An insightful article appeared in the New York Times, in July 2017, titled “Why Women Aren’t CEO’s According to Women Who Almost Were,” by Susan Chira. Almost seventy years after women began to contribute worldwide in a variety of manufacturing, service and administrative roles for business, there is still a very apparent and difficult glass ceiling, particularly when it comes to top roles as C-Level Executives.
The sector that has come most under fire in recent news, is of course, IT and technology. In the past two years, Silicon Valley, known as an international tech hub, has been scrutinized and grieved by female workers, who not only suspect, but actually experience the push-back from the traditionally male centric culture of internet technology, development and project management. Founders of technology applications and software predominately appear to be men, but things are changing slowly, for female IT professionals.
In spite of challenges to advancement in the male dominated technology industry, women continue to push against career barriers and seek leadership roles. Large organizations like Google, have made very public commitments to hire and advance more females globally, to address the imbalance of opportunity. What do female tech professionals need to apply, in order to shatter the glass ceiling, and advance within the industry?
- The Ability to Share Innovative Ideas Confidently
Many female executives have shared a common belief; that if they labor in silence, and focus on measurable impact and performance, that they too will rise through the corporate ranks. But it is this belief that supports an unfair stereotype; that women are less visionary, and creative when it comes to being the source of innovation and ideas.
The typical bureaucratic structure of many organizations, lends creed to the stereotype. For instance, as women in technology tend to work within a male dominated environment, they are more likely to contribute as part of a team, and share the credit, rather than further their own ideas, and seek accolades for them. Is it a matter of confidence, or fear of rejection by male coworkers? With CEO’s like Sheryl Sandberg in positions of high authority, it’s evident that women can be more team oriented, and concerned with the success of the team as a whole, rather than accepting credit, where credit is due.
- Indirect Communication Styles
One of the great strengths that many female professionals have, lies in empathy for the organization and for their co-workers. Women are conditioned by culture to maintain harmony in relationships, and tend to have a more indirect communication style. There is an abruptness by contrast, to male communication styles in business practice, that can seem almost rude to women, intuitively. But, it allows male colleagues to be successfully heard.
Gender communication differences are understandable, and deeply ingrained, as women may soften their statements, or questions to make the information more palatable to colleagues or superiors. They are also more prone to using body language to express themselves; two attributes that make it more difficult to acquire and maintain the attention, that earns them the corner office.
- Conflict Avoidance
While everyone wants to have a harmonious and productive work environment, women can place undue responsibility on themselves, to manage that outcome with their teams. The desire to appear cooperative, or kind and agreeable, can also contribute to an avoidance of conflict in the workplace. That trait offers both positive, and negative outcomes.
On the positive side, women can be easier to work with than men, depending on personality attributes. The negative aspect of this inclination however, is that conflict may be avoided by backing down on important ideas, solutions and innovative approaches, that sometimes may only come to light after a mild to moderate instance of conflict within the ranks. Something that many women wish to avoid at all costs; including to the detriment of their own careers and advancement opportunities.
- Asking Questions
The communication style that can be inherent with female professionals, leads them to be highly inquisitive, and to ask more questions. This too, is a double-edged sword that may impede advancement, if not utilized in a productive way.
For example, women may ask questions when they already know the answer. They may ask for input to a problem, when they possess the knowledge and innovation to solve the issue independently. Male colleagues will lead directly with the solution to the problem, in a confident manner that takes credit for the solution. Women can seek to involve the entire team out of “fairness” and value everyone’s input.
A manager who is unaware of variances in communication style, can misinterpret the behavior of asking questions as a lack of skill or expertise, or assign a negative association with someone who asks too many questions, implying that they lack the ability to independently problem solve. From the female perspective however, the professional is reluctant to draw conclusions or take action, without getting all the facts. And that’s a good thing in most business environments.
- No (Healthy) Sense of Entitlement
Some female professionals elicit a communication and behavioral style, that makes it clear they are prepared to work hard, to get to the top. Particularly in male dominated industries (such as the tech sector), women do not feel that there will be a natural progression into management and leadership. They are prepared for the uphill road.
A sense of entitlement (or lack thereof) can also be misconstrued as a lack of confidence. And we know that management and advanced leadership positions require a certain degree of confidence, that can motivate and inspire a team, to get results.
Another important obstacle and factor for women in technology to embrace, is that there are so few executive leaders that are women, who can offer mentorship or guidance. Men do successfully seek out that support to build their careers, by forming relationships with other executives. The ‘men’s club’ is nothing more than male professionals supporting those they know and trust within the same business ecosystem. And men are highly motivated to network aggressively, to create those connections, where societal norms and mores may prevent women from doing the same. Female executives can also be reluctant mentors, as they themselves, received little to no support in their own career growth. They may harbor resentment to any female colleague, who seeks that support.
More organizations are confronting the gender bias within their hiring practices, but the door to C-Level positions remains evasive for most women. It is not out of reach however, but by being aware of gender differences in relationship management, networking and communication styles, women can foster new skills that help to level the playing field, and open doors to future opportunities.