5 Changes We All Need To Make To #BalanceForBetter In Tech
Celebrating International Women’s Day Together
I’d be lying if I said my 20-year career in the technology industry has been easy, amazing, and I was always treated fairly. At times it was a struggle. Constantly proving myself again and again was exhausting. More times than I can count I was looking for the exit strategy.
Ask any woman who has spent years in this industry and they will have a similar story. I tell hiring tech leaders and managers that if they come across an experienced senior level woman in tech, hire her immediately! She has battled the industry and survived. Her skills, experiences, and perspective are unmatched and will transform the team and in some cases the overall company
It is proven that gender-diverse teams “demonstrate superior productivity and financial performance compared with homogenous teams.” The differing perspectives help teams solve problems better, faster and have higher levels of revenue. For us all to be successful we need more experienced women on our teams and in leadership roles.
But across our industry, these women are in rare supply. In fact, the percent of women in tech has significantly dropped since 1985 and has settled around 26% with no real sign of improving despite the countless organizations and groups working to change this.
How do we help these organizations change this trend? The hard truth is that these organizations are helpful and doing amazing things, but the company itself will not be able to do this alone, we as individuals need to be the change agent. That is, it needs to happen within each of us. Finding a gender balance in tech isn’t just for women or men to work through. This is an issue that all of us are contributing to. The only way to right the ship is to acknowledge the gap and take it upon yourself to make a change.
Changing this culture is not about a few of us making a large rapid change, rather it is about all of us making individual, purposeful changes and building new habits in our everyday life that will move the needle. It is these changes that will adjust the lens we see the industry through and bring focus to how we treat others and view ourselves. This is how we make a real impact in both our industry and our every day lives.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, let this be the day we embrace the spirit of #BalanceforBetter to change our everyday. Improve the balance within ourselves and our industry.
1. It’s your uniqueness that will bring you success, don’t lose it!
No one else has your unique experiences, skills, and view of the world. It is that perspective that is valuable and will bring success to all you do. It’s not about conforming. The moment we all begin to conform is the moment we all fail.
It gets me when people rattle off a list of personal traits they believe are markings of a successful developer… wears geek apparel, reads Hacker News, loves Star Wars, is an introvert, plays video games. It makes those who don’t meet that stereotype feel that they need to change. Or that they don’t belong.
We each need to realize that the best developer is YOU, just as you are. If the person sitting next to you is opposite in every way, great! They are also the best developer they can be.
When you begin to feel that you need to conform in any way, fight it. Stay true to yourself, who you are and your passions. Being comfortable with yourself is the only way you can be your most confident you. That is when you will find success and truly enjoy your career.
When you come across someone different than you, embrace it! Find a way to learn from them. The more diverse the people around you the more you can learn and grow.
2. Stop minimizing.
Many of us, especially women, have a built-in minimizing mechanism. We downplay our abilities, hide our confidence and opinions. We shrink ourselves down below our skills, experience, and knowledge. All of which with our words, persona and our mannerisms.
When women work on a team project, we will frequently refer to“we” instead of “I” when discussing our individual accomplishments. Thinking we are recognizing those we worked with. However, we don’t realize that what most people subconsciously hear is, “Her team did the work. Without a solid team, I’m not sure she could pull it off.”
Speaking out about our work and ideas we more often than not will use “just”. “Maybe this isn’t important…” or, we all know this one, “You may have already thought of this…” These phrases convey uncertainty and a lack of confidence, which ensures your ideas will never be valued.
As much as our words matter so does our physical presence. We have all been there before, full meeting room and someone walks in. We compress ourselves. Shuffle our things together to take up less space so the new addition to the meeting has space. Others unconsciously understand this as, “Others are more deserving than her.” That you are unimportant and getting out of the way.
All of these things undermine what you are capable of. You are each amazing, talented and experienced women in tech. When you minimize, the only person you are hurting is yourself. Own your space. Speak proudly on your ideas. You belong in those meetings, take up the space you need. The worst that will happen is that all of those people around you will know for certain what a badass you really are.
3. Embrace your failures.
I love this quote from Sumner Redstone, “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it's built on catastrophe.”
It’s 100% true. Without being willing to fail we are unwilling to learn. But yet none of us really talk about our failures. We talk openly and often about our successes, but what would our industry look like if we really embraced failure? What if everyone felt it was okay to fail and could talk about it?
So many get caught up in being afraid to fail. Thoughts like this fill our head, “What if I take down production? My team will blame me. I’ll get in trouble. Made fun of. Possible fired.” Filled with anxiety over it we become frozen. Not trying, not growing. How long can someone be successful in that position? They can’t.
I readily and openly admit each time I mess up. When I break the build, “Yup it was me.” I want my team to know we all fail. But it’s not about the failing, it’s about learning and getting back up.
No matter your role on your team, from intern to CTO, always talk about your failures. Admit when you mess up. It’s a cue to all those around you they can too. It will bring an open and honest environment to your team that will make all feel welcome to fail, learn, grow and count of teammates for support.
4. Take every opportunity to acknowledge when you don’t know something.
Each of us started knowing nothing. And no matter how many years we have been in the field we could easily fill a page with the things we still do not know. In an industry that is evolving every moment of every day, it is impossible to ever stop learning or to know all there is.
Yet, it is taboo to admit when we don’t know something. As if this will tarnish our credibility or make us seen as lacking the knowledgable we claim. But how will any of us learn when we can’t first admit what we don’t know? What does this tell those around us when we can’t admit what we don’t know?
Let’s add to that what it is like to be the minority on the development team. More than likely, a woman is working on a male-dominated team. Daily she is fighting the “one of these is not like the other” feeling. Wanting to be herself, but feels that she needs to change to fit in with the team. The struggle is real. Already minimizing her abilities, and now she sees no one on her team admitting what they don’t know. How can she feel this is a safe environment for her to be herself and admit what she doesn’t know?
The decision women will come to is to leave these environments. As what this really tells them is “this group is closed minded.” They won’t be able to explain why they feel uncomfortable, they will just know they do as they don’t feel “safe”. The first step to create a welcoming environment is to make everyone feel safe admitting what they don’t know, starting with you. Be the example for all those around you. Show them you are honest, have an open mind and are always ready to learn.
5. Lift a woman up. Every day.
The statistics around women in tech are staggering. They lack VC funding at the startup level by only receiving 2% of investment dollars. Nearly half the women working in tech will abandon their jobs mid-career. Facing wage disparity, lack of career growth, dismissed in conversations… there is a mountain women have to climb over to reach a senior level in this field. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Find the women working around you. What are they doing to make a difference? Have you given them encouragement? Have you recognized their accomplishments to others on your team or company?
Regardless of gender, most of us have some form of privilege we can lend to lift the women around up. Maybe you are the dominate race or gender in the field. Maybe you’ve worked at the company longer. If you have a voice that can lend credibility to the women around you, use it! Do you have a platform you can use to shine a light on women in tech, line them up and highlight all they are doing!
As you go through your day continually find a way to lift a woman up around you. Support her in a meeting. Offer your opportunity to lead a development effort. Got asked to speak, recommend a woman instead. Chances are high that she has not been asked and you will get asked multiple times.
It doesn’t take much to lift a woman up. Little gestures have huge dividends, so no matter how minor the opportunity seems, seize it! The more support you give these women the brighter they will shine and more successful you, your team and organization will be.
Finding a better balance in tech won’t happen overnight. There is no magic bullet. It will take all of us working to change starting with ourselves. We all need to form new habits, start to see our industry differently. Work better together more openly, and be okay having uncomfortable conversations. If we can all do that, the needle will move.