These seven principles can help you find your way as you break into tech and grow your startup.
By Renee La Londe (Founder & CEO, iTalent Corporation)
Stats continue to be stacked against women in the technology industry. We’ve certainly made significant strides, as evidenced by the explosion of organizations developed to support and promote women in tech. Yet recent findings continue to reveal a significant gender-based lag, and dropout rates are high.
- Google admitted that while women comprise 30 percent of the company’s global workforce, only 17 percent of employees in technical jobs are female.
- While women hold more than half of all professional jobs in the U.S., they hold only a quarter of all computing-related jobs.
- Only 4 tech companies in the Fortune 100 have female CEOs.
- Only 7 percent of tech company founders are women.
As one of those founders, I’d like to share some best practices I’ve learned over the past 15 years in high tech that can help you navigate the industry as a woman and professional:
1. Forge Ahead as an Equal
As reported in a recent article in The Atlantic, research shows there’s a significant “confidence gap” between women and men.
Women are often less confident in their abilities, based on a wide range of reasons from nature to nurture.
Evidence also suggests that lack of confidence can affect women’s performance. It’s therefore crucial that you believe in yourself and your technical abilities, despite being outnumbered when it comes to gender.
Early in my career, I encountered resistance from male counterparts who gave me the message that I did not belong in IT. I didn’t accept this because I believed in the tremendous value of the business solutions I was bringing to the table and the positive impact they would have on the company that hired and trusted me to successfully implement those solutions.
Stay connected to the value YOU are creating in workplace and do not accept “societal norms” about which types of careers are “best” for women – stay confident and assertive in the face of naysayers.
It is ok to be out of your comfort zone a lot – that means you are growing and learning.
2. Find a Great Mentor
Mentors, along with sponsors, can help provide career advice, guidance, and advocacy, opening doors for you within an organization. It’s time you found one.
I have have been fortunate enough to have many mentors in my career – men and woman. One of my mentors showed me the value of always meeting your commitments – even as VP and one of the first employees of a now, big fortune 500 company he always stayed grounded, humble, hard working, accountable and always met his commitments.
One of my other mentors (VP of HR) constantly encouraged me to take executive classes that would push me above and beyond my comfort level. One of these classes allowed me to meet VPs all over the company and learn how to communicate effectively to the executive staff.
Three months later, I became part of a team that had to present to the CEO – and because of the training I received, the presentation went well.
Mentors are without a doubt a major factor in later launching my own tech company and I was lucky enough to have one of those mentors as a partner from the start. He came out of retirement to help me build out iTalent Corporation and he helped me view things from a different perspective (as someone who had already build out a technology company and successfully took it public) and he also leveraged his network to open up doors for us.
3. Listen to Your Mentor
Finding a mentor is the first step, but what’s even more important is heeding your mentor’s advice. Mentoring needs to be a two-way street, where you make it as easy as possible for your mentor to help you.
Find out your mentor’s schedule and work with it, making meetings as easy as possible for him/ her. When your mentor offers advice, take time to really listen and follow up on it. My one regret is that I didn’t always listen enough to the guidance that was offered to me.
Part of a mentor’s role is to stretch you into new opportunities. Stay open to your mentor’s recommendations even if they initially take you out of your comfort zone.
4. Build Your Network
Whether you want to move up at your current company or found your own startup, your contacts and connections can help you get there. Networking can be especially important for women, as reported in Forbes.
Whether you’re a new graduate or further along in your career, networking can lead to a wealth of information and opportunities. Networking can also help increase your confidence talking to a wide range of people at different levels, and can raise your profile both at your company and in the industry.
5. Don’t Stop Growing
It’s inevitable that you’ll reach certain points in your career that may feel like plateaus. This can happen when you’ve mastered your current position and can take care of tasks on autopilot.
At such junctures, it would be easy to sit back and coast. But staying stagnant is not a smart career strategy.
It’s important to keep growing in your career no matter what stage you’re in with your job. Make an effort to learn new skills by volunteering for projects outside of your job description. Pursue continuous learning – which The Washington Post reports is more important than ever – by taking classes, attending conferences and going to seminars. Try out new things to find out what you enjoy!
6. Take Calculated Risks
You’ll never get ahead by staying put or doing things you’re already good at. Becoming more comfortable with risk taking rather than always playing it safe can help you stand out and lead to new opportunities.
Why? Because calculated risks can pave the way toward personal and professional growth – even if you “fail” at your initial objective. When you try something new, the lessons learned from encountering challenges can ultimately take your one step back and turn it into two steps forward.
Fortunately, professional risk-taking is not something that most women avoid, despite the gender-based stereotype. Research on female managers conducted by Simmons College revealed that in fact, women are “highly likely” to take risks when they’re related to desired business outcomes.
7. Help Your Manager
Besides finding a reliable mentor, working for a first-rate manager will make a big difference – especially in the early stages of your career.
An exceptional manager is someone you can both learn from and also help succeed. This partnership between manager and protégé can facilitate your career advancement immensely.
With this in mind, don’t just choose your job based on the role or responsibility. Equally (if not even more) important is who you work for. By helping your manager get ahead, you may even be able to take a coat-tail ride as his/her career advances.
In summary, using these best practices as part of your career strategy can help you first anchor yourself – and then ascend – as a woman in the tech industry.
Work on building confidence, finding and heeding a mentor, growing your network and your skills, trying more risk-taking, and helping your manager succeed. By doing so, you’ll be positioning yourself well for the future.