Women in Tech

Reframing leadership beyond gender

5th January 2024
Sheryl Miles

The paths that lead women to the pinnacle of tech and engineering are as diverse as their backgrounds.

From those who knew from a young age it was an industry for them, to those who delved into engineering during their university days, to late bloomers who didn’t discover their calling until much later in life, the stories each woman has is as vast and as varied as they are.

In the beginning

The pathway into tech and engineering women take often involves climbing through the ranks in companies, starting from junior roles and ascending to senior positions, if the opportunity and incentive is there.

However, once in tech leadership, women often face unique challenges, including gender and racial bias. According to a report from Exploding Topics, only 10% of C-Suite professionals are women, the number of women in senior vice president roles has decreased from 18% to 13% in the last 4 years, and whilst women CEOs took an average industry pay cut of 27% their male counterparts saw an increase of 1%. These are just a small handful of the barriers faced by women in the industry who simply want to do a job that they love.

Grace, resilience, and a laser focus are often used as tools to navigate these challenges. These tools set a powerful example for aspiring women engineers and tech enthusiasts, and they demonstrate that effective leadership is about empathy, problem-solving, innovation, and driving progress. In short, these women turn adversity into strength by using the gaping mouth of disparity as a means to strive forward towards a better way of working – which is a great asset though, sadly, it should not be the focus of a woman’s attention. If women didn’t have to overcome these challenges and stereotypes, and balance a career with unpaid, work-related activities, imagine what more they could achieve.

According to Susan O’Conner, Founder of Shift Left Limited – a company that empowers women in tech who want to be leaders – it all stems from believing in yourself: “Impactful tech leaders, irrespective of gender, will have a presence, a gravitas, that clearly defines them as assured, confident, and highly competent leaders.

“But how do you gain that level of presence, that essence of gravitas and assuredness?

“In practical terms, a woman in tech who aspires to be a leader must own her achievements. Acknowledge her abilities, skills, and knowledge without apology, embarrassment, or shame. Only by genuinely recognising your worth will you gain that assuredness needed in a leader. No-one will believe in a woman if she doesn’t believe in herself. A great leader not only believes in themselves but inspires others to believe in them.”

It isn’t a secret that women bring a multitude of additional qualities to the industry – such as empathy and perspective, which are key leadership qualities. The ability to be empathetic enables relationships to build, as well as garnering self-awareness, and a nuanced understanding of diverse perspectives. Empathy is a critical skill to have when leading diverse teams and fostering inclusive environments in thriving, innovative cultures.

Follow the leader

The shift in the perception of women being seen as part of the minority to emphasising their roles as leaders is critical for several reasons:

  • Trashing typecasts: it challenges the conventional notions of what a leader looks like in the tech and engineering sectors.
  • Inclusive leadership: recognising women as leaders first fosters a more inclusive and diverse leadership model that values skills and achievements over gender.
  • Inspiration for future generations: it paves the way for future generations of women, showing them that their gender is not a barrier to reaching leadership positions in tech.

Commenting on strategies women can utilise to enable impactful leaderships, O’Connor said: “I recommend all women who work in tech to embrace the art of networking. Approaching networking strategically and as a means of gaining true connections with others will showcase your unique strengths and qualities in a stronger and more meaningful way.

“Many women in tech shy away from networking as they don’t like the concept of what appears to be a transactional relationship that they don’t believe is real or honest. Yet, we all recognise those moments when we ‘clicked’ with someone and had an enjoyable or inspiring conversation. That is, in effect, networking in action.

“By approaching networking with the aim that you may meet someone you really like and click with and thereby gain true and meaningful connection, it may also provide you with the benefit of their support, sponsorship, and trust – and you them. Not because you or they feel obliged, but because you want to.”

Women leaders in tech often emphasise the importance of personal growth alongside professional achievements. They advocate for seizing opportunities, being authentic, and focusing on strengths. Their journey is not just about climbing the corporate ladder; it's also about personal transformation and becoming role models for others.

A leader first

The tech and engineering industries are witnessing a paradigm shift where women leaders are celebrated for their leadership qualities, innovative thinking, and contributions to the field. By focusing on their roles as leaders who happen to be females, these women will blaze the trail of the definition of what it is be at the helm of technology and engineering, proving that gender does not define capability or success.

As we continue to champion diversity and inclusion, the narrative will keep evolving, further solidifying the place of women at the forefront of technological and engineering advancements.

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