Looking for companies with a culture accepting of women in senior roles is critical but so too is your own level of confidence.
Women still have a long way to go evidently. According to the results from the Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) Innovation Economy Outlook 2014 survey, which focused exclusively on the representation of women in technology leadership positions, less than half of the 1,200 executives surveyed said their companies have women in leadership roles.
The name Silicon Valley is synonymous with the spirit of innovation, but when it comes to U.S.-based tech companies appointing women to C-level positions (37 percent) or to a board of directors (26 percent), that pioneering spirit has a distance to go.
In some ways, I find these statistics surprising since I am enjoying a terrific career that continues to flourish working in the technology industry. In fact, my present employer is in the minority for a U.S.-based tech company. There are several women in prominent leadership positions at my company and one of the directors on our company’s board is also a woman. So I do know it’s possible to defy the odds, and though female representation in the C-suite isn’t at parity with our male counterparts as per SVB’s survey results, I believe women are a growing peer group in the executive ranks.
There’s evidence of women breaking through the so-called glass ceiling all around us. For example, Janet Yellen was appointed chair of the Federal Reserve not long ago, and more recently, Becky Hammon was hired as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association. A few short years ago, it was almost unheard of for women to be considered for such positions much less appointed to them.
The Tone at the Top Counts
I work at a technology company serving the financial services sector, and I can attest to the fact that this isn’t exactly a combination that is overflowing with women execs. But don’t let that squelch your ambitions. Look for an organization where the leadership is truly supportive. Otherwise, it’s a losing battle if the tone at the top does not support women in key roles.
When a company creates a culture accepting of women in senior roles, it becomes a natural part of the company, and not a special event. That’s important. Of course, those appointments must be based on merit and not solely for the sake of appearances.
In general, I believe that it is much more difficult to achieve balance through affirmative action initiatives later on (although any little bit helps) than to have it baked into a company’s DNA from the start.
What Should Women Do?
With the benefit of hindsight, here are three things I think every woman should bear in mind before pursuing an opportunity with any tech firm:
- The culture of a company matters. Do women already play key roles?
- Abandon the notion that things are fair. Don’t despair though. Adversity can serve to sharpen skills, and being unique is better than blending into a crowd.
- Answer this honestly: do you lack confidence?
That last point is critical. If you lack confidence in yourself—admittedly it’s not something you can simply switch on or off—get someone else’s perspective (from a trusted source) on what your character skills are. The fact is, in times past when my confidence was waning, it was my male friends, peers, and mentors who supported me.
Cameron Anderson, an associate professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, has studied the psychology of competence, confidence, and leadership for years. Interestingly, his findings indicate that people who act like leaders by speaking up and appearing confident, are perceived to be more competent to lead.
That’s not to suggest you simply need to be the loudest and most assertive personality in the room; far from it. You must also have the skills, experience, and foresight to climb your way upward. But exuding confidence as you go about earning your stripes makes all the difference in the world.