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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.