Women, Technology & Confidence

December 8, 2016

It Takes Action, Not Acting
Over the course of my technology career, I have received a lot of advice from mentors and business leaders on how to get ahead. One common bit of guidance I’ve heard is this: “fake it till you make it.” To me, the adage always meant that I should pretend to have confidence when embracing a workplace challenge and, in time, true confidence will follow. Act confident and eventually you will be confident. As I consider findings from the recent Harvey Nash Women in Tech survey, I am reconsidering the fundamental message in that mantra, which I don’t think is quite right. Perhaps “acting” is not what is important but the action itself is what matters. Should women be acting or taking action?

Confidence Is the Best Way Forward
According to the participants in the 2016 Harvey Nash Women in Technology survey, well over one third of women (37%) say that the “lack of opportunities to make career gains” is a workplace challenge they face. Only 20% of men said the same. The survey also found that the more senior the woman is, the more likely she is to have career advancement challenges. These results, along with the continued low numbers of women in management and senior roles across the tech industry, confirm what we know from being on the inside: the struggle to get more women succeeding and advancing in IT remains.
What is the best way forward and upward for women in IT? According to the survey, the answer is confidence. A substantial majority of respondents, 65%, said that the best way for a woman to advance in her career was to “be confident.” But how? Is someone born confident? Do they learn confidence? Can they fake confidence?
Those questions are what had me thinking about the “fake it till you make it” mantra. I would argue that many women working in IT don’t need to fake anything. They are confident in their skills and knowledge. In fact, 59% of men and women in the Women in Tech survey said that the “challenge of the work” is why they chose to work in technology. Confident people like challenges, which is why I don’t think “lack of confidence” among women IT professionals tells us the full story. In fact, I am inclined to think the bigger problem is a lack of action rather than a lack of confidence.
Nature vs. Nurture – Hunters vs. Gatherers
We are taught from early ages that, over the long history of the human race, men were the bold, strong “hunters” whose job was to adventure out, hunt and provide. They sought out the action. The work of women over the ages is described very differently. To gather, to nurture and to care. Because men learn from boyhood that they are meant to go out and conquer and lead, I feel like they are often quicker and bolder than women when it comes to taking action in the workplace and embracing leadership roles. Men know to act and behave with confidence early on. Women, nurtured by cultural and social lessons, don’t always assert their knowledge and talent right away when a challenge or opportunity is presented.
While there are always exceptions to both these rules (and I am not a social scientist by any stretch of the imagination), I can tell you I see more skilled women holding back in the workplace than men. After serious consideration, I am more inclined than ever to say that speed (or lack thereof) and forethought are the culprits. Women do not act fast enough, whether that means speaking up in meetings, volunteering to lead or asserting solutions/opinions. Why? Perhaps it’s because they are thinking too much, “Is this the right moment? Am I qualified enough? Is it my turn?” This to me is the heart of the problem. Not that women are failing to “act confident.” It’s that they are failing to take action that will put them in the spotlight and showcase their knowledge and skills.
Stop Mulling and Act!
My advice to my fellow women in IT today is to take bolder, faster action. Increase your reaction time when it comes to responding to opportunities and challenges. If a business leader asks for someone to lead a project or team, volunteer quickly. Here’s why you shouldn’t hesitate: If you are being asked to consider a job or opportunity, they already know you are qualified. You have nothing to fake.
Women in tech should also embrace their own internal hunter. Don’t wait for someone to assign a challenging job or project to you. Go hunt down the opportunity you want. The fact is businesses want and need more women in their ranks. You have leverage; all you need to do is act on it.
I invite you to download the Women in Tech Survey to read more about the current landscape women in technology are navigating today.