A 2015 study shows that despite an increase in women with STEM degrees, the proportion of women working in these fields advanced by just 2% in almost 30 years. In Canada, for example, women comprised 20% of the STEM workforce in 1987 and only 22% in 2015.
This and similar findings frequently trigger conversations about gender disparity, gender equality and gender equity. Panel discussions are not only great opportunities to raise awareness about the above-mentioned issues, but more importantly, opportunities to acknowledge women's contribution in the field, recognize the tremendous value they bring to the table, celebrate successes, provide constructive advice and inspire young professionals.
With my fellow panelists, we each provided insights, shared our personal experiences and answered questions from the audience. I'm sharing five key rules to thrive as a woman in technology based on the panel discussion:
1. Neutralize Biases and Prejudices
Biases and prejudices do exist in the workplace and cannot be ignored! Most of the time, they come in implicit or unconscious ways and have a subtle impact on shaping people's choices, influencing many areas such as recruitment, promotion, performance management and others. To overcome these, you need to equip yourself with great skills, demonstrate the value of your skills, push your limits, make your voice heard, behave more assertively and mark your footprint. Aim for excellence rather than perfection because excellence is one virtue that can shatter all biases and prejudices. At the end of the day, extensive knowledge, expertise, utmost professionalism and true talent will be recognized and embraced.
2. Foster Innovative Environments
The first step in creating an environment that fosters innovation is to recognize the value and potential benefits of generating new ideas and applying new concepts to existing products and services. Businesses can encourage creative thinking by having teams who focus on the problems to solve and who embrace experimentation and risk. There's also an advantage in building diverse and gender-balanced teams, whose members trust each other and feel empowered to use their differences to explore and pursue possibilities. Therefore, women in technology should bring forward new ideas, check the market pulse and consider the voice of the customer to find out if your idea will resonate as a real benefit. Be sure to emphasize on the value it creates and stay focused long enough to increase your chances of success.
3. Showcase Both Soft and Hard Skills
Every position comes with a predetermined set of hard skills. Those skills would increase productivity and efficiency, reduce ramp-up time and ensure employee satisfaction. However, what differentiates high-performing employees from others with similar hard skills is the set of soft skills those candidates bring to the table. How they communicate, how they work with others, how they solve problems, how they manage their time, how flexible they are and how easy they adapt to new circumstances. These are some of the fundamental traits that fully enable employees to use their hard skills and to acquire any additional ones to be successful. If you are a woman in technology and you want to grab the attention of recruiters, then improve and showcase your soft skills.
4. Take the STEM Path Less Traveled
Women who want to pursue a career in technology should take a note from the Robert Frost poem, 'The Road Not Taken.' Lack of female role models is just one of the reasons why not that many women pursue careers in STEM. One can also think about negative peer pressure, lack of encouragement or even active discouragement as contributors to this reality. However, the fact that women are too harsh on themselves, that they underestimate their value and often don't believe in themselves are the real underlying reasons. Trust yourself, be authentic, be resilient in the face of failure, persevere, be receptive to feedback, be ambitious, don't wait for opportunities to come to you, chase them until you reach them. And if, at times, you experience some discomfort, know that the feeling is just part of the process as you navigate your way to success.
5. Nurture Effective Communication
Good communication plays an essential role in every aspect of our lives. It reduces misunderstandings, prevents escalations and, in general, creates better relationships. This is even more true for diverse teams, which despite giving businesses a competitive edge, might pose many operational challenges. Regular communication will not only increase engagement and productivity of team members, but also foster trust between them as they start to recognize each other's strengths and weaknesses. If you want to be appreciated as a valuable team member, communicate frequently, effectively and express your opinion with humility.
How Women in Technology Can Reach Their Full Potential
To conclude, I'd like to bring up a question addressed to me during the networking period that followed the panel discussion: 'Do you think you have reached your full potential?'
The question made me smile. Does anyone ever reach his/her full potential? I personally believe the answer is no. The minute you tell yourself you've reached your full potential is the minute you start stagnating and lose greatness. Your potential will grow with you for as long as you nurture it.
Therefore, I'd say, set goals, work hard, stay focused, work harder. You will realize that the potential to reach any goal is there, within you. And that is true whether you are a woman or a man!