Women in Technology – Let’s Talk About It More

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Continuing the conversation about women’s issues in the male-dominated technology industry workplace.

Our previous post highlighted some themes from the stimulating discussion that emerged from the Women in Technology (WIT) panel hosted by Columbia University during their annual Women in Business week. We shared the notion of being empowered by stereotypes and embracing diversity. Here are a couple more major themes that emerged at the event.

How can women position themselves to overcome situations where they feel marginalized by their gender?

Some women feel that they have to work harder than their male counterparts to earn respect in a male-dominated industry, like that of technology. At the WIT panel, one female audience member described a recurring issue in which clients do not respect her authority and ask to speak with her supervisor, though she is technically in charge. What’s the best way to handle this? Each of the panelists chimed in about the importance of communicating these issues with your supervisor and gaining his or her support. “Your boss or mentor needs to be on the same page as you and needs stand behind you. If they don’t, you may become frustrated by how long it takes to grow under their supervision.”

Without invalidating the reality of gender stereotyping and how it can manifest in a professional setting, it is worth looking at the issue a bit more broadly than a gender-based discussion. This idea of creating interpersonal relationships within your organization – in a way, these can be considered alliances or partnerships – is a real, tangible way to promote your own career growth and development. At UMT, a mentorship program was piloted as part of the Women’s Initiative and has recently expanded to include members of UMT after their first year at the firm. Especially when positioned lower on the totem pole, the level of support available to you from a more authoritative figure can really define how far opportunities are from reach. The space your boss or mentor allows you to carve out for yourself – to take ownership of your own work, to grow and even to make some mistakes – is an invaluable opportunity that can help you build your career.

Does the success of women in the workplace rest on the support of their male peers and superiors?

Recent debate has sparked amongst gender-specific groups about the need to bring men into the conversation of growing more female leaders. Is it possible to have strong female leadership in an organization without the help of men?

Panelist Amy Singer, Head of News Partnerships at Google, argued that as a woman, the assistance of male senior leadership will help promote the needs of women at a firm. We see this new school of thought more commonly today; as an example, one of UMT’s Women’s Initiative partners is a nonprofit organization called the Forte Foundation that preaches this very message. With a primary objective to increase the number of women in business, Forte puts its message to practice by offering seminars on how to create an inclusive workplace culture with men.

What do we do now?

Creating an open dialogue with senior leadership, allowing women and men to speak freely about their distinctive needs in the workplace, and discussing opportunities for women to climb the corporate ladder can help both genders and the entirety of a firm succeed and grow. When female inclusion becomes an integral part of workplace diversity, positive change will be on the horizon. Sometimes this involves pivoting the ‘Women in Technology’ conversation; instead of shying away from the issues that women face and trying to bury differences, let’s discuss them head on at the roundtable. The answers may not always be clear, but with each new approach we may get closer to our goals.

- Daphne and Farah