Zipcar Celebrates #WomenInScience
Since its inception, Zipcar has always been a company with women at the forefront. Zipcar was founded in 2000 by two entrepreneurial women—Robin Chase and Antje Danielson—and today, Tracey Zhen serves as Zipcar’s president alongside a number of Zipcar women in leadership and tech positions including Poonam Rana and Gabby Williams.
However, across the business world, especially in STEM industries, the gender divide is still significant. In 2015, women made up less than a quarter of STEM professionals in the U.S. despite being 47% of the overall workforce, according to the “STEM Jobs: 2017 Update” from the U.S. Department of Commerce. 2015 was also the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an initiative put forth by the United Nations to address the gender disparity across the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
While the number of women in STEM has increased, there is enormous room for growth. This comes from supporting women in STEM at all stages of life, from ensuring young girls have role models to creating supportive pathways to STEM careers and celebrating the achievements of women. That’s why on February 11th, we want to recognize not just the smart, talented, and inspiring women who lead Zipcar and push the company forward, but women and girls all around the world in the science community.
Rana is the Director of Quality Assurance at our Boston headquarters, a role that combines her love of the technical and design aspects of engineering. Growing up with a father in engineering, Rana was surrounded by math and science at home. The black and white nature of math continued to draw Rana into the field—she received her master’s in physics and worked with lasers and polymers for a while before picking up coding and taking on a software engineering position. After that, Rana worked as a project and program manager but couldn’t deny the fact that she was a software engineer at heart, leading her to her current QA position at Zipcar.
An astronomy-major-turned-software-engineer, Williams works remotely in Chicago. She studied both astronomy and physics at school in Wisconsin but ultimately decided to stick with a mathematics degree after struggling with certain physics courses and realizing she wanted to strengthen her math foundation. Williams came to Zipcar as an intern two and a half years ago, working on the Jarvis team, and has been with the company ever since.
Though Rana and Williams both work in the engineering department, they contribute to different pieces of the Zipcar tech-puzzle. From how they got started in their respective fields to what they would name their Zipcar, Rana and Williams share their experience in STEM and what it’s like behind the wheel at Zipcar.
So what do you do in your day to day role at Zipcar?
GW: “That’s a little difficult to answer just because things change. I’m mostly doing search page features and new components there. It’s definitely coding, we work with the Member Web app which is a front-end app with reactive typescript. I’ve done a little bit of the backend stuff with Gateway, which is a Java Kotlin application. It’s mostly been login, and I've also done a little work in IDP, which is another Java backend app.”
PR: “When developers are done with their coding, the QA team tests it out. After testing, we are the ones who certify the bit and say “yeah, it’s ready to go out.” We are sort of gate keepers of what goes into production. And not just new features, but we’ll make sure if we’re adding something, we’re not breaking something else in the same application. Initially QAs were very into the testing part of it, but since Scrum and Agile is coming into the picture, automation took a very big leap around that. Now it’s a very good mix for me—it helps to see the big picture and think about it from the product perspective. It’s all about user experience. The member needs to be happy. That’s the definition of a successful product. If it’s not user friendly, and members aren’t liking it, then it’s not a successful product. One of the biggest, if not the most important aspect, of QA as well is making sure we have the pulse of the member.”
What are some ways you think institutions and organizations can increase the women in STEM or keep women in STEM?
GW: “I know the percentage of women in STEM, both in college and careers, is increasing. But if we want to keep that number rising, I think mainly companies would need to remove gender biases, pay women and men the same salary, put women in more leading roles—basically just more gender and pay equality. Those are the greatest things that can help with that.”
PR: “From the organization standpoint, having that work life balance definitely helps. Zipcar has it—I can see that in the short time that I’ve been here. And secondly, having some sort of mentorship program. That helped me quite a lot. You don’t need to have a very senior mentor. Having somebody who has done that for a few years—sitting down with them for lunch or coffee and having the chat with them helps to understand what your future looks like and what kind of struggles you may have. For mentorship, I don’t think it needs to be a woman. As long as you have someone to talk to and put your concerns in front of, that would help quite a lot.”
Who’s a woman in science you look up to?
GW: “There’s one—Shirley Jackson, who was the first black woman to graduate with a PhD from MIT in theoretical elementary particle physics… which sounds intense. So that’s awesome! I think she also worked for Barack Obama at one point which I love so that’s cool.”
PR: “So the first time I had heard of a woman in kind of a serious role, her name was Dr. Hinduja. She delivered India’s first test tube baby. I was so proud of that—you know the very first time someone does something, a woman doing something? And I listened to one of her interviews which I really, really liked. The interview was about how to promote girls into science fields and become scientists.”
Is there anything you wish you knew before you got to where you are today, if you could give your younger self words of advice?
GW: “If I could visit my younger self, I would tell her that struggling is part of growth. Sometimes when I was learning new things, I would get a lot of anxiety about struggling and be like, ‘oh it must be easier for other people’ or just have insecurities around the fact that it was hard for me sometimes. So if I could, I would tell myself that that’s normal and it’s part of the growth process.”
PR: “As women, we are very hard on ourselves most of the time. There are high expectations on us—we want to be perfect before we take that next step. I have done it, and I have seen young girls doing it even now. Even my colleagues and coworkers. To my younger self I would say ‘hey, you can learn on the job too.’ And you don’t need to be perfect all the time as long as you have the confidence. If you think you can learn and have that willingness, take the next step. And if an opportunity comes your way, take it. Don’t be shy, because you will learn on the job.
If you think you are doing a good job, you don’t need to be an overachiever in order to ask for what you deserve. If you’re working towards your goal, have the confidence to ask. If you think you are not fairly compensated, you should have those conversations. You need to ask before anybody can act on it. I think asking is most important. Have the confidence, have the conversation—or start the conversation. If you’re feeling frustrated about it, ask for it. Things go a long way just by having a conversation.”
Finally, if you could name a Zipcar, what would you name it?
GW: “Definitely Gabacadabra. That’s my nickname.”
PR: “Artemis. She is a Greek goddess of wilderness and nature and is known for her fierceness. This fits very well with the Zipcar mission and culture.”
Join the global conversation with #WomenInScience.