The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you excel in a male-dominated industry? is written by Colleen Smith, vice president and general manager of OpenEdge at Progress.
As I looked into the audience at a tech conference in Australia recently, I can count on one hand the number of women in attendance. While this wasn’t surprising, I was once again reminded how male dominated the tech industry is.
While my technical knowledge is what kick-started my career in the tech space three decades ago, it wasn’t just those skills that enabled me to work my way through the ranks. In this industry, I have found the tech-savvy often discuss only the nuts and bolts of the technology itself rather than communicating why the technology is important and the business value it can provide. This inability to communicate is a widely accepted perception of those who are technically minded, but it also provides an opportunity for women working in the industry to flex their muscles and let their voices be heard.
I learned early on in my career that to get ahead, I needed to be able to clearly articulate (and in many instances be the one to “translate”) the technology behind what makes the business successful. In my opinion, women tend to have an innate ability to communicate and communicate well. We often also have a knack for explaining complex subjects in an open and uncomplicated manner. Research conducted over the past 30 years by the University of Maryland School of Medicine backs up my theory, confirming that women are, in fact, better communicators than men.
Utilizing these natural communication skills provides women with the edge needed to excel in the tech industry. After all, communication is critically important for managers, who have to connect with both employees and executives to explain business goals and how they can be achieved. Women who can perform technical work like coding and also intelligently talk about the impact of that work are perfectly positioned for leadership roles.
In many different situations, whether I’m speaking in front of four or 400 people, I often hear from audience members that they understand the situation or topic that’s been discussed more clearly thanks to the way I’ve communicated the content. Young women frequently ask why I look so relaxed standing in front of a group and presenting. My answer is always the same – in addition to being prepared and knowing my subject matter (which is of course critical to success in any field) I know that understanding and relaying the big picture is what is necessary to be successful.
By providing information that is valuable to your business in a way that is easy to comprehend, you can differentiate yourself from those that can’t see the forest through the trees. In my own experience, I’ve learned that communication clearly leads to career advancement, and I would recommend that every woman, no matter the industry, work to develop this skill set. It just might help you establish your value in a space that is filled with those inclined to dismiss it.