9 Tips to Act on Today:
As a long-time tech professional in the ICT industry, I’d like to pass on experiences that will be helpful to the aspirational women looking to carve out a leadership position in this field. I want you, the reader, to realize that with the right approach anything is possible. And what better place to do that than in a sector that is transforming the world like no other?
That said, technology still has a reputation for being a male-dominated arena. The reality is that facts don’t lie. In the UK, there are more women graduating from university than men, but just 19% of computer studies graduates are female. In the US, a study by the National Student Clearinghouse found women earn less than 20% of degrees in computer science, engineering, and physics.
Interestingly, it was a team of 6 women that were the world’s first programmers. Unfortunately for them, recruiters’ ideas of who would make ideal technologists framed them as male. I do sense that the tide is changing. From young to old we increasingly organize our lives using technology. This mainstream visibility is piquing the interest of more and more young women looking for challenging careers that make a difference.
But how do you break through and stay in this area? Use these 9 nuggets of advice as you advance your career.
#1. Don’t be afraid to show what you can do.
I grew up on cattle ranches in Montana and Wyoming. As you can imagine, these were male-dominated, and enabled me to thrive in what are primarily male-dominated industries during my career. From those experiences, I learned this: grab each challenge presented to you as early as possible in your career and create solutions that can be differentiated from the pack. Remember also that respect is earned — and re-earned by your contributions.
#2. Don’t try to be someone that you aren’t.
Some of the best advice I received early in my career is that manners are always appreciated — but that doesn’t mean a woman can’t be a tough negotiator and a capable leader.
#3. Surround yourself with those who are great at what they do.
Whenever presented with a hard project, I wanted to work with those that were the most capable. I started my career working for a high-net-worth family investment firm. At 22, while working in Venezuela for the firm, my employer won the first GSM license in the Americas. Two years later, we completed a privatization of one of the last US state-owned vaccine plants. Though that project was controversial at the time, I worked with a team of stellar professionals, and it became a very successful and profitable company. You must be willing to learn from others to succeed.
My next major challenge was in my mid-20s, leading a firm’s Central American telecom activities that supported license acquisition and fundraising. Then, at age 27, I had the responsibility to oversee and launch the first GSM cell phone company in Central America while working with our local management team. We integrated international talent with local executive recruitment to find a company that was quickly able to take market share in a competitive environment.
During these experiences, I learned that teamwork is critical to any sizeable project — you can’t do it all yourself. Also, that by calling on your highly skilled colleagues, you can create something that is greater than the sum of your company’s individual parts.
#4. Project confidence.
It’s normal to be nervous when you are taking on new challenges. But choose to lead with confidence per the adage Never let them see you sweat. Having opportunities at a young age can be intimidating, but take the plunge knowing these things will help you establish a record for success. Prove to those around you that you are competent and hungry for work. Subsequently, they will trust you with other future opportunities.
#5. Consider working internationally.
To become a leader in technology and to move up the ladder, I would strongly recommend considering expat or overseas roles. In my 30s, I worked in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, SE Asia, and even China. Those experiences helped broaden my horizons, and provided valuable experiences that gave me an international and diverse toolkit of skills.
#6. Be passionate about learning new skills.
Cross-functional skills are essential as you move up the ladder. Pragmatically speaking, it is frequently easier to gain those skills in a small- or mid-sized company where talent is scarce, or in an international subsidiary where you have less bureaucracy and fewer silos. These opportunities allow you to quickly learn the roles and aims of the individual functions that make up a successful business. By being exposed to multiple functions in a business and seeing how strategy is executed, you will later be able to make the tough decisions necessary that drive a holistic and strategic approach to a business.
#7. Never rest on your laurels.
When you get to the level of manager, director, VP or CEO, vow to never give up or rest on past successes. You (like everyone in leadership positions) are going to have bumps in the road. Remember that unexpected things occur, and oftentimes those opportunities that come out of the blue matter the most.
Continue to demonstrate these things in ALL positions you hold:
• You are the right person for not only the job you have, but also the next one in line for the promotion.
• You have value to add to the wider organization. A great place to start is to understand finances. Understanding and reading profit and loss statements, basic accounting, cash flow, and financial forecasting, will hold you in good stead. I simply would not have made it to CEO, or engaged in business tasks like negotiating and taking a company private, without solid understanding of financial principles.
• You manage your team in a way that makes them perform better.
#8. Remember that technology is ALWAYS on the move.
Today, it seems you blink and there’s something new driving the ICT industry, B2B tech, or the consumer experience. That’s a threat to businesses but an opportunity for you.
In my current position, I stay abreast of the latest technologies, consider whether they would add value to our customers, and if I think they will, I lead from the front to make them part of our portfolio. I do this by consulting with social media, listening to industry podcasts, and reviewing content from researchers in the field and trade publications like ISE magazine.
#9. Be the type of person you would hire.
Gender-specific biases exist, but do I ever feel discriminated against because I am a woman? The answer is no. Despite some bad press, the clear majority of technology companies are meritocracies and most issues can be worked through with some emotional intelligence and perseverance.
The bottom line is this: no one can argue with success, and it is up to you to prove yourself. The world doesn’t owe you a free lunch, but it will recognize hard work and results. Today’s reality is that we have a shortage of good managers, so companies must adapt. Women will continue to make progress against the glass ceiling, and we owe it to ourselves to ensure that we are developing the experiences and competencies to stay there.