Making Lemonade out of Gender Bias Lemons


Last week I held a panel with well-known members of the technology community as panelists. The topic was not new: 'What should Women in Technology do to make it to the top?'. We all have beaten this topic to death in the last couple of years. Why do we keep coming back to it? I have experienced bullying and have seen my colleagues discriminated against, so I am still very passionate about this topic.

The objective of this event was to get some insights from the panelists and the room full of technologists who had gone far in their careers. I shared some numbers with the attendees and we all agreed that the picture is rather grim:

Only 19% of CIOs of fortune top 1000 companies in US are women - Korn Ferry International

Only 11% of CIOs of Technology companies in US are women - Korn Ferry International

An average CIO of Fortune 500 company in US is a male, and the list goes on - CIO Journal

It's easy to identify the problem; finding solutions in an hour's time is less straightforward. I am a firm believer of making lemonade out of the lemons that life gives us. So we all attempted to learn from our experts what women in technology - along with their counterparts (#MenInTech, #HeForShe) – can do to stay in our field of high tech, and even grow and move up the org chart.

These strategies to deal with gender bias are not only for women in technology but women across multiple profession and even our women entrepreneur community.

Here are some of the ideas that surfaced during our panel. They fall into two categories:

1) Women take responsibility 2) Managers and Organizations take Responsibility

Women Take Responsibility

If you don't help yourself, know one else is going to step in to rescue you

Don’t develop a victim mentality:

We all know this issue exists; don't let perpetrators get away with it. If you are being bullied/harassed in the work place, raise the issue; don't be silent. If no action is taken, change your job. It can sometimes be as important and helpful to "move out" as "move up".

Find a mentor/sponsor:

You believe in yourself. Now find in your organization (preferably above you in the organization chart) a person who also believes in you, and wants to help you succeed. Regular meetings with a sponsor to discuss how to get around road blocks can really move your career forward.

Don’t fear judgement, be resilient:

We have all been frustrated to see that strong, vocal women can be labeled as "aggressive." This is a particularly pernicious gender bias. When men show aggression, they are rewarded for their "leadership." We are punished for our assertiveness. This leads women to not take up the roles of which they are capable, simply due to fear of being judged. Stop worrying about that! Take a seat at the table and voice your opinion. Sure, you might be interrupted over and over again. Who cares? Keep talking, keep pointing out irrationalities in corporate policy. Don’t give up, don't give in.

Nothing succeeds like success:

go deep on your subject matter. Become a go-to resource in your group. This will change the way you are perceived, and greatly increase your confidence. It will be harder for bullies to isolate and attack you. Too many people depend on you for their answers.

Help other women grow:

If you are one of those lucky women who have made it to the top in their technology field, don't forget to give back by mentoring other women who aspire to be like you.

Entrepreneurs and the Organizations Take Responsibility

Gender bias persists because organizations allow individuals to express that bias. If you are an entrepreneur, make a conscious effort to develop a culture of equality.

Build awareness of gender bias:

As a manager or organization just be a bit more conscious and do not dismiss the issue. Most of the time the issue is completely shoved under the carpet to keep the harmony but at the cost of a woman leaving the tech field. Create a conscious workforce that not only acknowledges the issue but is also ready to take the steps and works towards making the change. Some Strategies

Use technology to remove gender bias:

Sometimes very small steps taken through software can go a long way towards changing organizational culture. For example, in the early stages of the hiring process, remove the names of the applicants from their resumes. Allow an individual's accomplishments to be reviewed, independent of their gender, and thus pre-conceived notions by the evaluator. You will be amazed at the effect this can have. Read More...

Promote Women:

If a young woman entering corporate world only sees men "above" her, she is less likely to believe there is a long-term future for her in the field. Be proactive in identifying potential leaders (either from a technical or personal standpoint) among your female employees. Develop a career plan with them.

Promote open discussion and support groups:

This is the kind of issue that festers and gets worse, when hidden away. When women and men can sit down together to safely talk about gender bias, and maintain a solid working relationship, the chance of gender bias rearing its ugly head will go way down. Organizations are made of individuals. Organizations won't truly be transformed until a large number of its individuals are transformed. Give them unthreatening ways to get the process started.