Women are rare in technology. They’re also are rare in upper management. And women in tech leadership? They’re practically unicorns.
They were: Mary Hamilton, managing director at Accenture labs, responsible for digital experience research and development; Bernee Strom, former founding CEO of Priceline and current chairwoman and CEO of WebTuner Corp.; Lily Chang, VP of central engineering at VMware; Surabhi Gupta, engineering manager at Airbnb; and Kim Snipes, VP of consumer products and operations technology for Capital One. The panel was moderated by Women Who Code’s Saranya Karuppusamy, who directs the Seattle branch and is also a software engineer at Amazon.
Here are eight of their tips for how to rise the ranks of technology companies as a woman:
Network. Talk to experienced leaders both within and outside of technology to hear what they’ve learned about leading people and what mistakes they’ve made. “A book is great but a person is so much better,” Snipes said. “A person has real world experience and can really talk to you about it.”
Don’t be afraid to move. When you get to a place in your career when you feel like you’re no longer growing and like you’ve mastered the skills that your position requires, it’s time to move on to another position or another company. When people are in one place for too long, inertia and insecurities take over and they won’t rise, Snipes said. “It’s very empowering to change companies and change areas because you realize that you’re pretty smart and can learn new things,” she added.
Put the gym in your calendar as an appointment. When people ask you to go to a meeting during your gym time, tell them that you already have an appointment. “They don’t have to know it’s the gym,” Strom said. “If I could time travel and go back, I would have taken better care of myself earlier.” When you treat your health like a real priority, you’ll take better care of yourself, which benefits you and your job performance, she said.
Observe people in your organization. “It could be people you admire and think are successful or…people in your organization where you don’t like what they’re doing,” Hamilton said. Through close observation, you can develop your own leadership style for the people who work around you. Once you know their personalities and quirks, you know better how to approach leading them.
Forgive yourself and embrace mistakes. Too many women beat themselves up over their mistakes and feel bad about themselves as a result. However, it’s important to remember that the perfect person never grows — it’s mistakes that help us to see our weaknesses and to improve ourselves. “Once you learn to forgive yourself, then you will be able to receive the feedback as a gift and mistakes as the most valuable things that were ever handed to you,” Chang said. “It’s important to pick [yourself] up and move on.”
Insist on diversity. One of the biggest barriers to women in tech is that industry leaders often rely on hiring who they already know. Because men dominate the industry, they hire other men. “They know Jim, Joe, and Jack,” Strom said. “They don’t know Jill, Joan, and Joanne…You have to get out of that. Get in the position…to insist that [they] look at candidates of diversity.”
Put on perfume. It makes you feel good about yourself and it’s a quick and easy thing to do. Plus, it reminds the men in the room that you’re female and that you’re proud to be a woman, Strom said. “One of my tricks was I always put on perfume before important meetings just so they’d know I’m a woman,” Strom said. “I’m looking forward to the day when people don’t say ‘woman CEO’ or ‘woman coder’ — just ‘CEO’ would be fine.”
Have self-confidence. In order to lead diverse groups of people, you have to be confident in your own abilities. As a woman, if you make it into a leadership position, that in itself should give you confidence, Gupta said. “If you’ve gotten here, it means that you’ve already fought all these biases that exist,” she said. Recognize that you are good at what you do and that you deserve to be here, she added.