After many years working in the technology space and previously being one of too few female CIOs in NZ, this is my take on the elements which attract and retain women in technology
Ada Lovelace was a woman ahead of her time. She articulated the first concepts of machine operations and the potential for equations to be used by machines to create solutions. She is the mascot for the idea of women thinking differently and bringing diversity to the technology function. Hence Ada Lovelace day – held on the second Tuesday of every October.
Organisations want the diversity of thinking created by women, and hence, more creativity, as well as more equity through women in leadership and other well paid roles. Attracting and retaining female talent within the technology team is crucial, and yet we have barely made progress over the past few decades.
After many years working in the technology space and previously being one of too few female CIOs in NZ, this is my take on the elements which attract and retain women in technology.
I have also included practical tips for each to create a way forward in supporting the talent you create/have available. You will know what makes sense for your team, but these are a starting point rather than the perfect solution:
Succession planning: Great leaders spend time planning and acting on this critical task. We all know attrition is real. Keeping close to your team and enabling their motivation through their next challenge helps. However, ensure the next level of leaders is growing and learning rapidly too, and that you are hiring new women into technology. Sometimes people are nervous about elitism in succession planning and excluding others. Ensure you have considered everyone and know that the people you have excluded for now have clear feedback about what they need to focus on in their development.
- Look both inside and outside the technology function to identify individuals with potential as future leaders. Work with them and their leaders to craft a practical development plan which gives them the experience they need now. Get clear on your role and others in supporting them.
Flexibility: Flexibility in work life is one of the key attractions for not only women but a large portion of the workforce who want to attend to the other essential aspects of their life. A mentally and physically healthy leader does not work on-site for a lifetime of 12 hour days.
- Set the example by working from home or leaving the office early regularly. It’s a case of ‘doing as I do not as I say’ when it comes to being an example.
- Talk to the women you have targeted and find out what would make a difference to them in meeting their personal needs, whether that be wellness, children or something else.
Encouragement: The reality is that women tend to believe in themselves and their future capability far less than men. They benefit from people around them that encourage their belief in themselves, and when that comes from their boss, it's even more powerful. No one can excel without believing in themselves, and it only takes one negative comment to destroy someone else's confidence in themselves.
- Set yourself a daily target of thanking and supporting people in your team – especially those who lack confidence.
Network: Women benefit hugely from a network of others to support them. You can help them in creating this network across the organisation. Having your talent develop relationships with people in other functions will pay dividends to the technology team in getting things done, understanding the organisational context and heading off complaints and problems.
- Create forums for women to learn and grow, manage their thinking and identify their future self. An active role model or two in the discussion goes a long way.
Mentoring or coaching: Mentoring or coaching from other people who have opposing strengths or depth of experience will yield great results in your talents performance and their motivation. A lot of what happens in the workplace one to ones is more mentoring and instructions than actual coaching. Coaching creates ownership because the insights come from the coachee and are therefore more powerful and far more likely to be actioned.
- Identify some mentors or coaches, and make sure they are willing and able (give them mentoring or coach training and practice if required)
- Know your team through MBWA – Management by walking around is less attractive to many in technology as we are often introverts. It adds value to attend skip-level meetings with your leaders' teams and drop into key meetings regularly to understand who is doing what and who needs what.
- Create space in your diary each week to spend with your teams and individuals.
Shadowing: Watching your work can add much value to others. Perspective and understanding of stakeholders, budgets, effective working relationships and planning are vital to understanding the context in which leaders operate. It’s an opportunity to create rapport with your talent as well.
- Have one shadow day a fortnight for your talent to spend with you.
- Harness your people support team: Improving pay equity for women is often close to the hearts of the HR function, and they can support with ideas and content for your activities and also assist with measurement.
- Meet with the people support team to review your plan, gain views and identify where they can help.
There are also multiple opportunities to support young women in schools and universities into STEM Careers.
Please identify anything which would fit for your team in this space too.
What gets measured gets managed, so determine what data you can collect and how you will monitor activity to understand you are making progress on mentoring and supporting women in technology.
Measuring the outcomes over time is essential but first, measure the inputs to ensure they occur rather than getting lost in the melee that is sometimes a busy technology team.
Christine Jull is a business leader’s coach. She has over 25 years of leadership and coaching experience in technology and projects. She now focuses on creating outcomes for her clients by harnessing the strength and aspiration of women business leaders. You can contact her via LinkedIn
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