You've prepared thoroughly for a company meeting. All the project specs, deadlines and upcoming tasks. Only one thing left to do before you enter the conference room: make sure your colleagues will support you.
Even when in IT leadership roles, that's often the case. Suzanne Tamayo, an IT professional said she often rallies support from fellow female technology leaders before company meetings. “We’re going into this meeting and we’ve got to support each other,” Tamayo and her colleagues would discuss. “If I say something and a male colleague picks it up later and says we should do that, my cohorts will back me and say that is exactly what Suzanne said five minutes ago.”
Unwelcoming Environments Persist
For Tamayo and other female technology leaders, gaining visibility in IT in a male-dominated industry remains a challenge today. About 35 percent of women say that an unwelcoming environment for women in technology remains a significant challenge, an increase from 30 percent last year, according to the 2018 Women in Technology survey (registration required). According to the researchers, one participant chalks up the problem to an unconscious bias that’s “male, pale and stale.”
Tamayo and other IT professionals shared their daily real-world professional challenges with CMSWire during October's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo conference in Orlando, Fla.
Some have felt “invisible.” Others discussed fear of speaking up or even showing frustration because they would be seen as “aggressive.” Some simply want to be seen as technically-savvy business professionals, rather than a woman in IT. Others shared advice for fellow women in IT to have their voices be heard.
Become a Force With Results, Confidence
Cindy Taibi, named this year as the New York Times first female CIO, told CMSWire it’s incumbent upon women to speak up if they feel as if their voice is going unnoticed in male-dominated IT departments.
“It's foolish to pretend that there isn't a gender disparity in technology, but it doesn't have to run your life,” Taibi said. “You don't have to get into it. My advice is run over it like a steamroller. Don’t let it stop you.”
Taibi is the co-leader of the New York Times Women in Technology group, a self-organized task force. She advises women working in IT who feel they deserve more recognition and support in their companies to be “realistic.” “You have to have realistic expectations,” Taibi said. “To earn respect, to build influence takes time for men and women. Don’t be unrealistic. You have to put in your dues. You have to work hard and deliver. You have to demonstrate what you can do. You have to grow.”
Meanwhile, everyone deserves a voice, she said. Taibi encouraged women to be confident and not “let themselves be interrupted.” “I don’t let people interrupt me,” she added.
Related Article: Addressing Gender Bias in the Workplace: A New Approach
Claim Ownership of Ideas
Helen Huntley, research vice president at Gartner, delivered the Monday keynote at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo with Kristin Moyer, distinguished VP analyst for Gartner. This marked the first time Gartner has had at least two women together for a keynote, Huntley noted.
Asked about what women can do whose voices go unheard, Huntley told CMSWire she’s learned over multiple years in IT that women have to have a technique to handle those situations. If a man takes ownership of an idea she shares in a meeting earlier, Huntley said her response would be, “Bob, that sounds exactly like what I was saying. We're in total agreement.”
Rein it back in, Huntley said, and “take back that power and that voice you had.” Don't be shy about it, but also not too aggressive. Take back your proposals in company meetings, albeit in a “very polite way.” Encourage collaboration with your colleagues going forward.
“I just think women have to learn how to do that effectively,” said Huntley, whose three daughters have ventured into technology arenas. “Women have to think beyond ‘women in technology breakfast sessions.’ That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about changing conversations (in meetings), teaching leadership skills for women. We need the guys to understand and support this, but women have to take ownership to a point about teaming with each other.”
Related Article: One Woman's Path to Data Science
Create Opportunities for Engagement
Women can succeed in IT if they “think outside the box” and show confidence in their work, letting the results do the talking, according to Suane Barbosa, IT manager for Stone Pagamentos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “You grow up thinking women are not going to do technology. That’s the environment of men,” Barbosa said. “No, come out and do it. We need to create the environment and opportunities where we are engaging women and encouraging them to come out.”
Barbosa manages a team of five IT leaders: four men and one woman. She said her management style is one of encouragement. If you’ve got ideas on doing things differently, she’ll listen and support them. “Every problem is an opportunity to make something great,” she said.
She encourages men in IT to quit the “sexism jokes,” stop telling women they’re “being aggressive” and understand it’s OK for women in IT to be expressive. “And look at me as an IT professional first,” she said, “and not a woman.”
‘What Changed in the Last Five Minutes?’Kari Brey, who attended the “How Successful Women in IT Increase Their Visibility in Their Organizations" at the Gartner conference, expressed frustration about idea-sharing at meetings. The vice president of IT for Travelers recalls multiple cases over her career where her input, originally ignored, was claimed by a colleague as theirs later in the meeting. “What changed in the last five minutes to make that now a good idea where five minutes ago, it wasn't?” she asked. “Could I have communicated something differently to have been heard the first time instead of having someone say the same exact thing that I just said?”
Brey calls herself an “extremely technical” IT professional. She is somebody who can “get into the weeds.” But, often, she’ll feel people are “taken aback by that.” She finds that building rapports with male developers and showing them your problem-solving skills to be naturally helpful. “Now developers come to me and get my opinion on things,” she said.
Brey has heard female IT peers speak of feeling “invisible," and it remains that way because they don't speak up. “You have to have the courage to call people out,” she said. Have a peer support system to discuss challenges and ways to overcome them. Above all, perhaps, let the higher-ups know there is a problem if you feel unheard. Break through the fear of being seen as a “complainer.”
“Make them understand where you’re coming from,” Brey said. “Once you touch that side of it, they become cognizant of what may be happening."
Related Article: How One Female Web Technologist Broke Barriers in Tech
Amplification and Awareness Are KeyTamayo said too often women don’t speak up because they “don’t want to be the bitch.” But sometimes, she said, you have to be loud. You have to be assertive, she said. And that's OK. Being assertive and passionate behind a conviction is not something reserved for male IT counterparts. “For men,” Tamayo added, "they can be loud, and it's good. They’re very strong, right?”
Tamayo, the director of IT shared services for Puget Sound Energy, referred to female staffers during the Obama administration as a shining example of women working together to get their voices heard. Female Obama staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called amplification: "When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own."
Awareness is a key factor, too. If you don’t alert the right people of the problem, you may never get heard. Tamayo, after attending the Gartner session on empowering women in IT, learned that many female technologists don’t ever get their voices heard because they’re simply not confident enough to speak up.
“Some of the women in that room were very humble and very calm and quiet,” Tamayo said. “They feel like they need to get tougher, and I think we can overcome that through our voices. Because we naturally have that. I felt sad in that meeting. Those women are very smart, very capable but because they don't have that voice … they get lost.”
Learn how you can join our contributor community.