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Isn’t it odd that the percentage of women in tech has been growing at an optimistic rate for years and yet, we are still sorely underrepresented in the industry’s boardrooms? Years ago, when I moved into my first leadership role, I was the only woman on a board with three dozen members. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why aren’t there more women like me? Do I deserve to be here?
Today, I know many bold women who have climbed the career ladder and they all deserve to be at the top – but the gender gap in tech management still exists. What I’ve learned over time is that to a great extent it’s the unconscious gender bias rather than intentional exclusion that shapes disparity. Regrettably, there are often some men within our organizations that remain unaware of their privilege. As a result, age-old stereotypes about women persist, reinforcing strong, yet, often invisible barriers to our professional growth.
I have long-lost respect for the status quo – I firmly believe in the spirit of change. After all, homogenous leadership teams don’t only miss exciting opportunities but put their performance at risk. To all our male colleagues – we have to work harder than ever not to be complacent. Though a great deal of you have been steadfast crusaders, other male colleagues remain unaware of how their passivity can perpetuate the problem. It’s time to really understand the issue and how we can all more actively champion women colleagues in their careers.
Give spotlight to women
Unveiling unconscious bias is key to dismantling privilege. Early in my career, I was often rebuffed when I spoke up in team meetings. Then, a male colleague would make the same statement and earn recognition and praise. Neither he nor anyone else at the table was aware that their inaction had just silenced me.
The harsh reality is that 26% of women report that they are outnumbered by 5:1 – or more – in most meetings. And yet not everyone is cognizant of the workplace gender gap. When analyzing more than 400 health tech professionals’ gender perspectives, a group of researchers found that the vast majority of men believed their workplace empowers women. Only a third of female counterparts agreed.
So, what can be done to stop women’s accomplishments from flying beneath the radar? In a word: support. When I felt undercut, I asked my male colleagues for support: When I speak, can you respond to what I’m saying? Can you raise your voice and advocate for me if I don’t get recognition? So, my advice is to lift women up when others overlook their success:
- Give your support and endorsement to a female colleague who has just shared a good idea in a meeting. You can name her first and then give credit to her.
- When commenting on a woman’s contribution, repeat her idea, applaud it, and then add your perspective.
- Invite women to participate. As a meeting leader, ask everyone to share their feedback.
- In group projects, specifically, encourage the women team members to present the results.
Today, I am a strong voice at any table. Asking for active support nudged my colleagues to question their actions – and with time, our communication with the entire team flourished. We learned that nothing is taken away when we shine a light on those around us.
Networking has no gender preference
A few years ago, when my management team was planning to go to a sports event, almost no one bothered to ask me to come along. As the only woman on the team, seemingly no one imagined I would be interested.
Regardless of whether sports are my passion or not, I want to be included. Unfortunately, the expression “old boys club” exists for a reason. For women – as well as for other underrepresented groups – exclusion from networks of communication and influence is a top concern limiting us from advancing into leadership. The most crucial decisions about women’s careers are too often made when they’re not in the room, and it’s time to open the door. Never assume that female executives aren’t interested in an after-work event because it involves sports or scotch.
But it goes further than inviting everyone: inclusive networking needs to be taken on actively. For instance, when planning a company event, always consider whether all genders can attend equally: does the time frame or chosen location impede women from coming? Moreover, can we actively encourage all potentially underrepresented groups to participate? Today, championing gender equality goes hand-in-hand with advocating for diversity of all kinds.
By being flexible – like hosting a brunch during work hours – you don’t exclude women with family responsibilities. And if the event falls on evening hours, you could offer financial or organizational support for childcare and provide safe transportation to the venue. Creativity will bear a solution, and it’s critical to ask women for their thoughts.
Your company is part of the movement
Most businesses have established initiatives to offset the gender gap and encourage female leadership. But every so often, some male colleagues assume that the existence of these initiatives is already a victory lap. Instead, we need more active male support to bring them to life.
For many years now, I’ve been taking part in activities organized by Women in Cloud, a community-led economic development organization dedicated to generating access for women entrepreneurs and professionals in the enterprise ecosystem. After my female colleagues and I had regularly attended their event highlight – a breakfast – a male colleague asked me if he could also go. Surprised at the question, I told him, “Of course you’re welcome.” The truth was, we needed him there! The current momentum for gender parity is auspicious, but we will only achieve the degree of inclusivity we seek with men on board.
The first driver of change is understanding the status quo. Start by hosting a discussion about gender norms within the company: How do your employees perceive gender privileges? Whether it’s an anonymous survey or an open debate, colleagues should be able to express their honest perceptions and ideas on how to do away with biased preconceptions together.
By organizing regular career events for women, you can assist those that struggle with climbing the corporate ranks and help them seek active opportunities for growth. By creating abundance instead of scarcity, and inviting leaders from outside your organization, you build a grid for holistic career support.
Finally, start filling the leadership ranks at your company with mentorship. Mentoring programs are valuable to 97% of participants and mentees are five times more likely to be promoted.
Women’s History Month is every month
The annual women’s celebrations in March are a significant inflection point: what women’s history has your company written? And what role will you embody in bringing the next generation of women into leadership positions?
Without the active support of so many of my male colleagues, I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today. So, to all men: please realize that the next generation of women leaders is among you right now. These women need your support to not only get in the boardroom but make a difference from the top down.
Andrea Short is executive sales and marketing leadership at Ingram Micro.