Being a strong female technology leader


Women in technology face unique challenges. We’re often outnumbered by our male counterparts and occupy a lower percentage of highly-technical jobs. Silicon Valley reflects this disparity. According to the Huffington Post, women make up 30% of Google’s workforce, but only hold 17% of the technical jobs. Only 10% of tech jobs at Twitter are held by women.

I’m privileged to work with an incredible array of female technology leaders who bring creativity, critical-thinking skills, a diverse life perspective, strong technical & communication skills, an awareness of self, and a strong team-building focus to their jobs every day. But these female technology leaders are often judged differently than their male peers. They’re caught between a paradox of conflicting cultural norms and gender stereotypes commonly referred to as the double-bind dilemma. Leaders are expected to be direct, decisive, and tough. But gender stereotypes call for women to be kind, nurturing, and “nice.” How can a female technology leader be direct and decisive while also being a kind nurturer?

Last month I was part of a conversation on gender in the tech workplace. We had some incredible dialogue, with wide-ranging opinions on where we are and where we’d like to be. Some advocated for a future where we don’t “see” gender in the workplace. Others sought to recognize the unique skills and abilities everyone brings so we can celebrate our differences.

Bottom line: We need to encourage growth and talent across ALL our workforce. Whether you’re a female technology leader, an aspiring mentor, or an ally that wants to support growth and diversity in the tech space, you have valuable insights to share.

Want to know how you can help? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Build mentor relationships. Seek out (or become) a mentor. One of the most powerful mentor relationships I’ve had was with a senior leader who was 15+ years ahead of me in her career. She shared her journey and personal stories of obstacles she overcame and how people helped her career along the way. If you’re a male technologist, seek out a female mentor. Be inquisitive and ask questions about her experiences, background, and strengths.
  • Connect with interns. I’ve participated in high school and college-level internship programs that provide real-world job experience. These interns are just starting out in their careers, and it’s amazing the unique perspectives they bring. Have coffee with these students, ask questions, and see how they view your workplace. You’ll gain an amazing perspective.
  • Support and empower other women. I’ve joined women mentoring circles at several of the companies I’ve worked for, and they’ve provided an amazing opportunity to grow my network and broaden my perspective. Making time to connect with and listen to women’s experiences is incredibly rewarding…and the network connections made can help with future career opportunities.
  • Build alliances & invest in advocates. If you’re focused on advancing your career and getting that next promotion, start forging relationships to help you along the way. Build alliances with other leaders that see your potential and achievements. These leaders can serve as advocates for you in your career growth.
  • Create a strong personal brand. Your personal brand is the impression you leave behind and the reputation you have at work. That personal brand includes both your strengths/achievements and the things your peers say when you’re out of earshot. Gain a clear view of your personal brand by asking others for feedback. Then decide if your personal brand reflects who you want to be. If it doesn’t, you have an opportunity to evolve.
  • Seek opportunities. Take the leap and reach for that tough assignment. Lean into work opportunities that stretch you. Focus on creating value for your customers, and don’t be afraid to share your wins with your peers and leaders.
  • Believe you can do it. Speak up. Raise your hand. Be heard! If you suffer from meeting regret, it’s time to lean in and start sharing your thoughts. If you suffer from negative thoughts, script out positive messages for yourself and repeat them several times a day. Tackle the feelings of imposter syndrome and don’t stop to wonder if your work (or your ideas) have value.
  • Give (and seek) candid feedback. Have you ever received performance feedback that included comments on your strengths but gave you nothing to work on and improve? Many of us find it easy to give positive feedback but hard to give constructive feedback. Seek out peers who will tell you like it is. And give the gift of authenticity to others. We can’t change what we don’t see…and you need people in your life that will tell you the good (and the bad).
  • Call out poor behavior (and then let it go). Many of my fellow female technologists receive blatantly inappropriate feedback. We’re told our clothes were distracting and took away from our presentation. We’re told to stop posting selfies on Twitter because “no one wants to be distracted by that.” We’re given job feedback or speaker feedback that is focused on our looks instead of our content or achievements. And in many cases, we’re told to stop coming off as being “too intelligent.” If someone gives you this type of feedback (or you see it occurring in the wild), call it out. And then dump the feedback in the trash. Don’t let poor behavior go unchecked, but don’t take it on and carry it around with you.

 

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