Connecting Women Across F5

Andrea Carlos 缩略图
Andrea Carlos
Published March 08, 2024

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the tech industry still has a long way to go . Globally, women make up just 28% of the tech workforce, according to WomenTech Network. What’s more, retention remains a serious issue, with two-thirds of women saying they lack a defined career path in their current company. 

Hoping to help change that, a small group of women in 2012 started F5 Connects Women to recruit more female engineers to the company and provide the support needed to retain them once hired. It was F5’s first employee inclusion group (EIG), and it operated informally for the next several years. 

In 2017, the group was recognized as a formal EIG along with other underrepresented groups within the company, and today it has evolved into F5’s largest EIG with more than 1,000 members and allies across the globe. With four regional chapters and members in 12 countries, the EIG is focused on helping women across F5 advance their careers through learning, connection, collaboration, and communication. 

“Having a group of people who are like minded, supportive, and trying to achieve the same goals is important,” says Linda Caudle, who’s served as Global Chair of F5 Connects Women since 2022. “We all feel like we have a support group. Without that, it would be tougher for us to connect and share our experiences.”

Fostering a positive work environment for women

With Caudle at the helm, F5 Connects Women has organized a range of activities to help female F5ers advance their careers, many of them centered around International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. 

This year, for example, the EIG is highlighting the International Women’s Day theme, “Inspire Inclusion,” with a monthlong series of events for members and allies throughout the company. Together with another EIG, F5 Appreciates Blackness, the group has invited Shelmina Abji, author of Show Your Worth, to discuss leadership strategies for women. It’s organizing two panel discussions featuring women in cybersecurity and women starting out in their careers. It’s hosting a series of virtual networking events aimed at bringing together women across at F5. And it’s organizing opportunities to volunteer at Mary’s Place, a group of family shelters in the Seattle area. 

In addition to these events, individual chapters hold speaker events and skills-based workshops on topics ranging from elevating one’s personal brand to developing a high-performance mindset. They also meet throughout the year to network and share career advice. 

“Most employees are happier and more engaged when they feel connected to others at work—and EIGs provide a sense of community and connection,” Caudle says. “Project work, problem solving, career management, and the daily realities of corporate life are much easier when you have strong relationships.”

Overcoming workplace challenges

Participants say the women’s EIG has equipped them with the skills they need to be more effective in their jobs, while navigating the challenges they encounter in a male-dominated field.

A project manager in F5’s India office, Yamuna Raveendran Pillai says there weren’t many female leaders in tech when she started her career in India 15 years ago, which limited her opportunities for mentorship and growth. And early on in her career, she faced gender bias, especially when it came to compensation and promotions. Pillai has always viewed herself as a “torch bearer” for other woman, and when she joined F5 in 2021, she was immediately drawn to F5 Connects Women “because I just thought why not utilize this forum to stand by my values and mold the support system I was envisioning for women at work?”

The India Chapter of F5 Connects Women gathers for a fireside chat with female engineering leaders.

Now the EIG’s India Chapter Lead, Pillai has watched her female co-workers “become more self-aware and overcome their imposter syndrome to explore new arenas.” At the same time, she herself has become a stronger leader. “I have become more resilient to accept the changes that come my way,” she says. “And I’ve realized it’s okay to be different from the crowd. The women’s EIG has given me the strength to accept myself for who I am.”

Charissa Upcroft, who leads the EIG’s North Americas chapter, says F5 Connects Women has given her the support and camaraderie she needs to navigate situations in which she feels stereotyped or dismissed.

As a female engineer in a profession dominated by men, Upcroft has often found herself wondering whether she’s being judged based on her gender. There have also been times where she’s debated whether to speak up about micro-aggressions. “I think a lot of people second-guess their feelings in moments like that,” she says. “You might say, ‘I don’t like this, but maybe I’m wrong.’ So having a network of people who are telling you, ‘It’s really not acceptable for someone to say that’ can be very powerful.”

Similarly, Caudle says one of her biggest challenges has been around receiving recognition for her contributions, especially when she’s been the only woman in a room full of men. “I could  say something in a meeting, for example, and while I get nods of approval, a man will present the same thought, and the people in the room will respond with enthusiasm,” she says. 

Caudle says listening to the inspirational stories of her female co-workers has improved her own self-confidence, which, in turn, has helped her navigate these situations more effectively. “Hearing how other members have overcome difficult situations has inspired me to make sure I have a voice and use it,” Caudle says. “We learn from others, and it helps us to prepare should the same thing happen to us in the future.”

Retaining female employees

Across the tech industry, the retention of women is low, with many female employees leaving midway through their careers. Members believe F5 Connects Women is reversing this trend by providing the supportive environment and sense of belonging women need to thrive. “Having EIGs like F5 Connects Women that say we support women, we want to talk about the issues that you’re facing, and we want to build your skills, give you opportunities, and support you—that’s huge,” says Upcroft. “And it’s an explicit statement from our leaders of the culture we have here at F5.” 

F5 CEO François Locoh-Donou (middle) joins F5 Connects Women Global Chair Linda Caudle (center right), the EIG’s executive sponsor Chief Product Officer Kara Sprague (center left) and other EIG members during International Women’s Day 2023.

Caudle agrees, adding that the backing the EIG receives from F5’s leadership has been critical to the group’s success. With support from her executive sponsor, Chief Product Officer Kara Sprague, for example, Caudle has worked to simplify the structure of the global EIG. And with company funding, chapters around the globe have been able to invite speakers and organize activities throughout the year. “If it weren’t for our CEO and the entire leadership team, we wouldn’t be able to get very far,” she says. “Having support from the top is crucial, and it shows that F5 truly is a human-first company.” 

While company support is key, Caudle urges women to be proactive. “It’s not just about what your company does for you, but what you do as well,” she says. “The best way to create opportunities for yourself is to not only do a fantastic job in your day job, but to do other things. If you get involved in an EIG, you’ll increase your exposure—and you never know where that next contact, project, or career opportunity will come from.”

To learn more about F5’s EIGs, please see our Allyship at F5 webpage.