One size does not fit all for women in tech
April 6, 2022
April 6, 2022
Some years ago, I was preparing to host a large session with multiple senior stakeholders, all very vocal, with differing points of view. My supervisor wanted me to push back forcefully against some of those views at the meeting. As a naturally introverted person, being loud and confrontational has never been my way.
What I’ve learned in my career is that there are different ways to hold people accountable. In this instance, I had a series of one-on-one conversations ahead of the session. It helped me to facilitate a win-win solution without ruffling any feathers.
That was an eye-opening moment for me. I recognized that I could marry my personality strengths to the goals I wanted to achieve. I also realized that there was no single approach to accomplishing the task.
For women in technology like myself, there is no one-size-fits all approach to a successful career. Yet, we’re often pressured to fit into a certain mold. The more that I talk to other women and progress through my own career, the more convinced I am that women are both happier and more successful when they define their careers in their own unique way.
If we’re going to succeed in keeping talented women in technology, we need to start thinking differently about how we can best support them. Not only do we need to help women define their own career paths; we also need to encourage them in finding their own voice and embracing their own working styles.
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Career path definition is a process which requires continuous evolution. We’re constantly evolving as individuals. Our career aspirations should change too. I remember that at the start of my career, I was simply looking for growth opportunities.
I wanted to learn something new and to do interesting work. And I didn’t want to worry too much about my ultimate career landing spot. I was fortunate that technology consulting provided just that opportunity. It enabled me to experiment and try different roles in search of my true passion.
As I progressed, I started thinking more about specialization, career advancement and recognition. At the same time, with two young children, work-life balance and flexibility became much more important. I was also influenced by cultural norms. A demanding career is not always celebrated and women are often still perceived as playing a dominant role in raising a family. As it turns out, I’m not alone.
A surprising 57% of diverse women we spoke to were told to fit their career choices into the cultural norms of their families, which often exclude a career in technology.
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If we’re going to succeed in keeping talented women in technology, we need to start thinking differently about how we can best support them.
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As I pondered how to balance it all, I was fortunate to have many mentors support me along the way. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have mentors in a women’s career journey. They don’t have to be other women. However, female role models are highly valuable and can help younger women see what’s possible for their careers.
Many of my most influential mentors have been men. Having mentors who were “not like me” contributed positively. They provided varied perspectives to help me see past any blind spots I may have had.
Effective mentors need to be compassionate people leaders. They must be great listeners who genuinely care about their team. They need to be ready to provide candid feedback. And they should recognize when to push the mentee to stretch beyond their comfort zone and any perceived limit. After all, it is often through challenging situations that you grow the most.
Above all, mentors need to invest in time. It takes effort to get to know someone, and understand their needs and wants to help shape their career path along the way. And since their priorities or focus areas will inevitably change, mentorship at those key defining moments is so critical.
Reflecting on the early days of my career journey, I often received feedback that I needed to act a certain way to succeed. There have been huge strides in supporting women in the workforce over the last few decades. However, there is still a perception that you need to fit into a certain profile to advance. That one must be vocal and overt, pushing their way into the boardroom and fighting for every chance to be heard and recognized.
It took me years of experience to build confidence and recognize that there is more than one way to succeed. As I coach junior women, I often recognize myself in them: they are trying hard to fit into a profile that doesn’t suit their personality or working style. But one size doesn't fit all, and it is more important to be authentic. People will flex and accommodate when they recognize you are genuine.
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Hearing other women talk about how they overcame their own limiting beliefs can be powerful. This is why it is so important for senior women to share their journey as inspiration. It can take place as town halls, fireside chats or one-on-one meetings. I get asked to talk about my journey a lot and I do so happily, as a way of paying it forward. Learning that other women have succeeded on their own terms can be empowering.
It is such a rewarding part of my work to help women develop their own voice and leadership style. And I’ve learned from the support I got early in my career that the role of sponsors is critical. Sponsors differ from mentors in that they are in leadership positions and can proactively open doors to provide career opportunities.
Not everyone is vocal enough to ask for support. I’ve never been the type to elbow myself for a seat at the table. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have people to pull out a chair for me. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Sponsors also play an important role in providing conscious recognition for success. Some people are too humble to broadcast their achievements. There’s a fine line between being modest and owning your success and some women may need encouragement in recognizing that.
Finally, sponsors play an instrumental role in establishing an inclusive environment where we accept and embrace a diverse career path and working style. When we recognize that there is more than one way to get things done, we measure outcomes and results rather than the approach.
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