Women are vastly underrepresented across the IT industry, making up just 31% of the IT workforce. The research is split on whether the trend is heading in the right direction. One study shows that women made up only 11% of the workforce just a few years ago, but a study conducted by the American Association of University Women found that the number of American women in computing has fallen over the past few decades -- from 35% in 1990 to just 26%.
Perhaps even more concerning, women make up just 9% of global IT leadership. This is just one example of a larger C-suite gender problem that persists today across industries, which is why Key Resources is so proud to be certified as a Woman Owned Small Business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
The lack of women in IT leadership demonstrates the current need for deeper investment in the next generation of women in technology. Looking back at my career in the IT industry, I’ve learned some important lessons along the way about how to advocate for myself and how to present myself. Here are a few practical tips for women in IT on how to advance your career, whether you’re just getting started or you’re looking to take your career to the next level.
1: Build relationships that create opportunities
Forming professional connections through networking and mentoring is one of the most impactful steps a young woman in IT can take. Whether you’re talking to women who have been in your shoes, or women who occupy the job you’d like to have some day, mentoring can help open doors, by helping you understand the steps required to get there. Mentors can also provide invaluable guidance as you contemplate job offers and options, negotiate salaries and benefits, and deal with unexpected challenges throughout your career.
This can be easier said than done. How do you go about building relationships with people who might mentor you? If someone’s working on a project you’re interested in, speak up and ask if you can get involved -- even if it’s outside your usual role. In most cases, you’ll be surprised by how interested they are in you, simply because you took the initiative. Helping superiors with projects they’re passionate about is one way to build relationships that will benefit both sides in the long run.
2: Present yourself with confidence and conviction
The way you present yourself to others is how they’ll see you. That includes the way you communicate, from presenting ideas in a meeting to replying to emails. Words have power and choosing how you communicate is key.
Here’s one great tip I heard recently that I’ve been trying to put into practice myself. Do you find yourself starting sentences with the phrase, “I think”? Try saying “I believe” instead. It’s a seemingly small shift. But, prefacing your ideas with “I believe” makes a strong, powerful statement that your teammates will be more likely to get on board with. Again, if you present yourself with conviction, that’s how your colleagues and clients will perceive you.
3: How to cope with being an ‘only’ in the room
There have been many times throughout my IT career that I’ve been the only woman in the room. The reality is, many of us will be an ‘only’ in a room, whether by gender, race, age, or any other marker. Sometimes, being an ‘only’ means being treated like an ‘other’. How you handle that experience is up to you.
When I introduce myself as the President of Key Resources, I’m often met with strange looks or questions. I could allow those looks to get under my skin, but instead, I’ve found that if I simply continue and establish who I am, we can move past that moment quickly. Choose to show people who you are by speaking up, and ultimately, they’ll recognize your value.
4: Use your emotional intelligence wisely
Coping with being an ‘only’ in a mature, collected manner is one way you can demonstrate emotional intelligence. But emotional intelligence doesn’t just apply to managing potentially negative scenarios. It’s also incredibly helpful in building respect within teams.
When you’re leading a meeting, lean on your emotional intelligence skills to set the tone. Was it a team member’s birthday last week? Ask them how they celebrated. Has your coworker’s child been under the weather? Check in and see how they’re doing. Creating these personal connections helps you ease into the meeting, especially if you’ll be discussing a contentious topic. Being empathetic with your team helps build respect, allowing you to work together more effectively and enjoyably.
Cynthia Overby is the President and Co-Founder of Key Resources, Inc., (KRI), a mainframe security services and software development company. With 30+ years of diverse IT experience, she began her career as a security analyst and moved into IT management in 1986 with Hewitt Associates. She has extensive experience in network, infrastructure security, risk management, technical architecture, and policy development. She has committed her career and personal life to building community and culture, creating unique experiences, tackling tough issues and influencing sustained change.