I have worked in technology for more than – well let’s just say it’s more than 25 years. My first CIO was female. I was part of a well-balanced technology team at Arthur Andersen. In my niche (legal technology), there are many female IT Directors and CIOs. I had recruited (not deliberately) an all female technology team at a top international law firm. I have been surrounded by successful women in technology all my working life.
However I know that’s not true for all women. I reached out to handful of women in technology to ask them what it takes to succeed in a male-dominated environment.
1. Be resilient “Over my 20+ year career in IT I have worked with only a handful of women. I have mainly worked in the IT infrastructure space and that is apparently one of the least well represented in terms of gender equality.
In my experience the women who are most successful are extremely resilient and tend to be able to function as the only woman in a group of men – often outside of work as well as in work.
I’ve seen well-meaning men not realise that the team / organisation culture is biased towards men, e.g. team nights out at go-karting or football; or office ‘banter’ again being football / sports or even particularly overt sexist topics, e.g. who is ‘hot’ in the media, etc.
I worked in one organisation where the culture was to work hard and play hard, with regular working late, after work dinners out and social events; I just wanted to be able to go home at a reasonable time sometimes. I imagine if you were a parent (of either gender) that draw would be even greater. Although not unique to IT, I see this as being amplified in those environments due to the gender imbalance in many teams.”
Cath Robinson, Global IT Program Manager, Amazon
2. Check the departmental culture “I agree – if you’re not resillient, you probably won’t last. I was at a women in tech event and remember Kate Russell saying there seems to be a certain type of woman. I think it’s particularly true in infrastructure teams. I’m pretty certain my male colleagues won’t have had vendor engineers commenting on how unusual it is to see a woman in the data centre. In about 20 years, I can only think of 2 or 3 women field engineers arriving from vendors.
I’ve been with my current employer for 14 years and I have very conflicted feelings. On the one hand, the company is good – 7 of the 13 on the board are women, we have about 32% women in senior roles. There’s a strong Women’s Association, and in the US, we’ve won awards as the best employer of Latinas, of working mothers and so on.
But in some departments – there are pockets where the overall culture doesn’t seem to make many inroads. They are often very techy departments e.g. data centre management, Unix, etc. I feel that if you want to succeed as a woman [in our organisation], it helps to be American, and probably best not to be in a very techy role. Be aware of whether people have progressed from the department to see if there are likely to be opportunities or not.
Find out what the departmental culture is like from people who work there. We have some great individuals, but oh, the waste of human resources! Boxing them in, not giving them chances to flourish.”
Emma, Unix Adminstrator
3. Use your key strengths and stand your ground on things that count “I’ve worked in male dominated IT teams throughout my entire career. By large, I’ve never felt singled out/less influential because of my gender. You always have narrow-minded people who are willing to exploit something or someone but thankfully (in my experience at least) these people are few and far between.
What I think it takes to be a successful leader is the same for a woman as it is for a man: know your key strengths and use them to your advantage; don’t put up with ‘bullies’ i.e. stand your ground on the things you believe in.”
Emma Dent, Customer Experience Manager, Eduserv
4. Empathy and understanding what your customers want “To be successful you need empathy above all else. Understanding what your customers and team need rather then what they think they want. Women tend to be great at reading body language and situations then turning issues quickly into results.
I’ve discovered you don’t necessarily have to to be technical to succeed in IT, you just need to be able to organise the best skills around you to produce results quickly. It does help to have a specialist skill (like being a Word guru) in order to win over your team initially.”
Kerry Angel, Service Delivery Manager
5. Play to your strengths and be yourself “Have the confidence to apply for the job if it sounds like you would enjoy it and it would play to your strengths.
Be yourself, don’t try to be someone you are not.”
Lynn Christison, Business Analyst
6. Know your value “Being non technical in a technical environment (software) is a challenge in itself when you want to be taken seriously by those who are technical. But like any role it’s about being clear about the value you add, and what you bring to the business and organisation, and that your gender doesn’t make a difference to that.
In my case that’s always been about explaining that without marketing and sales then no-one will actually be buying the software – no matter how innovative or beautifully coded it may be.”
Lucy Whittington co-founder Connectably
(previously marketing at lots of other software companies too)
7. Build a network around you “The rise of groups that support women’s voices have been a tremendous help in allowing me to be successful in my field. I’m a big proponent of thought leadership and the places it can take you. The groups, individuals, and organisations, that have allowed me to share my story, insights, and advice have allowed me to reach a wider audience and assure me that that what I say counts.
The network I have been able to build and the things I’ve learned because of these connections have allowed me to be a better and more confident professional.”
Regina Yulo, Senior Content Strategy Manager, FinTech and Financial Services (Team Lead), BrightTALK
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? Tweet me @SherryRB.