How to Stand Out as a Woman in the Technology Field

It’s no secret that the technology sector is a testosterone-driven environment. Women make up 27 percent of those employed in software or computing jobs and 49 percent of publicly traded IT companies have no women on their boards.

Despite this lack of gender diversity, there is no doubt that women have the intellect and creativity that tech companies need. We just need to learn how to effectively and confidently assert our place in such an aggressive, fast-paced environment.

Here are seven tips for women who want to stand out and succeed in the technology field:

  1. Be structured and analytical. In the male-dominated world of tech, it’s important not to react emotionally when you don’t agree with a co-worker about the usability of the UI. Instead, take a few minutes to organize your thoughts and determine how you can both work together to improve the experience for the end user.
  2. Say no. If you’re over-extended and asked to run a trivial errand like getting coffee for a male counterpart, it’s OK to say no. You’re not someone’s Girl Friday. You’re a smart, talented woman in technology. Politely and simply state that the task is outside of your role. If you have too much on your plate, don’t be afraid to speak up or ask for help. Men aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves; you shouldn’t be either.
  3. Step in and explain how you can help. In general, men tend to be more proactive when it comes to shaping role within an organization, while women tend to have a more passive approach. Unfortunately, that’s not doing you—or the company—any favors. If you know your strengths are in a certain area, talk to your supervisor and ask for those types of projects. Schedule regular meetings with superiors to discuss your career path and explain how you can best add value to the company.
  4. Develop a thick skin. When you work in a male-dominated environment, it’s inevitable that you’ll hear a few sarcastic comments or jokes that can be offensive to women. While you should never have to work in a hostile or uncomfortable environment, you may be better served by arming yourself with a clever comeback than by ignoring the comment or reporting the co-worker to HR. Be assertive, crack a witty joke back and address the behavior in a calm, clear and friendly way.
  5. Don’t be a perfectionist. Women tend to put an incredible amount of thought into their ideas and focus on presenting the perfect idea. In that same amount of time, men will have run through five ideas, discussed their strengths and flaws, and identified the best solution. Tech companies are notorious for their culture of creativity and openness. You need to participate in this vital process to succeed, be heard and be valued.
  6. Forget societal norms. Women subconsciously put up roadblocks by conforming to outdated societal standards. The days in which women in the workplace were expected to be submissive or respond to the needs of the men in the office are long gone. That said, there is nothing wrong with grabbing a coffee for a male co-worker. Just be sure to ask him to return the favor later.
  7. Embrace power. Cheryl Sandberg’s campaign to “ban bossy” is resonating with women in all industries, not just tech. Why? There’s a stigma surrounding the word bossy and Sandberg argues that many times, “bossy” really means “assertive” or “decisive”—two traits associated with leaders. Don’t be afraid to accept positions of power and authority. Your education, expertise and accomplishments show you earned it.

While the male-dominated tech field can be intimidating for many women, most men appreciate the unique perspective and approach we bring to the table. If you learn to stand up for yourself and jump right in alongside your male counterparts, you’ll thrive in this exciting industry.

From Bossy to Bold: Embracing Female Leadership

In the last year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has electrified the professional sphere for women. Now, to celebrate the publication anniversary of her best-selling book Lean In, Sandberg has joined with Girl Scouts to “Ban Bossy” – a movement designed to encourage female leadership.

The idea came from a dynamic frequently spotted on playgrounds across America; a little boy who asserts himself in a group is called a leader, but a little girl who does the same is chided for being bossy. While debating the word might seem like a frivolous semantic argument, this difference reflects deep conflicts in our cultural attitudes towards female leadership. Being called bossy tells little girls not to speak up or share their ideas or take risks. It’s an insidious dynamic with repercussions that last beyond childhood; by middle school, girls are less interested than boys in leadership and stay that way into adulthood.

“Ban Bossy” shares tips for parents, girls, educators and managers to encourage confidence and leadership in girls, but it’s also sparked a conversation around the conundrum so many professional women face: How can you be perceived as assertive and influential in the workplace without seeming bossy? If being a boss is a good thing, why is being bossy bad? And why is it a word applied to little girls so often but not little boys.

A new breed of leadership

The answer to the last question, of course, is that boys are expected to take charge and demonstrate leadership. When girls are assertive, or direct others, it subverts the social expectation that boys are best qualified to be in charge.

That’s a problematic reality – yet as we look at the first two questions, there’s no denying that “bossy” has a negative connotation. Often it’s associated with someone who demonstrates a pushy management style, or is unwilling to listen or collaborate. At the same time, the word can be unfairly slapped on a woman who’s demonstrated a decisive and driven style. (Two key leadership characteristics, it’s worth noting.)

Complicating the matter is the evolution of our business world, which has been heading in the direction of enhanced compassion, collaboration and diplomacy: what is often called a flat hierarchy. The most successful leaders today, male and female, must understand how to lead both gracefully and effectively.

So just what is the secret to striking the right balance in the workplace – how can women assert themselves and take charge without the dreaded bossy label? Below are some tips.

1. Be collaborative – ask for joint decisions and draw on other people’s abilities and strengths, rather than viewing them as competition.

2. Listen to multiple perspectives and factor them into the decision-making process.

3. Because relationship building is important, socialize people individually on ideas or concepts to help gain buy-in.

4. Remain unemotional, neutral and clear in your communication style, especially with men.

5. Delegate presentations and decisions to show you value others’ contributions.

Not sure where you fall in the bossy debate? Ask yourself these questions; the answers might illuminate paths to more fair and effective dynamics in your own workplace.

  • Have you been called bossy before, or called someone else bossy?
  • Do you react to assertive women differently than to assertive men?
  • Have you used specific techniques to avoid the bossy label while taking charge on the job?
  • Does your workplace feature domineering or command and control leadership styles? How have you tried to foster positive, collaborative leadership?