Women in Tech Who Walk on Water

November 21, 2017

When the stats and odds on women in tech threaten to get me down, I will always have November 15, 2017 to remember and lift my spirits. Was it a big Election Day? A rally or referendum? No. It was a Seattle ARA event sponsored by Avvo and focused on the findings of the 2017 Harvey Nash and ARA Women in Tech Survey. The night included a powerful fireside chat with three inspiring tech-industry executives: Monica Pool Knox, Global Head of Talent Optimization, Microsoft; Britt Provost, Senior Vice President, People & Culture, Apptio; and Michelle Perez, Principal, Artemis Connection.

Why did this night feel so significant? For me and many of the audience members I spoke with after, the panel of women was awe-inspiring not just because of the important work they are doing in the human capital and tech sectors but also because of the clarity they brought to questions about taking charge of one’s career as a woman. I know Monica, Britt and Michelle will laugh to hear me characterize them as “women who walk on water” but getting good answers to tough questions about women in tech careers can feel almost miraculous at a time when progress is still so slow. So what advice did they share? Here are the highlights:
Want Work-Life Balance? Own It!
Are startups and small firms or large companies better able to deliver on work-life balance? After healthy debate that split the room, the audience and the panel agreed that gender determines the answer. A male-dominated team (at a startup or a large company) will have one way of thinking, which will limit flexibility. The panelists’ advice to the audience was to own your own schedule. Established professionals of any gender should feel comfortable establishing boundaries that support better balance. According to the panel, you have to own your schedule. Ask for what you want, ensure other people are respecting the boundaries you have set and stay working within the limits you have set.

Negotiate in Total, Not in Piecemeal
To advance in your tech career, you have to be a strong negotiator and that begins at the start of any job. The panel advised job applicants to put all their desires on the table, from salary to benefits to work-life balance needs. Don’t hold back thinking that it is better to try and get one thing at a time. A piecemeal negotiation wastes time, frustrates hiring managers and makes it seem as though you are not sure you know if your skills and performance will warrant what you are asking for. Know what you want and ask for it with clarity, a good case and clear confidence.

Speak with Purpose
The panel feel like too many women alter how they speak in order to avoid conflict or to be sensitive to other perspectives. They say “I feel that…” or “I think…” which, according to one panelist, makes one’s input sound more like subjective musings rather than thoughtful business insights based on objective data. Take out words that might be construed as emotional and subjective when you have a point to make. Be definite, clear and unapologetic about sharing valuable information.
Get Heard
When one audience member mentioned being “shushed” in meetings by a male counterpart, the panel was astounded. None of them could imagine being shushed. However, they did recall times when it was hard to have their voice heard. The advice to the room was to go into meetings where you have something to say prepared with good points to make and recruit an ally. The ally is someone who you recruit in advance who knows you have a point to make and can back you up if you try to make a point and are overlooked or quieted. Go into meetings well-prepped and well-allied and it will be hard not to be heard.

Be Supportive with Positive Speak
The panel agree that women aren’t doing enough for each other when supporting each other’s careers and growth. They speak of the importance of using “positive speak” to acknowledge the talents and successes of women colleagues and candidates. Look for opportunities to promote the success of your fellow female professionals so that people see and hear about the great work women are doing.

Get a Mentor, Be a Mentor
The panel advised the audience to stop waiting for a mentor to drop into their laps. If you want a mentor, go to your employer and ask for one. Few businesses have formalized mentor programs but are still happy to make these connections among employees. And, mentors can make a big impact on career opportunities and growth, which means women in IT should not only look for mentors but consider being one as well. We all have something to learn and something to teach.
Get Out of Your Head & Be Confident
The panel was clear that women in the workplace have to stop worrying about preconceived notions. You can’t control the stereotypes people have about you, whether they are about your race, your gender or your culture. So what can you do? Get out of your head and stop trying to adapt who you are to what you think they want. Just be yourself, do great work and don’t worry about it. Focus on winning their respect rather than being liked and that will propel you forward.
As you have read, ideas and advice flew from this ARA panel with cheerful fury. I invite you to follow these executives (Monica Pool Knox @monicapk, Britt Provost @BrittProvost and Michelle Perez) to hear their ongoing words of wisdom and remind you to take their sage advice straight to the workplace: to be yourself, own your career, ask for want you want and make sure you are heard.