How to digitally break the bias and rise into leadership roles
Research has shown the need to address the gender gap at leadership levels for the long-term profitability of organizations. However, the need is not addressed primarily due to the existing bias against women employees and the missed opportunity to nurture them early on in their careers. In this article, we elucidate how the current ‘digital’ ecosystem – the great leveler – provides a unique opportunity to break this status quo, especially for women in tech, so that they can rise into leadership roles by their own effort.
Some of you might remember the iconic Nike advertisement from the movie What Women Want which is wonderfully scripted to show how something as simple as ‘the road’ can enable gender equality. Well, most of us might not have visited the road for a run during the pandemic, but we might have visited the other avenue that enables gender equality – social media.
Social media became the tool of choice for women all over the world, to share their ideas and opinions, regardless of their background or nationality. And it still is!
Unfortunately, the ‘digital’ medium – which is neither gated nor discriminates ideas based on gender – has been severely underutilized when it comes to career growth. The LinkedIn Gender Insight Report indicates that “the professional network is more popular among males than females. 57% of all LinkedIn members are male, while females take up 43% of the total users”. And women’s participation is even lesser in developing countries.
The potential of digital medium in women’s growth into leadership roles can be better appreciated by understanding the challenges that organizations face currently.
The never-ending attempt to bridge the ‘Great Gender Divide’
Organizations worldwide have understood the importance of diversity in the workforce and the benefits that it entails. The McKinsey report on diversity which surveyed more than 1000 companies in 15 countries showed the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance.
However, the research also talks about the ‘broken rung’ in the ladder at the first step up to manager, a trend where “women are promoted to manager at far lower rates than men, and this makes it nearly impossible for companies to lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels.”
At the same time, organizations are also under pressure to show gender diversity in leadership levels – to attract talent, secure funding, and inspire the next-gen leaders. This pressing need, unfortunately, leads to ‘force-fitting’ of women into far from ideal roles, which in turn leads to poor performance, reinforcing the very bias that organizations are trying hard to eradicate. This vicious circle eventually leads to lesser sponsors and mentors at the top for the upcoming women leaders.
Bringing about the change
For organizations that are actively seeking change, the only option is to start identifying women leaders early on in their careers and start building the leadership pipeline through focused mentorship and skill development programs.
However, organizations have another puzzle to solve – whom should they provide this opportunity to? How can they identify these diamonds in the rough? Given that tenure-based leadership makes less sense in tech organizations, how can women in their early part of their career make themselves visible?
‘Digital’ Transformation of Women’s career
To make it easier for organizations to identify good talent, women in tech should create a strong digital representation of their work, either on professional platforms (such as LinkedIn / Medium) or platforms of their own.
The platform does not differentiate between genders, is open for all, encourages original ideas, opinions are evaluated on their merit (and yes, we can’t beat those cute puppy videos), and is a great avenue to obtain feedback from the tech community – for free!
To obtain maximum benefit from this avenue a few simple steps have to be followed, which eventually will lead to the development of a strong personal brand, a shining diamond in the making who cannot be ignored!
- Choose an area of specialization that interests you
Leaders are always known for their expertise, their views, and the clarity they bring to others. Hence the idea is to choose an area of expertise that interests you the most and that can last the duration of your foreseeable career.
Digital technologies provide ample options – from AI, ML, Security, Cloud, IoT, UX to name a few. The nature of digital technologies is such that there is always some new development – to learn, experiment and comment – and this gives women in tech have a unique advantage over their counterparts in other disciplines.
- Create a profile that accurately reflects the future role you envision for yourself
Most of the profiles (for ex on LinkedIn) are either too short or too long resembling a resume, too bland to be noticed, or full of hype.
Given that a profile is an important aspect for people to know why you matter at work, upgrade your profile to reflect what you are now, your interest area(s), your contributions, and what you are working towards.
- Create Digital footprint that matters
The words of eminent poet Henry Longfellow, “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while, others judge us by what we have already done”, has never been more true than now.
Present all your experiences and knowledge from your work for the world to see in the forms of blogs, articles, webinars, stories, etc – to be noticed, absorbed, evaluated, and to open up new avenues for you to forge ahead. As they say, ‘Google never forgets’. So start making those digital footprints now.
- Voice your expertise
Your views reflect your expertise, and people are remembered for sharing their expertise. Given that expertise & ideas are tainted less with gender and more with its usefulness, make your voice heard in tech forums, events, discussions, etc – not as a matter of opinion, rather as a matter of contribution.
- Add skills appropriate to your experience
As you grow up in your career, add skills and practices that are commensurate with your experience – People skills, communication skills, networking skills, to name a few.
Though these steps sound simple, they bear fruit in time because of the cumulative effect of the actions. A reach of a distant run is just a step executed continuously!
The Digital Road ahead
Reflecting on the Nike advertisement…
The digital road doesn’t care about gender,
Only the quality of your ideas and views.
It doesn’t care if the ideas are tainted in pink or blue,
As long as you contribute to the intellectual needs of the few.
The only thing the digital road cares about,
Is the footprint made by you!
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization.
The article has been written by Vaishali Balaji – Lead Data Scientist, and Mahesh Bellie – AVP, Brand Marketing, Indium Software