We kicked off the year with a webinar I am a technologist, not a female technologist. Dr Rebecca Parsons, Thoughtworks CTO, and Dr Susan Davis-Ali, Vice President of Organizational Transformation at ABI, discussed ways to kick start change and create safe, welcoming homes for all technologists.
We received so many great questions from the audience that we didn’t have time to answer these in the hour-long session. But because these issues raised are so important, we’ve created two articles to answer those questions.
In the first, here, we are focused on the questions that apply specifically to individual technologists. In the second, the questions are more about what organizations can do to improve.
Q: How can I increase confidence in my communication and behavior?
In the webinar, Susan gave strong, clear advice on increasing confidence in communication and interactions. To build confidence, Susan suggested that you should follow the behavior-attitude model. So, start by behaving confidently which will lead to positive feedback from those around you. This, in turn, results in a shift in your own attitude and self-confidence.
So what is confident behavior? Susan shared another great tip: one very easy thing to change is language. Instead of using phrases that are perceived as not confident, like ‘I believe’, ‘I think’, ‘I feel’, try using ‘in my experience’—a much more confident phrase that also highlights that you have valuable experience to contribute. This is easier said than done, especially when you’re talking to someone face-to-face, so start with written communication that is easier to edit before sending.
For some additional tips, there is great work being done by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research out of Stanford University. They have a lot of video resources on influence, negotiation, networking and many more valuable lessons that you should check out. We wanted to outline some of their work on the Language of Leadership:
Stereotypes often cause women to be described in terms that are very different to the language of leadership. As a result, they’re disassociated with leadership qualities.
Women tend to be described using ‘communal’ language, while men tend to be described using ‘agentic’ language—the language typically used to describe leaders.
The Clayman Institute’s advice is to be mindful of the words you use—try and use a mixture of both types of language to describe everyone. This extends from everyday comms, such as emails, appraisals and reports. Also, more specifically: “If you feel your leadership potential is being overlooked, review the language used to describe you. Work to influence the language others use to describe your leadership traits.”
Here are some examples of communal and agentic language:
Q: What's one piece of advice for a technologist breaking into the industry?
You’re in luck, we have a lot of advice on this topic! Natasha Postolovski, software developer out of Thoughtworks Australia, offers some wonderful advice in her blog post ‘The Career Changer’s Guide to Becoming a Software Developer’. Tips range from technical topics like learning testing practices and understanding the inner-working of computers and the internet, to more personal topics like connecting with people on a similar journey, finding mentors already in the industry, and making the most of strengths and skills gained in your previous professional life.
Q: What advice would you give a woman who does not have an academic background in tech but who would like to be an executive in the tech industry?
First, ask yourself: why do you want to become an executive in a tech company? The answer will help you define your purpose, which will ultimately guide and focus your journey into tech. Technology is very broad and understanding what drives you—whether it’s solving a world problem, or excitement about the potential of new tech—will ensure that every step of the journey is getting you closer to achieving your purpose.
Second, don’t underestimate the skills and knowledge you bring to the table. Technology companies are still businesses that need to sign contracts, manage legal and financial risks, and ensure they run a sustainable, growing business. Tech companies also need strong leaders, people who can guide and inspire others, make tough decisions, solve problems creatively, and provide vision, all in a rapidly shifting and competitive environment. Sheryl Sandberg is a clear example of a successful tech executive with a non-technical background: she went to business school, worked at McKinsey as a management consultant, and served as chief of staff to the Secretary of Treasury before joining Google and starting her career in tech. Make sure you understand your strengths and how they can add value to the tech company or organization you want to work with.
Third, make a plan to fill the gaps. You understand where you want to go and why; you also know where you are today… all that’s left is to analyze and plan how to grow skills and gain knowledge and experience to reach your purpose. This could mean taking targeted courses, attending conferences, getting a job that might not be higher paying but that will give you experience in the tech industry, finding a mentor, joining groups or organizations with a similar purpose.
This is, of course, easier said than done—remember that the journey isn’t always a straight line and it is filled with many rewarding challenges along the way!
Q: How can men get more involved in advocating for equality, inclusion, and feminism in tech?
Here are some specific ways men can take action:
Become a mentor, coach or sponsor for a woman starting out in her career in tech.
Coach, mentor or pair with a woman on a technical talk for a conference. Encourage women around you to submit talks, which might include helping brainstorm a topic or giving feedback on an outline.
Volunteer in events to encourage women to join the industry. Not just as a coach, but also support the event by serving food or cleaning up after the event. Some great organizations that we work with: Black Girls Code, Women Who Code, Rails Girls, and many more.
Speak out when you encounter sexism in the workplace. For example, if there’s a sexist joke being told, be the person who asks for it to stop.
Listen. Sometimes an empathetic sounding board can go a long way. Ask (rather than tell) how you can help ameliorate a particular situation.
Take on more ‘office housework’, those administrative tasks that help but don’t get recognized—like taking notes, participating in committees, planning meetings or events—and make sure that the women around you get recognized for the ‘office housework’ that they do on a regular basis!
Join an internal group that encourages inclusivity in your company. You’ll become more empathetic and knowledgeable, and will become a better advocate for women as a result.
Next, read our questions with tips and ideas for organizations working to create inclusive, welcoming workplaces.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.