Who else has heard the words “if you work hard, you'll get places”?
Now, who knows that, while those words are encouraging, the reality of being a woman in tech means that hard work alone does not mean success? Compound that with being a woman of color and/or being a mother and the gap becomes wider.
Breaking into senior level and higher roles as a woman in tech is possible without having to submit to “hustle culture” and without having to do it alone. Here are some ways below that I’ve found have worked for me.
Finding your network and mentors
I was always told that “network is your net worth” and that “using your network” is the smartest way to break into leadership roles. Guess what? I don’t have that million-dollar network and I don’t know a lot of people that do. Instead, find your network and mentors that meet you where you are in places that are accessible.
A couple of places to start looking are smaller online Slack groups and online platforms like old girls club, Rank (shameless plug!), Elpha, and Lunchclub. I’ve had so much success really connecting with other women through communities like these and staying connected with them. For me personally, I thrive with more 1:1 communication and meetings instead of a larger IRL meetup or meeting, which works to build those deeper professional connections.
In terms of finding a mentor and building your community, manager and leadership buy-in in the workplace is equally as important. For women of color specifically, the “broken rung” problem has been a huge barrier to leadership. As managers and leaders, lifting up and becoming champions for BIWOC in the workplace makes a remarkable difference. A lot of my own mentors have been previous coworkers, managers, and friends.
I used to have this image in my head of what a mentor was supposed to look like. By doing that, I was missing out on some incredible leaders and mentors right in front of me every day. I’ve come to learn that having professional mentors in different fields and professional aspects is perfectly ok. For example, I have a mentor for all things negotiations, a friend that I consider to be a pro in navigating difficult workplace conversations, and a mentor that I go to bounce ideas off of on growth strategy. They all play a very different role but having the ability to view mentors dynamically has helped me identify mentors in my current network of people that I already know and respect. Try it out! Take some time to write out anyone you know in your personal field, whether it’s your coworker, your friend or even a family member. Think about what they’ve gone through or have done that could provide value for you and reach out!
Creating a “Brag Sheet” and letting the stats speak for themselves
A good brag sheet is SO powerful. Not only to show in your workplace and use it as a tool for self-advocation but WHEW the self-confidence that I get when I look at all my accomplishments is such a boost. It’s truly such a great reminder of my worth and what I bring.
When negotiating promotions and salary raises, use your brag sheet as the most powerful tool in your box and use that as the main agenda item to be more data-driven in your conversations. Write down every single accomplishment you have, no matter how big or small. Make sure you write down numbers if you can with each “brag” so you can add that extra layer and quantify your accomplishments. Personally, I’ve built mine out in google sheets and I add to it as I go throughout my career.
Seizing the opportunity
You’re qualified for that role. You’re qualified for that promotion. You’re qualified to step into your next journey even if you don’t meet 100% of the requirements needed. This seems corny but I’m going to say it because it’s true, SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY! Stepping out of our box into a sense of discomfort and growth is the most powerful catalyst to breaking into your higher level role.
I’m always faced with thoughts such as “what if I don’t get it” or “what if I get rejected” and always try to counter it with “what if I do?”. For every negative or self doubt powered thought that I have, I try and write out on a piece of paper the “best case scenario” against it.
Controlling the controllables as a BIWOC and not letting it affect your mental well being
As a woman of color, I want to bring to light that while advocating for yourself, noting down accomplishments and creating networks are all powerful tools, BIWOC communities in the workforce face an additional layer of uncontrollables in our journeys to leadership and management in addition to gender bias. Workplace microaggressions, racial bias and lack of shared experiences and lack of championship from managers all play a part in our career journey that require more than what we are told. It’s exhausting. Black and Latina women in the workforce experience it in a greater sense. It’s everyone’s responsibility to help lift up BIWOC into these senior level and higher roles by being an ally and championing BIWOC communities and checking our own biases.
Our careers and roles are not worth deprecating our mental well being. I’ve learned that I can control the controllables on my end, I can be an ally to other women of color, I can create communities and lift other women up but I can’t control external bias that has nothing to do with who I am. And I can’t control bigotry. There is always room for improvement and that’s why DE&I education and training as a team and community in the workplace is radically important to embrace. Inclusivity in the workplace and community are essential pillars to eliminating bias and more.
Enjoying the process
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. These actions will not happen overnight so make sure you have a little fun in your journey to the next level.
Building a professional community, finding your mentors, seizing those opportunities, getting buy-in from your manager and all those actions happen over the course of your own time frame. Keep in mind that there will always be things outside of your control. Even in my own experience, I’ve learned thus far that there will always be higher positions to pursue and more things to learn. There’s never an end to it so enjoying where you are and taking learnings from your experiences will only enhance your own career.
Coming to peace with the idea that what I do is not who I am, and while I deserve a seat in management, I refuse to compromise my boundaries and well-being to achieve it. It’s made my journey to where I am a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.
Breaking the leadership gap in tech as a woman can be done without compromising your wellbeing and by tapping into your current network and skills.
As you go into your next promotion meeting, 1:1 or pay discussion, remember that you can control your own controllables. Creating that network around you and championing your coworkers and yourself creates a powerful domino effect and community where we’re all in this together.
How else have you leaned into leadership roles in your workplace? I’d love to know!