How to Thrive as a Female Leader in the Male World of Tech

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Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash

“Don’t be silly all women have imposter syndrome.”

A male coach had offered to help one of my clients with her imposter syndrome and when she told him that she thought her problem was possibly the opposite, he cut her off with those words.

1. Understand That Bias is part of the System

You’re not crazy. Yes, that gaslighting incident did happen. You weren’t imagining it. And it’s not your fault. Countless women and people of color have experienced this. You are not alone. You don’t need to be fixed when someone else calls you aggressive, emotional, non-confident, or too quiet.

2. Know Your Unique Leadership Strengths

Within this system, know that there is an existing language of leadership style and with a pre-existing western bias. It’s a bias towards confidence, being extroverted, and claiming the space to express your opinion. While this system exists, you must also take the time to understand your unique leadership strengths.

3. Build Relationships

Relationships matter. We spend a lot of time in our professional life, even if it’s currently over video-conference. Thrive as a female leader by creating relationships one at a time. Over the years, this support system will prove invaluable. I frequently advise my clients to follow these three paths to build relationships:

  • Find your allies. Look around for people who are peers or more senior to you. See if these people could help be mentors or sponsors. Watch how people show up in meetings to see if they might be sympathetic. These are your allies. Start confiding in them and asking for help. There are good people in every company. I know many white male allies would love to help and leverage their privilege to raise up others.
  • Build trust with your key partners. There are key people you must work with to get your job done—your boss, key collaborators, key reviewers of your work, your team, and your reports. Open up and share your stories about your particular perspective. Starting by sharing often invites the other person to listen, and in turn also share.

Bonus: For Allies

In our Clubhouse conversation, a male ally raised his hand and asked how he could help. He wasn’t a VP with a titled position of power and he wanted to know how he could support his female colleagues from where he was. We shared some ideas:

  • Point out any examples of conscious or unconscious bias you see. You can do so in a gentle 1–1 conversation with a colleague: “I noticed in yesterday’s meeting that you called upon more of the men to ask questions than the women. I’m curious if you were aware of that behavior.” Or if you’re lucky enough to be in a company that encourages this conversation, you can point it out as it happens in a bigger group. When I’ve been in interview debriefs or conversations comparing performance review ratings for a variety of people, I’ve asked the question: “Would we use those same words to describe Donna if she were male?”
  • I’ve been in some large meetings where my idea was re-stated by a male colleague and the room gave him credit. My anger and shame (“Why didn’t I say something in the moment?”) have been mitigated by allies messaging me or talking to me afterwards and letting me know that they heard me, they saw what happened. So even if you don’t feel like you can to say something in the moment, always reach out later.

Bottom-Line

We exist within a male-dominated world of tech. I’ve heard the stories from countless women and people of color and experienced it myself many times. To thrive as a female leader understand that you’re not alone in this system, know your unique strengths, and continue the work to build relationships and community. There’s a lot of allies out there. We can all do better.

Leadership coach & champion of difficult people; designer of human experiences; ex-Facebook; surfer, traveller, mom; tuttitaygerly.com

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