From the beginning, Laxmi Arte realized she was in the minority at work.
“When I started my career at Verizon,” she said, “the first thing I noticed was that there were hardly any women.”
In her native India, Arte was in the company of plenty of women during her undergraduate days at the University of Pune in the mid-1990s. But there were noticeably fewer female classmates in her graduate program at Georgia Tech a couple of years later. And though she’s not taken a Ph.D. program, she is keenly aware that few women pursue computer, engineering and tech doctorates compared to men.
By the time she got to Verizon in 2003 Arte was one woman among 20 to 30 men at a clip. And while she said Verizon was a great company to work for and quite female-friendly, a lack of women in tech—and especially leadership roles—meant a dearth of mentorship opportunities for women in the field.
“There was a lack of guidance on how to get ahead. That was a push for me,” said Arte, a resident of West Windsor.
That push manifested itself in the Princeton Women in Technology Meetup group, which, as its name suggests, is an opportunity for women in the tech industries to get together and learn how to navigate career advancement.
One thing the group is not, Arte said, is a complaint desk.
“I don’t want the group to just be a place to come and vent,” she said. “’Moan-and-groan’ won’t do anything.”
Arte wants women, especially in the male-heavy world of tech, to know they now have a place to learn how to stay on track in their careers.
The group had its first meeting on Nov. 30. The event saw about a dozen women that Arte said was a good mix of new and veteran tech women. She skipped December because of the holidays, but otherwise plans to host the meet-up once a month. The next meet-up is slated for early January, but as of this printing the location was not determined. Arte said, however, that the branches of the Mercer County Library System will likely be the locations for future meetings. The group is free and open to all women in technology. More information on the Princeton Women in Technology Meetup is available at Meetup.com.
Arte started the group because she felt the need to give women a place to learn about career advancement and a place to network, but she also wanted to have a meet-up closer than New York City. Women working in and around Princeton, she said, usually can’t head all the way to Manhattan just for a couple hours on a weeknight.
Something Arte hopes the group will accomplish is steering tech women away from the mistakes she made as one of the rare females amid several men. One of the issues she said women need to overcome is the fact that they’re not as strategic as men in the workplace.
That’s not to imply that women are bad at tech. In fact, C-Net just published an article in November showing that women’s brains are actually better suited to tech than men’s brains. What Arte means is that women in many businesses simply do not have the same drive to navigate the system and advance their careers that men do.
“Women are a lot less strategic in terms of ‘What can I do,’ and ‘How can I take my career to the next level,’” she said.
She admits to having this shortcoming herself during her time at Verizon.
“I was more passive,” she said. “I was hoping the work would speak for itself. It doesn’t work that way.”
Women, she said, need to speak up and seek out opportunities the way men do. They also need to beware of a particular quirk in business settings that almost steered Arte right off the career path.
“I was automatically put on a ‘mommy track’ in the office without my knowing it,” she said. “I corrected that.”
The mommy track, she explained, is the assumption that when a woman is at an age when career women tend to start having children she won’t be interested in taking on new responsibilities; that she will start taking flex-time and early days away to raise the kids. And though Arte said she never felt discriminated against for being a woman, the assumption was nevertheless there at Verizon that she was probably not interested in growing her career the same ways men would be.
The irony is that now that Arte, with her husband, Ashish, owns her own tech consulting firm, Twin Shores Consulting, in Princeton Junction, she’s a mom. The Artes have a small daughter, which she said is a major reason she left Verizon to start her own company. She wanted to advance her career and have the flexibility to be there for her little girl.
Getting to this point in her life has been a relatively straightforward journey for Arte, who grew up knowing for the most part who she wanted to be. In the 1980s in India, she said, there was a general consensus that the fields of medicine, architecture, and engineering—all things technical, in other words—were the surest and most respected avenues to a good life.
“I always loved math, I always loved programming,” she said. “I fit within one of the boxes.”
Arte certainly comes from hardy tech stock. While her mother taught high school, her father was an engineer and her aunt owned her own software company. Arte worked for her aunt in India until she decided to head to America for her graduate degree in computer science. Verizon found her at Georgia Tech through a company recruitment program and Arte worked in the Dallas-to-Austin corridor for about a decade.
Arte worked as a systems architect, leaving Texas as a tech manager. In 2014 her husband found work at a startup in New York, and, considering Verizon has a campus in Basking Ridge, Arte easily found a place to transfer to in-company. The couple settled in Princeton Junction, and in 2015 launched Twin Shores Consulting.
As the boss, she’s come to understand how much she’s had to learn on her own in terms of career. And, she said, it’s given her time to reflect on the things she “did wrong” in that regard at Verizon—like assuming the company would just know she’s awesome enough to promote without her seeking opportunities.
That’s what compelled her to start the Meetup group, she said. And an important lesson for women:“Being able to assert yourself and not being afraid of how you’re perceived,” she said. “Women have a lot of doubts about speaking up. How do you open your mouth without being perceived as pushy or rude? There are worse words, but I’ll stick with those.”
The antidote, she said, is to not worry about being perceived that way. Quiet is the ideal way to stay exactly where you are, which is fine, if that’s where you want to be. But Arte didn’t and still doesn’t want to stagnate in her career, and she said plenty of other women don’t want that either.
The thing, she said, is that women have a lot to bring to tech.
“In a lot of ways our brains are wired a little differently than men,” she said. “In my experience I’ve found that women are a lot more detail-oriented.”
And, there’s this, which could only come from the perspective of someone who’s a working mother.
“We work smarter, especially when there’s a family,” she said. “Women are still the ones who do most of the family care.”
As her own boss, Arte still doesn’t plan on standing still. She wants to keep advancing through her career because, well, that’s what she does. She just wants women, especially in the male-heavy world of tech, to know they now have a place to learn how to stay on track in their careers, whether they’re on the mommy track or not.