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Digging for diamonds: Three ways to empower female leaders in tech

“As Russel Conwell said you may have acres of diamonds, if you just dig down deep enough. So find out your people’s skills and what they love to do - you might have everything you need already there.”


It’s insights like this that make me love talking to women like Coppelia Rose, Human Experience offering leader with DXC Technology. I recently sat down with her to talk about ways we can help other women in tech bring their valuable skills and perspectives to the boardroom. Watch the video interview below.

In our experience, an inclusive and gender balanced workplace promotes unique perspectives and human-centered decision making. It’s something many in the tech industry are realizing – and doing something about. Deloitte found that large technology companies were steadily increasing the number of women in their workforce and predicted that one in four leadership positions would be held by WUGM by the end of 2022. But this hasn’t happened - women still only make up 10.9% of leadership roles out of the total 31% of Australia’s technology workforce.


So how can we accelerate the process? How can organizations propel more women into leadership positions and help them thrive? As Coppelia put it, leaders should dig for diamonds from within – identifying talented women with aptitude and when needed, actively nurturing them to build their confidence and help reach their potential.


Here are three approaches Coppelia and I find helpful to get more women inside the boardroom and pave the way for equitable opportunities.



1. Identify and recognize aptitude 


Consider this: men apply for roles when they only meet 60% of the qualifications, whereas women only apply when they meet every single one. In other words, many women who want to climb the career ladder may be holding themselves back. Good leaders will openly recognize what women bring to the table and encourage them to apply for leadership roles. Even if these roles require skills they are yet to develop.


“I think it’s really important to notice skills in other women,” Coppelia said. “When I was implementing pharmacy systems, a leader in IT recognized my skills and suggested ways I could build on them that hadn’t occurred to me. Within 18 months I had a new role that I loved.”


When it comes to the traits and skills that leadership should be looking for, it’s a fine balance between technical knowledge and natural curiosity, problem-solving skills and empathy.


In my career, I’ve helped many women step into leadership who may not have had the direct experience for their next big role, but they showed aptitude. With encouragement to stretch into something new and with the right support in place to fill any competency gaps, they have been able to successfully fulfill their potential.



2. Offer mentorship to build confidence and capability 


As women we often think we need to have all the right things in place before we can take the next big step in life, or we may not have been extended the opportunities to develop sufficient confidence to share our ideas and perspectives openly in the boardroom. 


That’s when mentors can make a big difference. 


Sometimes supporting other women to take that leap forward means rolling up your sleeves to actively defend and advocate for them. Others may have their doubts, but a great mentor will open doors for their mentees. It’s not always the people promoting their own thought leadership that make the best leaders in tech organizations, sometimes the quiet achievers capture the hearts and minds of your people and become great leaders.


Coppelia suggested mentors need to first understand their mentee’s strengths and areas to develop.


“You don't want to set people up to fail, so you have to be realistic. But when you do see potential, it's about watering the seed and letting it grow. And that's about getting to know them,” she explained. Identifying what’s holding someone back can also help you remove obstacles, while encouraging them to push past their own self-imposed boundaries will help them thrive.


When people first seek a mentor, it may be that they aren't all that confident. They may need a gentle nudge out of their comfort zone – for example, encouraging them to present in front of a bigger group or take on a much hairier stretch goal.


Mentoring can also create opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to many women. Senior leaders have connections that people starting out simply don't have. So for me, mentorship is also about making sure I open doors for others just as they were opened for me.



3. Emphasize professional development


To sustain relevance in the future and retain the best talent, organizations will need to support continual skills development for everyone – no matter what their role. 


“As leaders, we need to encourage our organizations to recognize the importance of ongoing training and development for women – and be an active part of that process. And we need to make sure people are aware of the opportunities to build their skills and their careers,” Coppelia suggests. 


Try blending structured skills development with opportunities for on-the-job learning. If there’s something that does require specific professional qualifications, embed this into the organization’s training framework. 


And when you stretch women into new roles, you need to make sure they can take the reins with confidence. This means consciously planning who they can pair with internally to grow and learn as well as which areas of the organization they can spend time in so they can broaden their awareness and understanding of key organizational strategies and initiatives.


Lasting change takes time – and this is no different for improving gender diversity across traditionally male-dominated industries like technology. However, with careful planning and empathetic leadership, we can help build confidence and open doors for more women to excel at a senior leadership level. And excel they will. Just watch. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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