December 13th, 2012 | 6:00 am

Make Your Voice Heard: How Can Companies Help Women in Tech Achieve Their Career Goals?

filed under Featured, Next Level

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

We are pleased to announce the next phase of our research on women in technology. Help us develop innovative solutions that help women advance while also enabling companies to get the most out of all their employees. Click here to begin our confidential and anonymous 10-minute survey.

At our recent women in technology event last month, our panelists discussed the important ways they managed to climb to the top. Our speakers, all senior women in Managing Director or C-level technology roles, shared their strategies for advancement – like finding male allies, developing an appetite for risk, and showcasing problem solving skills.

Their stories were interesting and inspirational. But afterward, during our networking segment, discussions between panelists and event guests turned up even more questions. Most notably, women wanted to know: “how?”

  • “How do I make sure division leaders remember my name when we’ve gone through three re-orgs in the past three years?”
  • “How can I fulfill my dream of becoming an entrepreneur if I don’t know anything about sales?”
  • “How do you develop rapport with colleagues when all they talk about is sports?”

Certainly, these questions all have very different answers. But a deeper analysis shows that they are really all about the same thing – navigating obstacles.

Obstacles, Risk, and Gender

Obstacles like these become more difficult or entrenched for women in the corporate technology space (or any industry that is male dominated). Because most women in technology are in the definite minority, it is more difficult to establish the relationships that can be the basis of a solid safety net.

For example, volunteering for a big assignment to get the attention of senior managers can be risky if you don’t have supporters backing you up. Similarly, diving head first into sales can be more difficult without a wide network. And while there are plenty of female sports fans, discussions tend to be male focused and male dominated.

Gendered obstacles like these have simple solutions – it’s easy to tell women to “just go for it” or “be fearless.” Raise your hand for that project. Just start selling. Learn to love football. Assimilate.

But the truth is, of course, more complex. Being in the minority means the chances of failure are just a little bit greater. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that the conditions for success are a little harder to achieve. Which leaves women at the junior and mid level wondering “how?” How do I get over these hurdles while maintaining the same momentum for advancement as my peers?

(And adding more dimensions of difference – like being a racial minority or LGBT – makes it that much more challenging to overcome these kinds of obstacles.)

On top of that, many women are experiencing these challenges in a workplace culture that denies they exist. “This is a meritocracy. If you don’t succeed, it’s your own fault.” You can’t wonder why so many women leave the workforce. It’s gaslighting on a mass scale.

Working Toward Solutions

That’s not to say women don’t or shouldn’t take risks. Certainly they do, and that’s why we are seeing incrementally more women advance to leadership in technology. Having visible female leaders and role models is important for female advancement throughout the career hierarchy. But it certainly doesn’t mean sexism is over. In fact, as Tracy Mayor recently pointed out in Comptuerworld, only 12 percent of CIOs in the Fortune 500 are female.

Similarly, efforts designed to get more young people into the technology pipeline at the education level – like this week’s CSEdWeek supported by NCWIT – attempt to address the issue of attracting women into technology. But more work is needed to encourage women to stay in the industry.

The next step in creating a more level playing field for women in technology (and, indeed, in all male dominated work environments) is owning up to the fact that real challenges for women persist when it comes to advancement, not because they are women, but because culture is slow to change and biases are difficult to challenge.

Many companies are beginning the journey of owning up to institutional bias, in order to better to attract, retain, and promote more female technologists. But without knowing the specific challenges and career questions that women face, programs and initiatives wind up being scattershot or ineffective.

That’s why The Glass Hammer (through our research arm Evolved Employer) is launching the next phase of our research into women in technology. We want to identify the specific challenges and needs that women in technology are experiencing in the corporate space. We are asking junior and mid-level women to volunteer 10 minutes of their time to take our short (but detailed) survey on career advancement.

With your help, we can create innovative solutions that help women advance while also enabling companies to get the most out of all their employees. Click here to begin our confidential and anonymous survey: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1105884/The-Glass-Hammer-Women-in-Technology-Survey.

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