How women in tech can overcome challenges

Apr 10th, 2018

By Melani French, Executive Head: Business Enablement, DVT Academy

As I sit here and contemplate the title of this article, it is with some surprise that I realise I have never felt negatively affected because I am female in a technology environment. In part, I believe this is due to my mindset – I don’t believe I have to prove myself or my worth because of my gender. This is my personal experience and I am fully aware of the challenges that some women in the industry face.

Fortunately for all of us, the tech world is changing, and the role and contribution of women is changing too.

The importance of diversity is becoming more evident. The more diverse our teams are, the more we are exposed to new ways of solving problems and different ways of thinking. In an environment that supports diversity, women can contribute in an authentic manner. They can be themselves, while being a valuable member of the team.

Our changing world also understands the value of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). I believe we are progressing to a point where EQ will be as important, if not more important, than IQ. Those who score well on EQ are able to manage their emotions. They are better able to understand the emotions of others and have the ability to cheer up or calm down others when needed. They are also able to use the powerful energy of emotions for thinking and problem-solving. The traditional view that emotions have no part to play in the workplace is being replaced by a recognition that a combination of technical skills, emotional intelligence and gender diversity creates the strongest IT and delivery teams.

Each individual’s strengths are different, and it is the combination of these strengths that creates that special magic. At the DVT Academy, we utilise Gallop’s CliftonStrengths assessment (formerly known as StrengthsFinder) and coach our teams to leverage their individual strengths. Without gender diversity, we would not have a strong strength combination and the teams would not be able to reach their high-performance potential.

This is very much part of the Agile way of working, of which I am a strong proponent. Our Agile teams would be out of kilter if there were no women in the mix. Intuitive women who are able to understand the emotions of others make excellent team facilitators, Scrum Masters and team leaders.

The challenge a young woman– and her parents – may face regarding a career choice in IT, and whether she would fare well in the tech environment, can be removed when the young lady is reminded that she will bring something unique to the table.  If we focus our children’s attention on their unique talents and their individuality, we teach them that gender cannot be used against them to make them feel inferior.

For some women, one of the biggest challenges in the tech space is what I call the ‘commander/controller’ management style. The ‘leader’ is not above screaming or shouting at their team members if the team is not performing. This has an opposite effect on those who have a softer spirit and can be quite debilitating.

The concept of servant leadership – where the leader puts the needs of their team first and manages without managing – is part of the Agile approach. Scrum Masters practice servant leadership and I have seen women perform extremely well in these positions. Women are good at facilitating and getting teams to work together as one. Servant leadership is still not that common – but it is changing – and women are playing a big role in this. One of the reasons is because women typically play an enabler role, which does not control others, but rather inspires and motivates, allowing teams to make their own decisions. In a servant leadership context, enablers unlock passion and energy, encourage collaboration and make the workplace meaningful.

In my opinion, women in our industry need not use their energy trying to overcome outdated, stereotypical thinking. They should be their unique, authentic selves, confident that they bring a different depth and distinctive qualities to an employer, their colleagues and their teams. Together with a well-developed EQ and a strong work ethic, this is what counts. Women in this space will act as a catalyst for further evolution in the tech sector, enabling mindsets to shift as the benefits of gender diversity become more and more evident. In this way, the focus will be on the successes we can achieve by working together in diverse teams and there will be a natural falling away of many of the current challenges.