Forget Leaning In — Make Space for Women in Tech

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In February, I attended a conference for women in tech and had the pleasure of speaking to a group of startup junkies about audience growth and the challenges associated with it. Not surprisingly, however, the predominant topic for the rest of the conference focused on cultivating an environment of diversity in tech — specifically, hiring for diversity, a topic we’ve covered quite extensively at OpenView.

Saying that it’s a complex subject is an understatement, but the reality is that in order for women to attain leadership positions in tech businesses, we need more women to stay long enough in their jobs to get there. It’s not just about hiring for diversity, but also a matter of retention and development.

In fact, a 2014 Bain study found that the primary reason women don’t achieve as many leadership opportunities isn’t because they sacrifice their careers for the sake of family. Instead, the study notes that “nearly half of women enter the workforce with their eye on the C-Suite, but their aspiration levels drop 60% after more than just two years on the job.” The primary cause was cited to be confidence and aspiration levels eroding for two key reasons:

  1. Women don’t feel supported by their supervisors
  2. They have a hard time fitting into stereotypes of success within a company

Inequality — and the stereotypes that come with it — has been bred into our society and has a long-standing history. Considering it an “unconscious bias” is a cop-out. It’s likely that most people (even with the best intentions), recognize this injustice, but are in denial that they’re part of the prevailing problem.

The Need for Collective Commitment to Creating Change

What we need is an active ecosystem of people who believe they play a pivotal role in creating social change. The truth is, each and every one of us truly does! We need to address what’s happening during those early to mid-level years of a woman’s career that are changing these aspiration and confidence levels so radically.

So, here’s my advice to you, the frontline managers and corporate leadership:

  • Set concrete goals around hiring. As Aliyah Rahman puts it, “If you want to hire women and people of color, then hire women and people of color.”
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Recognize and reward people who make an effort and an impact.
  • Turn solo ventures into community building opportunities.
  • Mentor someone, foster the relationship, and take him or her under your wing while providing guidance and solid career and business advice.

 

To the women in the tech:

  • Seek a mentor
  • Be a mentor
  • Support your peers
  • Don’t lose sight of your goals and aspirations
  • Don’t be afraid of failure
  • Fill in any knowledge gaps — be honest with yourself here
  • Let your work speak loudest
  • Don’t be afraid to move on
  • Build a strong network
  • Take care of your mind and body
  • Be present with friends and family

The convenient solution for all of us is to point fingers or apply a Band-Aid by appointing some leaders and wiping our hands clean of it. But the harder work must be done at the mid-level frontlines, where you’re either nurturing someone’s aspirations and cultivating their confidence, or you’re not.

Where Will You Impact Change?

According to Bain, there are three areas where mid-career women encounter negative experiences and perceptions that take them off course. “First is a disconnect with the so-called ideal worker stereotype — the ‘always on’ fast-tracking go-getter. Second is lack of supervisor support for mid-level women. The third — borne out of the other shortcomings — is a lack of women role models at top company levels.”

All three of those negative perceptions and stereotypes can be addressed, but it’s going to take collective commitment from everyone to facilitate that change.

Now, what are you going to do to make space and create more equality? And what additional advice would you add to this list?

Photo by: Apps for Europe

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