I will never stop doing my part to make the tech industry more welcoming for women, especially in technical roles. With all of the intense discussion surrounding the subject of equality in the workplace, this is a great time to look at five easy steps you can take right now to make a change for women in tech. At the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, Frances McDormand ended her speech with two powerful words: inclusion rider (take a second to Google it if you haven’t yet.) It is a Hollywood industry term, but anyone can be an inclusion rider—let’s explore how.
“We come in peace, but we mean business” – Janelle Monae, 2018 Grammys
1. Encourage Technical Curiosity Early and Often
I grew up preferring video games and LEGOS to dolls. I enjoyed books and puzzles over playing house (and so did our CMO!). Don’t get me wrong. I still had a super cool pink Barbie car, but in my mind, Barbie was on her way to work and then home to study. My mother encouraged prioritizing my studies over everything else, and my relatives had the wisdom to ask what I was reading just as often as they commented on my appearance. I was a 90s kid, so there were no coding classes available to me. But there were ample opportunities to problem-solve in epic video games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Need for Speed.
If you’ve got young girls in your life, get them involved with organizations such as Girls Who Code, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, or the Anita Borg Institute for Women & Technology. These organizations are fantastic to foster growth and development. Demand for technical skills in areas such as IT (big data, NoSQL, and Apache Hadoop), design (Node.js), and research & analysis (Tableau, Python) have grown exponentially over the past several years and show no signs of slowing down. We are at the forefront of incredible breakthroughs in AI, medicine, and VR. Now is the time to support inclusive workforces to keep driving innovation and problem-solving.
2. Challenge Assumptions and Encourage Resilience
We need to carefully watch the stories we tell ourselves. Have you ever questioned whether women are more ‘naturally inclined’ towards soft skills rather than technical aptitude? Global research has overwhelmingly proven that this is patently untrue. In fact, women on average earn higher grades in high school and college.
That being said, I can relate to this limiting belief. I used to tell myself that I was terrible at math and that learning the subject was utterly hopeless. It wasn’t even gender-related, but it was a false assumption nonetheless.
However, I distinctly remember one T.A., Ryan, at UC San Diego who refused to accept this negative self-talk and treated me as any other person wanting to learn and better myself. Ryan patiently helped me practice each step and new concept until I could mirror his speed and efficiency in solving equations.
At Marketo and previous companies, I have had countless mentors that never assumed I was less competent because of my gender. Rather, they went out of their way to bring me up to speed on relevant technical concepts, openly shared their knowledge and prepared me for technical meetings so I could run them on my own. They advocated for me and gave generously of their advice, time, and experience. I can confidently say that I have had a balanced group of trusted advisors and mentors. I wish the same for women in any role—technical or otherwise.
Something I’ve learned along the way is that success in any field requires resilience. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Although it is undoubtedly easy to glamorize or gloss over a successful person’s hard work, it always includes late nights, weekends, and sheer grit from many frustrating failures and dead ends.
3. Assess Your Environment
Many tech CEOs, including our own Steve Lucas, have included diversity as one of their missions, making significant strides in balancing their executive teams and hiring across the board. For women at Marketo with C-suite aspirations, this gives us inspiration and hope, but more importantly—role models. We have put a stake in the ground and feel comfortable being vocal about our mission to drive conversations and action around diversity in the workplace.
You may not be a CEO or hiring manager, but you can still drive change by considering your current workplace.
- What type of office do you work in? Are all people comfortable stepping up for a promotion, even if they only meet 10% (or none) of the criteria? Women tend to self-select out of going up for a promotion if they don’t check every box. If you know someone like this, you can encourage them to step up and make a case for their aptitude. Push them to see what you see: their potential. After all, doing things you can’t do is how you get to do them.
- Do people feel comfortable negotiating from a place of problem-solving, rather than being perceived as ‘rude’ or ‘demanding’? Send them this video on negotiation. It forever changed my perspective on the subject. Then send them a copy of my favorite book on negotiating.
- How are your meetings conducted? Does everyone get to say their piece, or do some people get interrupted or talked over? If it’s the latter, this article from Harvard Business Review provides interesting context and tactics on how to handle interrupting colleagues.
These are all seemingly small areas that add up to helping people grow their confidence and thrive. Learning how to observe potentially adverse workplace behaviors so you can help solve with some tactical guidance, fosters an inclusive environment. As a bonus, your own voice will grow and get stronger.
4. Pay it Forward and Share, Share, Share
You may think that you aren’t far enough in your career to help others, or that the only people who are in a position to pay it forward are C-levels, but that simply isn’t true. Even if you’re in your first year of work out of school, you can help college and high school students prime themselves for the real world, a skill that is bizarrely relegated to dusty career centers teaching principles from 1985.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of incredibly bright young women at San Francisco State University. I didn’t possibly think I’d have anything useful to say (hello imposter syndrome!), but there I was, drawing out the sales/marketing funnel and giving practical advice for evaluating job opportunities and navigating the interview process. At least two of the young women from that session have since begun to pursue technical sales roles.
You’ve also probably gathered by now that every other sentence out of my mouth is “I have a book you should read.” But I also love all types of content (blogs, essays, video, etc.) and follow a wide range of thought leaders in the MarTech space. If you are looking for similar inspiration, I highly recommend our own Jill Rowley, Marketo’s Chief Growth Advisor. I have followed Jill on social media for years, ever since I saw her speak at Oracle several years ago. She models the mindset of ‘helping’ vs. ‘selling’ and making every interaction unique and relevant—two principles that have been instrumental in building my sales career.
5. Men: All of This Pertains to You
I fully realize that some men feel uncomfortable spending time alone with a woman at work, including going to dinner, taking business trips, etc. But this is an antiquated mindset that ultimately damages a woman’s career prospects. Everyone needs a mental reset here, where we view each other as people, act as advocates, and hold each other accountable for building skill sets.
I’ve already mentioned this, but I’ll say it again, louder for the people in the back: I would not be where I am today without a balanced group of mentors and without the business trips and dinners where valuable career advice and stories are exchanged. Same goes for every senior woman I look up to.
Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas, cofounders of Lean In, said it best in a recent interview: Men’s networks are primarily male and women’s networks are primarily female. Because most men are senior leaders, it’s crucial that men offer mentorship and access to their networks to close the gender gap in leadership roles. I invite every man reading this to extend their hand to one junior woman at their company and #MentorHer. Include her in your team lunches & dinners, introduce her to your mentors, and make sure she’s at the company happy hour. Ask lots of questions about her ambitions. Then help her come up with a plan to achieve them.
Think about who you can help, in your workplace or your personal life. I guarantee that they are just within arms’ reach. All I ask is this: for every person that you help, ask them to then pay it forward to at least one person, creating a domino effect. Then leave a note in the comments with your thoughts!