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Here’s how women in tech can break the bias and be their own advocates

March 30, 2022, 8:50 PM UTC
Women in tech must be their own best advocates, find the right mentors, and learn to command a room.
Cecilie Arcurs - Getty Images

While there’s been meaningful progress, cultural and societal expectations continue to have a dampening effect on the number of women in leadership positions.

Less representation at the executive and board levels creates unique challenges for women. This is magnified in tech, which has traditionally had far fewer women in top management roles.

Some modern organizations are proactively working to address this imbalance, but many women struggle to deal with challenges like unfounded concerns about their technical abilities, being overlooked for opportunities because of gender or biases based on race, age, and appearance, and imposter syndrome that keeps marginalized but well-informed female experts from engaging with peers.

As a woman in the software tech industry for over 20 years, I’ve seen it all firsthand and I’m extremely fortunate to work for a company now that truly provides equal opportunities for all. To help other women succeed in that world, I’d like to share what I’ve learned along the way.

Why the gap in tech?

Back in the early days, the clichéd image of a career in tech entailed a programmer hunched over a desk coding in a dark basement or, in Silicon Valley, a garage. It painted a very anti-social working environment–a stark contrast to the jobs that require a lot of collaboration and communication to which many women are drawn.

While programming is a key career in technology, there are other roles involved, including product management, product marketing, solutions engineering, and solution architecture. These roles require a unique combination of technology know-how, as well as strengths in collaboration, management, written and verbal communication, negotiation, and presentation. Programming itself is becoming more social as well, with the rise of DevOps, DevSecOps, AIOps, MLOps, and other practices.

Although the types of technology careers have expanded over the years, two critical factors keep the “women in tech” numbers from rising. First, there aren’t enough women in the pipeline getting evaluated for these roles. The rest boils down to retention: There aren’t enough women sticking around with long-term goals of climbing the “tech ladder,” compounding the lower numbers of women in the upper echelons of tech companies.

Moreover, women are often faced with choosing between being a “good mother” or a “career woman.” These outdated societal and professional expectations have historically conditioned women into thinking they cannot do both. Women can indeed have both a thriving career and time to devote to family and friends.

All of the extra responsibilities that women take on outside of their job can make it challenging to keep up with the ever-changing tech landscape, which entails getting certifications in emerging technologies, learning new programming languages, etc. Their male counterparts often have more time to focus on the training, certifications, and “tech side projects” that can advance their careers.

Break the bias

It’s not uncommon for women to face the vicious cycle of not having the resources or opportunities to advance, then lacking support when they finally do.

One of the best ways to break the cycle, I’ve found, is to be your own biggest advocate. From intentionally seeking good managers and mentors to actively learning how to command a room, here are a few actionable ways to implement professional development and career-advancing strategies in your day-to-day work life:

Find a mentor

With the right guidance, women have a better opportunity to transform their careers. To this end, it’s important to intentionally seek out a mentorship arrangement that works for your specific needs. This could be someone within your company, like a manager you admire, an expert you cross paths with at a networking event, or even someone you’ve worked with in the past.

With a mentor, you can have an open dialogue about career goals, and they can be a sounding board to discuss approaches to balancing work and life.

Adopt an 80/20 mindset

When it comes to your career, you can look to your mentor or manager for opportunities, but always remember to be your own biggest advocate.

Actively look for opportunities that can have long-term effects on your professional development. Consider the 80/20 mindset when planning your week: 80% of your time is focused on the tasks at hand and 20% on passion projects, different projects that pique your interest, or other career advancement opportunities.

Learn to command a room

Confidence is key. You are intelligent. If you’re not afraid to show your expertise, your peers will listen. It can be daunting at first, but the more you do this the easier it gets.

From my experience, it can be intimidating when you’re one of only a few women in the room. However, if you push through and continue to develop those skills, people will take notice. 

Be proactive about professional development

Find groups that support and promote women in technology, whether it’s within or outside of your current place of work. Some examples include the Grace Hopper Foundation, which connects thousands of women technologists on a global scale; or nonprofits like Women Who Code and Girls Who Code, which aim to support and increase the number of future engineers and women in technology.

Work for a company that aligns with your values

Invest your time in an organization that truly prioritizes values that align with your own. It can make a world of a difference in your career growth. I’m proud to work at a company whose values align with my own.

Specifically, the most important to me include the ability to serve my family (however I define that), as well as playing to win together–which lends itself to giving more opportunities for women to balance work and life.

Create a sustainable future for women in tech

According to IDC, the percentage of women in leadership positions grew from 21% to 24% between 2018 and 2019, which is great, but there’s still room for a lot of improvement.

On the positive side, for many women, the rise in flexible and remote work policies, since 2020, has brought better work/life balance–with nearly two out of three women preferring a remote work environment–at least for now.

The challenges brought on by the pandemic also sparked workplace conversations about improving benefits like child care, leading to more support for working women and the men that stand behind them.

To all women in technology roles: Advocate for yourself, and know that reaching outside of your comfort zone with the support of strong mentors and a company that shares your values can take you far.

Together, we have the power to create a tech ecosystem that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, where the perspectives and skills we bring as women are valued and celebrated.

Priya Rajagopal is the director of product management at Couchbase

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