Women in Tech Share 5 Tips for Succeeding in a Male-Dominated Field
You’re so good with technology that everyone from your boss to your parents—and sometimes even your kids—turns to you when their devices go on the fritz. You’ve often wondered what it would look like to turn your love of technology into a career. Entering the technology field would take advantage of your natural skills and interests, but what you’ve heard about the lack of gender diversity in the field has you thinking twice about whether this is the right move for you.
Though women make up 57 percent of the workforce in professional occupations, only 25 percent of professional computing occupations were held by women in 2015, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.1 It’s about more than just a lack of women working in the tech sector. In a survey by ISACA, 27 percent of women working in tech report they “Often or always experience gender bias,” and 43 percent say their male colleagues are paid more without cause.2
Despite these numbers, there are plenty of successful women in tech who are bringing innovative ideas and effecting change in the industry every day. We’ve talked to real women to get an insider perspective on what you need to do to stand out in this male-dominated field. With these tips under your belt, you could be next to join their ranks.
Though many tech companies are dedicated to increasing diversity, there are plenty of others that just don’t care. ISACA reports, “One in five organizations are not at all committed to hiring and advancing women in tech roles.” Do your research to make sure you only consider working for companies that will value your skills and treat you respectfully.
While it’s true there’s only so much you can glean about an employer externally, conducting a basic Google search can still reveal a lot about a potential employer and highlight potential red flags. “Look at their ratings on Glassdoor,” advises Jessica Califano, head of marketing and communications at Temboo. “If you see anything that gives you pause, make sure you think carefully about whether or not the job is worth it to you.”
Online reviews are a good starting point, but digging into the roles of women currently employed by an organization can be even more telling. “I check to see if there are any women in leadership positions. Many companies will talk about being ‘55 percent female’ but will be led by 100 percent males,” cautions Elaina Ransford, content strategist at NewtonX.
“Consider the work assigned to different people as well,” adds Marina Erulkar, founder of Hampstead Solutions. “I worked for one organization where young women were routinely given administrative assignments, while men with similar experience were assigned more ambitious work.” Bottom line: Don’t waste your time putting in hard work for a company that won’t reward your efforts.
It can be intimidating entering a male-dominated workplace as one of the only women. It’s natural to feel insecure in an environment where you’re automatically singled out. “This is probably the area where women suffer the most,” says Fiona Adler, CEO of Actioned. “I see that, often, women have far less confidence in their abilities. They are less likely to back themselves and trust that they can learn something on the job.”
Our women in tech agree that there’s one simple cure for this lack of confidence: improving your skills. “Be good at what you do and recognize the skills you may need to build,” Erulkar says. “As you gain the skills and knowledge of how things work, your confidence will grow naturally,” Califano adds. The tech field is constantly changing, so being willing to learn new skills on the job and through continuing training programs will help you build your expertise and boost your confidence.
It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you’re trying to prove your worth to your colleagues, but don’t let mistakes stop you from bouncing back strong. “Confidence comes with experience,” Ransford says. “Remember that your job is not who you are, and that there's always room to learn from mistakes.”
Women in tech may feel invisible—or like they’re standing out for the wrong reasons—but one surefire way to make higher-ups notice your hard work is to exceed expectations at every task you’re given and to make yourself known as a team player in the workplace.
“The best thing women can do for gender diversity is to show the people around you that gender doesn't matter. Be great at your job and let your results do the talking,” Adler says. She recommends building a reputation as someone who gets things done by always thinking big, doing excellent work and anticipating which stakeholders will need to be involved at any given stage of a project.
Positioning yourself to contribute to big projects will also help you earn your reputation as a key team member. Oftentimes the best way to do this is by forming alliances with colleagues who are already the cream of the crop. “That may mean taking on extra work, but there will be a benefit,” Erulkar says. “Being in the room when big ideas happen, and perhaps contributing to those ideas, will boost your abilities and your career.”
Don’t be timid just because you’re the only woman in a meeting. One of the best things you can do for your career is to speak up and continually contribute your best ideas to the team. “Voice more opinions, ask more questions and say yes to big challenges,” Adler says.
It’s a strategy that’s easier said than done. If you’re feeling timid, Adler says it can help to give yourself a pep talk before important meetings. “Pump yourself up and know that to you have to talk enthusiastically about your achievements.” You can be your own best cheerleader by reminding yourself of everything you’ve accomplished so far and how much more you can contribute in the future.
“Don’t let anyone talk over you in meetings,” Califano says. “You can politely call them out by saying, ‘Excuse me, I just have a few more points to make about the subject.’” With practice, you’ll eventually be comfortable asserting yourself in front of your colleagues without feeling awkward or being rude.
Valuing yourself and your skills is ultimately the best way to boost your career as a woman in tech. Respect your work, own your talents and don’t be afraid to pave the way for future generations of women, even if that means leaving a company that shows gender bias.
“There will be organizations within the tech industry that won’t give women the opportunities they’ve earned,” Erulkar says. “Move on. Better things await.” The best way to eliminate gender bias in the tech industry is to show that you won’t tolerate it. By doing so, you’re making the path easier for all the women who will come behind you.
You can also use your growing pull in your workplace to mentor other colleagues who might feel out of place in the tech industry. “Once you do gain confidence, use it to help the others around you,” Califano says. “By giving the people who are less confident a voice, you’ll be helping to make a more diverse and inclusive workplace.”
Above all, don’t let fear hold you back from what could be your dream career. “The only way it will become less remarkable to see women working in technical fields is if more women work in technical fields,” points out Erulkar. “If what you love and where your talents lie is tech, then jump in!”
Now that you’re feeling more confident about how women in tech are succeeding in this male-dominated field every day, you might be wondering what career options are out there. The good news is there are a variety of tech-related positions for a variety of skillsets.
Check out our article, “8 Careers in Technology that Keep the World Moving Forward,” to learn more about some of the top technology jobs and the personalities that best fit them. One of these roles could be the next step on your career path.
1 Women in Tech: The Facts, National Center for Women & Information Technology, 2016.
2 The Future Tech Workforce: Breaking Gender Barriers, ISACA, 2017.