How Women in Tech Can Crack The IT Leadership World
It’s no secret the technology sector has a problem with gender representation. Despite most businesses understanding the strong business case for diverse teams, female representation in tech, especially at more senior levels, hasn’t improved significantly through the years. According to a report from Deloitte Global, large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than 2 percentage points from 2019.
7 Powerful Ways Women Can Survive and Thrive in a Male-Dominated Workplace
With men comprising a high percentage of those in the tech space, it can be difficult for a woman trying to compete. Here is some advice from industry experts to address and potentially overcome those challenges.
1. Know Your Stuff
Consciously or unconsciously, there is a bias about the technical credibility of women in tech. To break into the field, having a degree, certifications, and knowledge of a product and its benefits to either consumers or businesses is beneficial. It helps provide some additional validation to your experience when someone asks if you are bringing in your male partner or why you have your position.
If you don’t have all the skills you need to succeed, go out and learn and do everything you can to distinguish yourself and grow professionally. Being educated will help build your confidence, and you’ll be a valuable resource to your firm.
2. Get a Sponsor
Sponsors are people in positions of power who get to know of any opportunity arising in the organization before anyone else, then recommend and position certain key persons they think are suitable for that job. Getting a sponsor is crucial since it can be nearly impossible to advance as a woman in a male-dominated workplace without a sponsor.
A sponsor can help promote you within your organization, have your back, and will tell the rest of the organization—including the senior leaders—how great you are and how much you deserve recognition (and promotions). Look for sponsorship in your workplace by building strong relationships with your boss and other senior leaders. Pay particular attention to cultivating relationships with the individuals who believe in you and who publicly support you – they are going to be your best advocates and your biggest supporters.
3. Find a Mentor
Mentoring works for everyone, but women in tech can particularly benefit from mentoring to build confidence, enhance their skills, and set achievable career goals. A mentor can offer opportunities to expand the mentee’s network of personal and professional contacts through invitations, introductions, and suggested organizations to join. A senior woman in tech has the necessary understanding of how the field works and has experience dealing with the interpersonal politics that comes with the field. However, this doesn’t mean that your mentor has to be a woman – you can learn from men as well.
In the tech industry, men still dominate and are in the best position to effect change. They also often have more experience and more exposure to the inner workings of the field, just by virtue of being in the majority. Having a male mentor can provide insight into alternative perspectives, different approaches to problem-solving, new stances on decision-making, and differing collaboration methods.
Seek out a mentor with industry experience, who understands your goals, appreciates your talents, and is willing to help you succeed. To make the most of your mentoring opportunities:
- Be selective: Put in the time and effort to find the right mentor.
- Be strategic: Know what you’d like to learn from your mentor and make sure they are aware of it.
- Don’t be shy: Don’t assume mentors will come to find you. Take actions that will have others see you as someone worth mentoring – ask for more challenging assignments, speak up with good ideas, get seen.
- Seek constructive criticism: Be willing to admit that you don’t know everything and want to learn more. Ask questions, solicit feedback, and be ready to embrace the idea of making changes. Give your mentor permission to provide negative feedback by asking, “what can I do to improve?” or “what am I lacking?”
- Follow through: Take your mentor’s advice seriously, continually work on development, check in frequently, and don’t leave anything to chance. Be intentional and consistently work to make progress.
4. Find a Group of Women Who Can Support You
Being a woman in a male-dominated field can be lonely. It can help to know you’re not alone, so find people who know what you’re going through. Whether you’re the only woman at your firm or one of a handful of women scattered throughout various departments, it is essential that you find a strong group of women who can support you. This group can help you strategize, meet your goals, learn to negotiate, and give you a safe space to vent your frustrations.
Here are some options to look into:
- Start an all-female networking or mastermind group at your office
- Join an all-female business meet-up that meets before work
- Industry associations often have sub-groups for women in the industry looking to collaborate with other women in the same field
5. Overcome the Impostor Syndrome
Self-doubt affects everyone, but being in an industry where the opposite gender outnumbers you can be particularly tough. This lack of confidence in your own abilities may be due to gender-based micro-aggression in the workplace or workplace isolation from important networks. Whatever the reasons, these doubts prevent women from seeking out and seizing opportunities to advance their careers.
If you sometimes feel like an imposter — that you aren’t really that talented and have fooled anyone who thinks you are — remember that you can have those thoughts and still perform well. In fact, most women who fall prey to imposter syndrome are actually quite successful at work despite their self-perceived fraudulence. Reminding yourself of this fact and focusing on your past successes can help prevent a spiral of self-doubt.
6. Play to Your Strengths Even When They’re Stereotypes
While working in a male-dominated field, you might think you need to act more like a man; however, don’t forget your feminine charm. Whether it’s listening, emotional aptitude, empathy, socializing, attention to detail, or problem-solving—if you have these strengths, lean into them. They’re good qualities to demonstrate as a rising future leader, and, particularly in a workplace where those skills are in short supply, they’re also not a bad way to get noticed.
7. Cultivate Confidence
Studies show women are much less likely than men to speak up in meetings, and when they speak up, they apologize repeatedly and allow themselves to be interrupted. If you don’t believe you have anything worth saying, how will others have confidence in you? Recognize the value of your opinion and believe that what you have to share is worth listening to. Be assertive. Being heard in male-dominated industries sometimes means learning not to allow others to speak over you or interrupt you. That doesn’t mean you need to adopt rude behaviors and interrupt others, but it does sometimes mean insisting on having your say.
When you’re ready for a raise or promotion, chances are you’ll be asking a male boss, and it can be intimidating. But if you’ve been with a company for a while and you are considered a rising leader, don’t be shy. Make your expectations clear and state why they should be met in simple terms. Most employers won’t give you a raise or the job you desire unless you request it with authority. Your boss can’t argue the facts of your performance and leadership, so take the time to figure out talking points for those areas. The more data you have, the better chance you have of winning the fight.
As a woman in tech, you need to get creative, be an aggressive life-long learner, believe in yourself, and build a network of people you can lean on to advise you in order to thrive in the male-dominated tech industry.
We end this article with a quote from one of the owners of the firm:
As women, we are gifted to wear many roles, and while women might not heavily populate some industries, we have so many women that have already opened doors for us. It is now up to us to continue going through the door – Krystal Triumph, Atlantic-IT.