Female CEOs Proliferate In Oregon Tech, Though Industry Remains Overwhelmingly Male

"There are a lot of behaviors that people have that they don't realize are coming across as microaggressions or exclusions," Wassenaar said. Among those men, though, many were receptive to suggestions on how to do better.

"What makes for an inclusive environment is the ability to listen, and be wrong, and the desire to learn," she said.

Indeed, Portland State University management professor Meredith Woehler said companies need a broad commitment to diversity if they're really going to change. One CEO can't do it alone.

Woehler said academic research shows that a single executive from an underrepresented group, or even a handful of them, may continue to be seen as outliers within a company. She said change is most likely to come when the entire company shares a commitment to diversify.

"Any executive has a lot of power," Woehler said, "but really there's not a whole lot they can accomplish if those around them are opposed."

Megan Bigelow, president, co-founder of PDX Women in Tech, said the recent progress is a good sign but she isn't sure it's indicative of a more open local tech community.

"I do not believe that a women-led company is a silver bullet, as it largely depends on the company culture, hiring and recruiting practices that thrive under her leadership," Bigelow said in an email. "It is also important that, as a community, we do not expect women CEOs to carry the entire burden, as it should be equitably shared amongst all leaders in the community."

Kate Johnson, Act-On's CEO, said women thinking about the future of their careers shouldn't rule anything out. "I didn't feel that being a female should hold me back from moving up in my career and so I've always approached situations that way," Johnson said.

Though it's still much harder for women to reach the executive ranks, she said it's a problem that has more visibility today. The obstacles are real, but Johnson said women shouldn't let them get in her head and hold them back.

"You can't change everything at once," she said. "So you've got to focus on what you can change."

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