The heart of a STEMinista is a woman with a STEM career who wants to rock at work. STEMinistas don’t settle for the status quo! So, inevitably, that means career advancement.
There are plenty of opportunities out there, but the reality remains that building a career in technology has proven more difficult for women than it has for men. Not only do women hold less tech jobs, but they also don’t stay in tech for as long as men do.
So here are my five tips for women in tech on how to build a lifelong career in their field.
Advancement: It Starts with Confidence
Because the fields are male-dominated, women may feel that it’s risky to share their ideas for fear of being ridiculed. There’s no shortage of opportunities or hard problems that need solving, so step up to the plate!
This can mean speaking up at a meeting, where your tech savvy can help you fit in AND earn the respect of your colleagues.
It can also mean telling everyone that will listen that you want that vacant team lead position. Never assume that you are the obvious choice and don’t have to express your interest! That’s a sure-fire recipe for disappointment.
Advancement: Learn to Negotiate
When trying to negotiate anything, whether it’s a promotion or an opportunity to lead the next big project, start with why it’s in the other persons interest to say yes. Practice asking and find things that are mutually beneficial. Women negotiate far less than men, so write and practice your responses out loud.
Standing out in a sea of male voices is intimidating, but women need to speak up and speak often. Make sure you can articulate an idea clearly. Most of communication is non-verbal, so your voice and presence matter; it tells people who you are.
Try asking for something that you believe you deserve. Even if that means asking for that new project lead job or more money or whatever! You don’t get brownie points for thinking about something. You get them for asking for something.
Advancement: Find Mentors and Pay It Forward
Women looking to successfully climb the ladder from the ranks to management, even to executive positions, need to be aligned with male and female mentors and sponsors they can emulate and lean on – and most important, who can serve as their champions.
Don’t settle for just anyone as a mentor, though. You have to find someone that appreciates you and your skills and that is in a position to support you. That person has to be well respected and senior and their opinion needs to carry some weight. That’s the trick to getting out of a spot when coming to work is a minefield.
Advancement: Be Yourself
I often hear from women that they just try to be “one of the guys” to fit it. And, worse, that they’ve been doing it so long, they don’t even think about it anymore.
We don’t have to be like men; we can be ourselves. In tech careers, being a woman can work to our advantage, as it inherently helps us stand out. Many times I work in settings where I am the only women. Not just in small teams of 3-5, but in meetings with 15 or 20 people. The upside is that it’s easier for me to make an impression. I seize these many opportunities by speaking up and making sure my ideas get heard.
And sometimes I wear an unconventional color. Like today. I’m in a purple dress. Not too many men in purple dresses in MY meetings today!
One of the basic lessons of computer science, Metcalf’s Law, describes the “network effect” of communications technologies. Namely, the value of a technology is dependent on the number of others using it: As more people adopt it, it becomes exponentially more valuable. The network effect applies to telecommunications services, the Internet, and social media.
It also applies to careers.
Think about it this way: If you are a node in a network and you are not linked to anyone, then no one knows about your accomplishments or potential. However, if you are networked to your colleagues, management, classmates, and customers or clients, the network effect helps you access a wider range of contacts, making you a more valuable professional.
Networking may not come naturally, but there are plenty of books, classes, and events that offer simple tricks to make it effective and fun.
It’s hard, sometimes uncomfortable, and never easy, but we have to learn to stand out and communicate in positive ways. If we don’t advocate for ourselves, who will?
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: “I have post traumatic stress disorder!” said the woman. “Not from the war, but from my last job interview!”