27 September 2023

Switching on: How to address female leadership in technical fields

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Tendu Yogurtcu* says without more women in senior roles, we have no hope of closing the gender leadership gap, particularly in tech fields.

I used to not think of myself as a “woman in tech” — I was simply someone who worked in technology and happened to be a woman.

Most of us do not want to be perceived by our gender in our profession but rather want to be recognised by our quality of work.

But as companies like Twitter and Google started announcing the (small) percentages of their staff who are women, I’ve realised we can no longer afford to continue the status quo in how we think about women in tech.

We’re all aware that women are underrepresented in the field.

But what’s even more troubling is the leadership gap: Recent Gartner research revealed that only 22 per cent of IT leaders are women.

I’m part of that 22 per cent.

As a CTO, I’m also a member of an even smaller group of female C-suite tech executives (which another Gartner study found hovers around 13 per cent).

That’s not only unfortunate but also dangerous.

Without women in senior roles, we have no hope of closing the tech gender gap — not to mention, we’re missing out on untold innovative thinkers and ideas.

So, how do we work toward closing this gap?

Focus on meaningful cultural changes, not quotas.

At my company, Syncsort, our research and development (R&D) team is about 30 per cent women, and over 40 per cent of the leadership team are women.

We didn’t achieve this by setting quotas.

It happened because we focused on creating a fair, inclusive environment where everyone feels empowered to share ideas.

Setting this tone can only be achieved if C-suite and other senior executives are on board.

One way to do that is to engage supportive male allies to be champions for their female colleagues.

Encourage them to show up at events promoting gender equality or celebrating women in their industry.

Hold them accountable in qualitative ways as well (for example, ensuring compensation for male and female managers is equitable).

We also knew having more female employees would attract more women to apply, therefore creating a strong female leadership pipeline.

I recall one female recruit who I interviewed while I was pregnant.

Seeing that this was the type of employer that made it possible for a senior-level woman to balance work and family was reassuring for her future goals, too.

Support nonlinear career paths.

Taking a nonlinear career path is one of the best ways to build the skills required for leadership roles.

Of course, this is a viable strategy for everyone (including men).

My own career is a great example of how this strategy can succeed.

After an engineering and product management–focused career, I became general manager of Syncsort’s global big data section.

The role represented a bold change, with additional responsibilities.

But the risk paid off.

It was an important move since it broadened my functional responsibilities, setting me on a nonlinear path through the organisation that ultimately led to becoming CTO.

After all, being an IT leader isn’t just about excelling in a technical role; it demands fluency in all aspects of the organisation.

Therefore, pursuing roles in different branches of the organisation is a great way for employees to progress without the demands that often come from staying on a linear path.

In fact, getting creative and being willing to take risks helps them gain skills that will ultimately make them standouts for leadership roles.

Encourage women to negotiate.

One thing I’ve observed is that women don’t ask for enough.

We expect our work will speak for itself when it comes to taking on new responsibilities and promotions, so we don’t raise our hands frequently — but we need to.

Otherwise, we’re forfeiting power in shaping our professional paths.

If you’re a woman who envisions herself in a leadership role, set goals, propose a plan on how you’d like to get there and have a conversation with your manager to discuss other ways you can prepare yourself for it.

Don’t wait to have projects delegated to you — if something aligns with your interests, volunteer.

If you are interested in a new role that may not be in your current career path, have a conversation about it.

Likewise, managers should ask their female employees how they see their careers shaping up and what they’re passionate about.

Next, build development plans, and have regular conversations about their growth.

We don’t often discuss the extent to which diversity leads to innovation, but it’s true: Diverse teams are more successful.

According to Harvard Business Review, when an organisation’s executives are at least 30 per cent female, it can lead to 15 per cent gains in profitability, and it can be an advantage for recruiting.

This is why diversity is one of my priorities and passions as CTO.

We all have ideas, and while they might not be perfect, sharing and discussing them often leads to breakthroughs.

Fostering an environment in which everyone’s voices are heard and encouraged is the first step.

* Tendu Yogurtcu directs Syncsort’s technology strategy, innovation and R&D programs. She tweets at @TenduYogurtcu.

This article first appeared at www.forbes.com.

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