Gender neutral

September 19, 2018

01 women just need to work hard to be successful

Is it really true that a woman will succeed based on the hard work she puts in and the results she produces? Time and again, we have heard that the tech world is a meritocracy—a system in which people attain advancement based on their proven success and achievement.

Research indicates that in most cases meritocracy is a myth, particularly for women and especially when unconscious bias is holding them back in their careers.

I have four recommendations for women. First, yes, be exceptional at work. Second, understand that meritocracy alone will not reward your efforts, so develop a diverse set of strategies to keep your career moving forward. Third, be aware of your surroundings, network and get to know the key players in your organization. Fourth, take initiative to showcase your work and impact.

We all have a responsibility to counter the meritocracy myth—by developing performance metrics that are resistant to bias. Company and organization leaders should scrutinize how performance is judged and how salaries and bonuses are handed out. If your company looks carefully at performance and salary metrics and an inconvenient pattern of bias emerges, then you can welcome the journey to make your organization more equitable. It is okay to be transparent about these numbers because doing so will increase accountability and push your organization to improve.

02 mentors are key for women to be successful in tech

If a woman is stuck in her career and she reaches out to other people for help, then this is generally a good thing. Whether that person is a formal mentor or an informal one, we talk to our mentors because it is a natural thing to do. But do not think that mentorship alone will correct the gender bias in the tech industry. Research has shown that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. Based on that, we find that a lot of women are not progressing in their careers. A mentor can teach you a lot of helpful things to be excellent in your career; however, you need to ask yourself how influential your mentor is within
your organization.

That is where sponsorship comes in. Sponsors are often the decisive factor in obtaining a strategic project, more visibility, the next promotion, or a raise. Sponsors can be the ticket to a career that skyrockets. This is true for both women and men, though the research also shows that men have an easier time getting sponsored by other men.

How do you go about getting a sponsor? It is not as easy as walking into someone’s office and asking them to be a sponsor. There are individual and organizational solutions. Individuals should find ways to be visible so their work and impact are recognized by the influential people. This could be as simple as striking up a conversation with the executive; talking about your work; or perhaps offering to demo one of your present projects for them. This will cement your accomplishments in the potential sponsor’s mind.

Now, what is the executive’s role in the sponsoring relationship? They should first identify sponsorship candidates in the company who are capable of taking on larger leadership responsibilities. When an opportunity arises, they offer those individuals the opportunities both to increase their leadership skills and to gain visibility within the company. And they need to put women on the short list to get sponsorship responsibilities. Studies show that diverse teams perform better in the long run.

03 the glass ceiling is shattered

Two disturbing facts reveal that in fact women are not shattering the glass ceiling.

Every year, Fortune releases its Fortune 500 list, which ranks major US companies by their prior year’s fiscal revenues. In 2014, we had female CEOs running 24 of these companies. That number dipped to 21 in 2016, but in 2017 we had promising news, as that number rose to 32. But in 2018 we are now down to 23 women, with Indra Nooyi stepping down as CEO of PepsiCo.

Second, in March 2014, a report by Judith Warner, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, documented that at the present rate of change, equal representation of men and women at the top will not occur until 2085. Now I want to pause here to let you internalize this fact, so I am going to repeat it: at the current rate of change, equal representation of men and women at the top will not occur until 2085.

So no, women are not shattering the glass ceiling. In fact, we need to wake up and acknowledge our status. How do we break this glass ceiling? And if we do break it, are we free from other glass ceilings? No, when we break one glass ceiling, another one emerges. There is a glass ceiling preventing women from rising to their potential every step of the way. Who puts up these? It is the old boys’ club. We need to shatter the power of that network before we can shatter the numerous glass ceilings we encounter.

04 she is too aggressive

In the research interviews for Nevertheless, She Persisted, I found so many of the women who are effective and successful leaders in their organizations being labeled as overly aggressive. This is a double-bind problem. If women who want to lead bring with them the stereotypical female characteristic of being nice to work, they often realize that their careers stall. Therefore, successful women embrace being ambitious and assertive. These qualities are lauded in men, but are not seen as positive female characteristics. Thus, so many effective women leaders get labeled as aggressive or worse. One of the women in my book got pinned with the label ‘dragon lady’ outside of her work group, when all she was doing was embracing a no-nonsense and assertive leadership style. When women are called derogatory terms such as this, it has an impact on them and hurts their confidence. We need to expand everyone’s notion of what qualities females possess to also include having an assertive leadership style.

05 there are so few women in tech because it is a pipeline problem

When companies cannot hire female candidates, many utter the false justification that ‘there is a pipeline problem’. The pipeline metaphor assumes that if you have a more equal balance of females to males graduating in tech fields, then that will result in more females entering and staying in the tech field. But that assumption is false. We actually have a good percentage of women graduating with tech degrees. What the metaphor does not explain is why we lose women once they graduate and later in their careers. The number of women leaving the tech field is 53 percent—over half of all women who start in tech have left within ten years. These numbers are daunting and depressing.

If a company’s executives are brave enough to study the problem objectively, their fact-finding may expose both subtle and overt bias playing out in the organization, and further that the company’s promotional metrics unfairly penalize women who jump out of industry during the years that their children are young. Again, companies that have made a commitment to diversity are shown to perform better in the long run. These diverse companies actually welcome having the uncomfortable conversations about how to create a more positive work environment for your female colleagues. They have learned that making the changes that need to happen can be beneficial for morale and the bottom line.