Despite all of our advances, women are still the minority in tech roles, especially in the C-suite. According to data from Accenture, the ratio of women to men in tech roles has declined in the past 35 years. So what does it take for women to succeed in tech? I talked to five outstanding women who have climbed this career mountain to find out how they did it and what advice they have for those still on the rise.
Here are the six key pieces of advice they shared:
1. Be Curious
When Simona Rollinson was growing up in Bulgaria, a communist country behind the Iron Curtain, she would relax by solving differential equations. That is what fun looked like growing up in a family of engineers. “The first seven years are so formative in the way you are taught to think and to value curiosity, and I was born in the right family!”, Simona says. Now Chief Operating Officer for ISACA, a global association for business and IT leaders looking to maximize value and manage risk related to information and technology, Simona is using her curiosity and problem-solving skills for professionals around the world. She says, “I attribute my current path and career to these early, formative lessons around curiosity, ambition, and confidence.”
Simona is not the only one that values curiosity. Trina Gizel, CIO of ECHO, Inc., said her path “started with a technical curiosity and foundation of solid skills” in systems and network engineering. Strong leadership skills were developed through a combination of formal leadership training, robust peer networking, and maintaining personal agency, but do not underrate observation. Getting started, Trina says, “I simply mimicked the behaviors of people I’ve admired as leaders.” Now, Trina counsels women to focus on continuous improvement with both technical and leadership training. “Be curious. Be a critical thinker,” she advises.
2. Be Courageous
Peggy Ang, US President for wearable tech company Polar, credits her innate drive to succeed to diligence, creativity, and courage to seize the opportunity at hand. When asked for her advice, she says, “Be courageous. Nothing is life or death, only opportunities to experience the new, the next, the what else…as moments of growth.”
Nikki Barau, CEO and Co-Founder of CEO & Co-Founder of HR Tech company, Beyond Barriers, sets an example for the professional women and future-ready leaders her company serves and promotes by leading courageously. She advises, “Be the change agent who is willing to stand up and stand out for what you believe in. Overcome your limiting beliefs so you can move forward with confidence.” Adds Trina, “Don’t be afraid of looking or sounding stupid – ASK your questions.”
3. Raise Your Hand
Feeling comfortable? Snap out of it! That is one of the lessons that Krista Satterthwaite, SVP and General Manager of Mainstream Compute at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, learned in her career journey. “I was not very proactive in seeking new jobs or promotions. If I liked what I was doing and my manager, I would stay in a job for years and years. It was definitely a comfort zone issue,” she says. Fortunately, Krista was pulled into new roles by people who worked with her and recognized her talent. “I have come to realize that there are hand raisers (people who are proactively assertive in their careers) and non-hand raisers, and it is no indication of your talent or ambition. I think it is conditioning. I believe women are more likely to be non-hand raisers because of what they are told, how they are treated, what they see happen with other women, and frankly the realization that they are living in a corporate world that was not designed for them,” she says.
And this conditioning starts well before corporate life. Simona noted that there is “a cultural stigma in the USA and girls around 11- or 12-years old start pulling away from STEM. This creates leaky pipelines moving women from school into technology fields.” It is important to find people who bolster you – be it a manager, teacher, or friend. Krista had excellent, supportive managers that recognized her potential. “ They saw more in me than I saw in myself,” she says. Simona credits her mother for teaching her independence. “She taught me not to let tradition limit my imagination. If you have daughters, teach them independence from an early age. If you have sons, teach them the same but also teach them that smart, independent women are cool,” she advises.
4. Build a Network
Peggy appreciates the managers that opened up new opportunities for her as she went on to lead marketing for two of the biggest technology companies in the world – Samsung and LG. “It was not about 1:1 guidance but rather a show of confidence on my abilities by ensuring that I was always given the opportunity to show what I can do,” she says. She encourages building a community of partners across disciplines. Nikki advises to choose community over competition. “Be the person others can count on. When you earn the trust of people in your community, there will always be plenty of opportunities,” she says. Trina sums it up, “Network with others…often.”
5. Be Prepared
In a world that is always changing, it is impossible to know everything. “Shift your mindset from all-knowing to always learning. Try new things and adapt quickly. Learning is the ultimate superpower,” advises Nikki. We don’t start our careers innately knowing how to get ahead. “During the first half of my career I was not corporate savvy,” admits Kirsta, “It is hard to win the corporate game if you do not know the rules.” She recommends reading career books like Rise by Patty Azzerello and Expect to Win by Carla Harris. Peggy puts it bluntly, “Put in the work. Nothing beats doing one’s homework and being prepared.”
6. People Who Expect More to Get More
“I have come to realize that the biggest determining factor in success is what you expect for yourself,” “ says Krista. “People expect what they think they deserve. In order to succeed, you have to set your expectation thermostat higher,” she says. Initially, the people you work for and with may set that thermostat and push you higher. “You just have to listen and believe them,” she says. Nikki describes something similar: “You cannot achieve what you cannot imagine. The first step to success is a vision so compelling that it propels you forward. As you make progress towards that vision, your belief is reinforced, and you overcome any fear or self-doubt.”
Being a woman building a career in tech may seem like an uphill battle, but these women have all climbed that hill and there is a path taking shape. Barriers can be overcome, challenges can be met, and women can thrive in technology leadership roles by empowering each other.