's History Month, observed annually during the month of March in the United States, celebrates women's contributions to history, culture, and society. Along with International Women’s Day, which similarly honors women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements, it is a time to recognize and support women's struggle for equality, rally for accelerating gender parity, and raise awareness of gender inequality, discrimination, stereotypes, and bias. To that end, the campaign theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. At Litera, it is a time for us, individually and collectively as an organization, to reflect on past efforts and plan to empower the women at Litera.
Today, in this third of four-part spotlight series that features women at Litera, we sit down with Sabrina Eldridge – Manager, Engineering. We explore her path to manager positions in the tech industry, as well as her beliefs around motherhood and leadership going hand in hand.
Could you walk us through three key highlights in your career?
As an engineering manager, one of my biggest passions is problem-solving. That involves multiple facets, including technology, people, and processes. While I'm very passionate about technologies in terms of my greatest career highlights, the main ones have genuinely all been surrounding people. My first big career highlight was at a previous company when a colleague said, "ever since you started working here, I feel as though I've developed a voice, and I've felt respected." This employee was very intelligent and valuable, and it was rewarding to have a strong impact on them and help them feel included in the organization. Another big highlight for me was surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. At a previous company, we had recognized a lot of social injustices, and we decided to form a committee to raise funds for social injustice organizations. This was huge as it brought awareness to what some of the employees were going through and was a pivotal point in creating a more inclusive organization. A final highlight to mention was when I was onboarded at Litera for a management position. As a woman of color, having a leadership position was very powerful for me. I am happy to be another role model to show my daughter, nieces, and colleagues that these career milestones are achievable for us.
Have you experienced any challenges in your career due to being a woman? How did you overcome those challenges?
A challenge for me was having three children back-to-back, meaning six years of either being pregnant or nursing. It was a significant physical and time commitment. Due to U.S. laws and culture, I was expected to perform as if none of these challenges were happening. Having confidence, tenacity, and a good support system helped push me forward, but more progress needs to be made in supporting women through the challenges of motherhood.
What would you change about the assumptions made of women in the workplace?
The main bias I would change is the assumption that masculinity is tied to competency and femininity as the opposite. For example, women tend to have higher voices, which can be perceived as not being intelligible. There is no science behind this, but it is an assumption that can create a bias towards women in the workplace purely based on the fact that it is a feminine characteristic. Another assumption I would change is the fact that women cannot be good leaders and mothers. One of the best places I practice and learn from is from being a mother and leading three children, and these learnings are very much applicable to my work. Taking maternity and paternity leave should be seen as a time of your life that enriches you of knowledge, which can later be used in the professional world.
What does International Women's Day mean to you?
When I think about International Women's Day, I think of a particular international woman, my mother. She came from Guyana and grew up without many opportunities. She got married, moved to a foreign country, did not know anyone or anything about the culture, and worked every job available to make ends meet. She decided it wasn't enough for her and took computer science classes at the University of Illinois, a top university in this field. She was accused multiple times of cheating throughout her time there because they simply could not believe a woman could be doing that well. She continuously proved herself and went on to have an extremely successful career. She created an incredible legacy for her family, so when I think about International Women's Day and Women's History Month, I think of my mother, the trailblazers who paved the way for us, and the girls and women who will continue building that patch.
How do you break the gender bias in your personal and professional life?
I think I break the bias by being a woman of color in engineering and leadership. There aren't enough of us in these positions from a demographic perspective. On a more personal level, I am learning to break biases for myself. Women are expected to be caretakers who abide by beauty standards while performing at work, just like our male colleagues. I am trying to break these biases by having confidence in my skills and strengths, even if I cannot achieve these standards of perfection.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
For every weakness you have, there is a strength behind it. Women in male-dominated fields tend to face more criticism, but it's important to recognize your own strengths and have confidence in them while working on continuous improvement. Women are held to many standards, so I would tell my younger self to have confidence and passion in my work, as that is what has pushed me to leadership positions. This confidence has also helped me become a better mother, manager, and leader overall.
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