Women have been pioneers in technology for nearly a century. From early innovators including Grace Hopper and Mary Allen Wilkes to modern-day visionaries such as Judith Faulkner, Susan Wojcicki and Padmasree Warrior, the contribution of women to the advancement of the technology industry is powerful.
While there are notable role models for women in tech, we know that the sector sits alongside other industries such as automotive and construction at the lower end of the scale when it comes to the percentages of women making up the workforce. The positive news is the participation of young girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields has risen in recent years, and opportunities in technology companies big and small continue to grow.
Additionally, awareness is starting to increase – albeit more needs to be done on this front – about the varied nature of roles available to women who want to work in the tech industry. When thinking of working in technology, it’s easy to associate the industry with positions such as engineering, software development and product management. However, there are many jobs within the sector that don’t require candidates (female or male) to have specific engineering backgrounds or degrees.
For women that are exploring a career within the tech industry, or are early in their career, here are some of my top pieces of advice when it comes to succeeding and enjoying a fulfilling career.
Embrace being a ‘stand-out’
Each human being is different, and we each have different talents and capabilities. It’s not about stereotypes. It’s about what you as an individual bring to the table. The important thing is to leverage YOUR strengths as best as you can! Are you a holistic thinker? Creative? Analytical? Logical? Great – lead with your strongest characteristics.
Early in my career, there were times where I felt self-conscious being the only woman, or one of a small number of women, working on a project or in a company meeting. Now I find it empowering. I’ve taken time to understand what I’m good at and enjoy, and what I’m not good at (and would rather avoid!).
With time, self-awareness and reflection, confidence can increase, and you can become comfortable knowing where you can make the biggest impact. The fact that your forte may be different to male colleagues, or any of your colleagues for that matter, is advantageous to know. Acknowledging how your capabilities can complement the strengths of other team members is really valuable to a company. I know that I bring a different perspective and I enjoy sharing it with colleagues – and it’s engaging to learn from others!
My advice around relationship building is not about networking or mentoring, though there’s benefits to doing both of those things. Getting to know the people you’re working with and what makes them tick is an important part of a healthy work environment and your career development. Strike a balance between relationship building and the focus on just getting ‘stuff’ done. This might mean spending a few minutes before a meeting (or even during a meeting depending on the setting, context and who is involved), understanding the ‘why’ behind a colleagues’ approach, or catching up over coffee on topics not directly related to work.
This approach is just as important when on Zoom, Teams or other video calls. Video calls are far superior to the ways of working even a decade ago! You can see people’s facial reactions and body language and ask questions that may have gone unasked when relying solely on verbal discussions.
It sounds obvious, but connections within a company really do matter. In the short term, having positive relationships within your team, and between your team and other functions in your company, makes it easier to get things done. In the medium to longer term, you’ll build a reputation as someone who achieves goals while also being a person others want to work with. In turn, your credibility will increase and more opportunities will open for you as people understand how you’re contributing to the overall success of the business.
Keeping in touch with people who move on is also very important. I still rely on some of my colleagues from my first few years of working in corporations to be my sounding boards. They know me and can give real feedback, which is priceless.
Focus on being the best and success will follow
Tech companies are typically data-driven environments where good ideas – and making those ideas become reality – win the day. If you flourish in an environment where meritocracy matters, tech is a great place to build a career. Meritocracy means that progress is based on talent, ability, and results. There is a clear link between success and emphasising that you can choose your own path, work hard, and grow. This is a very powerful and important mindset.
Another characteristic to consider is the say/do ratio. Getting work done matters. But if no one knows what you are working on or understands how your work impacts the company’s results, that’s not useful. Consider what you’re doing in your daily work and how you communicate progress to goals. Think about how much time you spend on each element – the work versus communicating results – and get the ratio right. It’s not wise to overemphasize your contribution, but if you are only executing and nobody outside of a small bubble knows, that’s not the right balance either.
Plan – but not too much
Having a career game plan is a good idea. However, we shouldn’t be so wed to it that it means missing an opportunity that doesn’t fit the plan. One of things that changed my career substantially was an unexpected lateral move. My boss at the time had to more than nudge me to take it on. Even though I didn’t clearly see the long-term benefit back then, it changed the trajectory of my career.
The tech industry is comprised of some very large companies and a huge amount of small and medium sized companies. Large or small, public or privately held, do your research.
There are unicorns, there are other companies that won’t be in business for much longer, and everything in between. There are no perfect organizations, so I’m not suggesting holding out for a company built in an ivory tower! At the same time, don’t only rely on the ‘feeling’ you get from a certain company or become too fixated with a concept, product, vision, or leader. Complete a holistic review. Acknowledge the attributes that will lead to the company’s success and understand its limitations before you jump in. Do your due diligence as if you were an investor. This way, you’ll have a greater understanding of the company’s path, where you can contribute, and what speed bumps may be ahead.
Jen Lucas, Chief People Officer at Tricentis
Jen is a seasoned human resources executive with over 20 years’ experience leading teams across all HR functions. She specialises in leading large-scale growth and change, mergers and acquisitions, driving peak performance, talent acquisition, and total rewards.