The tech industry has been slammed in recent years as being a hostile place for women to work. Women represent 17% of the tech population and hold only 10% of leadership roles.
Empowering today’s young women to become tomorrow’s leaders will create more diverse role models in tech leadership and help more girls see the possibilities and positions they can aspire to.
Here’s what you can do to make that happen.
1. Be the leader that walks the talk.
Show your beliefs through your actions. Participate in regular diversity initiatives and listen – mention in your communications what you learn from what you hear. Make it the responsibility of your leadership team, hold them, and yourself, accountable. In particular, involve senior men who are interested in diversity and inclusion to be ambassadors to support and include women. For change to happen on an organisational scale, men must be a part of the conversation.
2. Design a sh*t hot talent management programme.
Start by selecting your future leaders along a clear set of performance criteria in terms of behaviours, values and skills that are important to your business.
Then draw up a programme to include the following areas:
- Training and development in business and leadership skills
- Regular structured discussion with line managers (who also need to understand their role) including feedback on strengths and development opportunities
- Internal mentoring to support career trajectory and personal growth
- A plan for rotation through key roles with opportunities to work with multiple senior leaders, in different functions (P&L, general management, sales, marketing, finance…) and, if possible, different geographies, to broaden experiences and exposure.
- Access to leadership-level networking events.
The microclimate for talent development, with commitment from line managers and executive sponsors, is vital to make systemic change.
3. Leverage sponsorship and encourage networking opportunities.
Internally, ensure each young female talent is assigned an executive-level sponsor. Her sponsor will advocate for her publicly, facilitate introductions, recommend opportunities and projects, and make invitations into rooms where decisions are made. They will be invaluable in helping to build her visibility.
Externally, encourage participation at tech and business events. Actively support it by sharing what you’d like to achieve by having the company represented there, and by helping the individual reflect on what they want to achieve on a personal basis. Provide a follow-up opportunity for feedback with the leadership team.
4. Use coaching and discussion to address individual challenges.
Tackle typical blockers to success like under-confidence or imposter syndrome that hold many women back. 1-on-1 coaching promotes self-management, self-reliance and the ability to handle ambiguity that will help women navigate through professional environments.
Provide a platform for frequent facilitated group sessions with other women. It provides opportunities to bring in perspectives and learning from women in similar contexts, promotes real conversations about real issues and also gives additional connections and support.
5. Use community engagement to help young women understand their own importance as role models.
Use your high potential women as ambassadors and role models to empower other young women. Get them to lead workshops (with schools, colleges…) and introduce girls to technology, concepts and roles that they may not normally hear about. Ask them to share their passion for tech and to explain why you need more women in the industry.
6. Don’t forget the broader ecosystem.
Women can’t be empowered in a vacuum – the ecosystem around them has to change too. Educate your teams on the challenges women may face in the workplace. Every employee needs to know he or she is there on merit, but survival of the fittest is not a meritocracy. It favours the dominant group and as the dominant group in tech, men will experience far more opportunities than women to develop their careers. Emphasise the need to create a new and level playing-field, one with equitable opportunities based on value to the business.
Getting it right will take time, effort, budget and commitment, but the rewards for companies will be significant. Diverse leadership will not only make you more innovative and better able to manage risk, it will also improve your bottom line.
This article was first published in Irish Tech News.