As a woman in the technology industry, I have often felt that I needed to prove myself. I have spent the last 20 years of my life trying to do just that and to make my mark on the industry, at no one's request other than my own.
A bit of background
I started in an engineering school that was 86% men. As you can imagine, I spent four years always feeling one step behind. I have never had anyone treat me different for being female but, being surrounded by strong independent smart males, I always thought I had something to prove.
Due to my competitive nature, I have been very successful - working in IT on SAP for 20 years. Over those 20 years I have spent time learning everything that I can. I looked for ways to understand the very detailed parts of the software that didn't seem to be obvious to everyone else. I spent time focusing on integration and overall enterprise solutions. This was a competitive advantage for me.
Creating my USP
Learning how the software worked and understanding how to think critically were keys to my success. I have attempted to keep in touch with what SAP was doing to innovate, trying to stay ahead of the masses. Overall, I have been successful, I have been somewhat of an early adopter of the company’s vision and strategy.
In order to achieve these goals, I have always felt I had to be the smartest person in the room. Generally speaking, I never thought being confident, smart and straightforward would be a problem. I have seen many executives do exactly this and do nothing but succeed.
In recent years, I have found that the rules that existed when I started my career no longer apply. Executives and many venture capitalists tend to have very different perspectives of people. Men and women are seen very differently.
I modelled myself after many strong, intelligent males I have admired throughout my career, I wanted to be just like them. I never thought that being female made any difference to success - I was wrong.
The acceptance of women in technology has come a long way yet there are still differences that exist at the most basic level. Harvard Business Review did a study on a group of venture capitalists and found male and female entrepreneurs are seen very differently.
The average male is described with these attributes:
- Young and promising
- Arrogant but very competent
- Aggressive, but a really good entrepreneur
- Experienced and knowledgeable
- Very competent innovator and already has money to play with
- Cautious, sensible and level-headed
- Extremely capable and very driven
- Educated engineer at a prestigious university and has run business before.
These attributes were the attributes I aspired to attain. I have spent years focused on being described this way. Yet this study shows a female with similar attributes is described very differently. Women with the same attributes are described like this:
- Young but inexperienced.
- Lacks network contacts and in need of help to develop her business concept.
- Enthusiastic, but weak.
- Experienced but worried
- Good looking and careless with money
- Too cautious and does not dare
- Lacks ability for venturing and growth
- Visionary but with no knowledge of the market.
It doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? Ironically, I have never seen that there was a difference. Yet research shows there is quite a difference.
A change of approach
As I grow through my career, I have focused on knowledge; knowledge is power, right?Knowledge does provide a level of power in the technology industry but that is not all that is needed to succeed. Additional skills are required.
The additional skills required are interpersonal, communication, conflict management, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence and overall empathy. These are skills that are simply no longer taught in universities any longer. I convinced myself that if I was just like all of those executives I saw, if I could just be like them, focused on technology, strong, independent, I would have the world in the palm of my hands.
I worked for large and small organizations and with customers; always a trusted technology expert, slowly moving into that role of trusted advisor. People looked to me for their technology needs. As a trusted advisor to so many, helping make real technology decisions, changing the minds of board of directors, I was on top of the world.
I had many mentors along the way: CFOs, CIOs, CEOs trusted me and believed in me. Eventually someone would feel that I wasn't able to be part of a team. Each time one door closed, another one opened. I always had someone giving me another chance.
As with everything in life, life happened. I got arrogant, cocky even - I assumed overwhelming knowledge of technology, great work ethic and an overall willingness to do more would keep me on the path I had always wanted for my career. I was never humbled, I never understood that maybe I was doing something wrong. I blamed jealousy, misunderstanding, anything I could blame. I could not accept responsibility for where I ended up.
I had been told by many that I had to work on my communication style. I didn't think it was necessary, I was educated and I knew the technology, I had nothing else that I needed to learn, again everyone just need to accept me as I was. I had become a very strong, independent, non-emotional, leader, everything I had always thought I wanted to be.
But being strong and non-emotional wasn’t always a positive. It meant that when I started a new role, I started out on a very positive note, a little reserved, people would be amazed on how much I knew about the software. However, this just fed into my arrogance and vision of who I thought people saw leaders as.
With all this, my career was consuming my life and yet life was moving forward. The arrogance and attitude started coming into my personal life, this started to impact all the relationships around me. I isolated myself from people and buried myself in technology books and training and that’s when I hit a brick wall.
I was at a job I loved with people I really liked and I thought that everything was coming back together. I was reserved at first, I tried to curb my attitude and just keep moving forward. This worked until I got caught up in the moment, stressed, overworked or having a bad day, the worst in me would come out at whoever was around me. Anger, frustration, negativity had no discrimination; the emotions would just come out.
All this time, I came across so arrogant, so difficult that no one was willing to "help" me with anything, more so I wasn't willing to accept help from anyone. I knew everything. It was at this point that I decided I needed a change.
Managing strengths and weaknesses
Then came this amazing management team, a team that truly saw me as an asset. They recognized my value as well as my shortcomings. This time they didn't push them under the rug or ignore them, they took them straight on.
With a management team willing to work with me, I realized all the things that have made me who I am today and the shortcomings that I have. I spent time working on reflecting back through my career and determining the following points that I now live by:
The idea that there are still people in the world that see men and women very differently is not a matter of politics but is a matter of fact.
Strong women are not seen the same as strong men. They are expected to have a level of emotional intelligence that may not have been required to those men in the same positions before them. Many people spend time calling this gender inequality, the fact of the matter is men and women are different. Throughout history women have been the care givers, that doesn't change overnight and it isn't right or wrong. Men and women are just simply different, not better or worse, just different.
People that work in the technology industry tend to have a very different perspective on social awareness and understanding. The idea of empathy and emotional intelligence have never been something they focus on. Now with those technology experts being introduced to customers and required to have relationships with business people, the importance of the skills around interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence is just as important as the technology required to do your job. Spend as much time learning those skills as you do on technology.
3. Growth does not stop at any age, be mindful of your surroundings and spend your life learning from those around you.
I have not been a perfect employee, however, I have found my way to success and will continue to put together blogs for those of us that are in technology and need help and understanding from those around us.