In preparing for this year’s HR Technology Conference, one of the sessions I was most looking forward to was the pre-conference “Women in HR Technology” event. Anytime something new is offered on the agenda you just never know how it’s going to be received, but based on the descriptions, panelists, and pre-conference hype, it seemed to have promise to be a solid session. And judging by the overwhelming attendance and standing room only/overflow situation, I’d say for a first time event it exceeded expectations. An all-star panel of female leaders from companies such as ADP, Equifax, Ceridian, Paychex, SAP, Cornerstone, Ultimate, and Oracle (among others!) offered lively discussions and countless bits of great advice on developing and promoting more women into technology roles and leadership roles within technology companies.
The topic is a timely one, and one of a great deal of importance. The reality is that women have an enormous amount of power in today’s society. According to closing keynote Tacy Byham, CEO of Development Dimensions International, women are the largest emerging market in the world, and over next decade will wield enormous power in business, industry, politics, sports. Beyond that, data and research proves that companies with more women in leadership roles and more high potential women are more successful. So how do we get better at pushing ourselves and other women into these leadership roles, particularly in industries – like technology – that are historically male dominated?
Don’t Live Your Life in Fear
One theme that came across throughout the session was the idea of being fearless. Fear can hold us back in many ways, and it can manifest itself as being afraid to take risks, being afraid to fail, fear of speaking up, or fear of asking for what we want and need.
- We need to remember that we do bring a unique perspective to the table, and we shouldn’t be afraid to verbalize it. We may see things in a way that the men in the room don’t, and that insight is valuable.
- We need to be willing to be brave, to go after what we want and not just wait for things to fall in our laps. Many women are afraid to just ask. You may get a yes, you may get a no, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask
- We can’t be afraid to ask for the job you we don’t think you’re qualified for; we need to take on the projects we’re afraid to lead. Men are far more likely to do this than women.
- We need to learn to be comfortable with the idea of taking risks. This helps if you’ve clearly defined what you have passion for; you’re far more likely to take a risk when you’re inspired. And it’s also important to realize there is a difference between thoughtful, calculated risks and unwise risks that are taken just for the sake of taking a risk.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
As an off-shoot of living a life of fear, often women are afraid to ask for things. Part of not living our lives in fear is not being afraid to ask. This includes being willing to ask:
- Questions – it’s okay to admit we don’t know and to seek the answers
- For Help – it’s okay to not be able to do everything alone
- For feedback – especially potentially negative feedback. Often women are afraid to hear it, but we need to remember one bad incident is not life or career defining. Accept it, learn from it, and move on.
Find Great Mentors and Coaches
Great mentors and coaches are the key to success in any career, and especially for women in technology roles. What’s important to remember is that great mentors don’t necessarily need to be females. They just need to be people who inspire you, who will advocate for you, who will challenge you and give you candid feedback, and who will encourage you.
Help Change the Definition of Technology
One piece of the puzzle is developing and promoting women who are currently in the workforce into tech roles and leadership roles in tech companies. But just as important is building our future bench and inspiring an interest in tech careers in girls at a much earlier age; engaging them when they get to college is too late. This starts with redefining what a career in tech is; it’s not just engineering positions and can encompass so many different aspects. And it continues with teaching the skills earlier and earlier. All jobs in the future will have some sort of technology or data component; we need to spark interest and teach the right skills now.