How important is confidence to women looking to work, advance and lead within the technology sector? It may well be the leadership trait that matters most for female technologists determined to advance to the top of their industries and companies. How do I know? I heard it again and again from some talented experts in Seattle last week.
Five very accomplished mobile industry leaders from the Seattle area told me and a crowd of technology pros at ARA’s “Conversations with Women in the Mobile Movement” about the secrets to their success as women in the tech industry. Which trait did we keep returning to throughout the night? Confidence. Competence may be what gets you in the door and on a job but confidence in your work, in yourself, in your vision and in your ideas is what will get you ahead. But don’t take my word for it; read on to find out what the following five mobile technology industry leaders had to say about gaining, growing and giving confidence as women in tech.
Our Seattle Panelists
- Hilary Batsel, Marcom Media Director, Microsoft
- Abha Bhatia, Founder & CEO, Digital TechBox
- Merran Kubalak, Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- Jessica Scheibach, Principal Program Manager, Mobile Apps, Zillow
- Brooke Steger, General Manager, Uber
Mobile Matters Most: Be Confident in Your Mobile Skills
Before we dove deep into the confidence factor, we kicked off by examining three key results from the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey:
- The key role Mobile is playing in digital transformation
- Current skill shortages
- How to address diversity issues in the workforce
According to both panelists and the audience, mobile skills don’t just matter right now in Seattle: they dominate the recruiting landscape as businesses look to expand and transform mobile access and engagement. When businesses talk about digital transformation, mobile is either the focus of the effort or a critical element. The word cloud below, created live by polling the audience, confirms that mobile skills are the most in-demand in the Seattle market today. It is driving digital strategies and efforts. Clearly, anyone with strong mobile skills today should be very confident in her ability to compete for good jobs, sought after promotions and strong compensation.
After we examined the local and corresponding global demand for mobile transformation and skills, we dove into another challenge that is both local and global: how few women are in technology leadership right now. Around the world, only 9% of senior leadership roles are held by women. Right away we were off to the races, discussing what we as an industry and as women tech professionals need to do to get more women engaged and advancing in this important field. As you will see, it begins and ends with increasing, leveraging and encouraging confidence.
Be Confident, Be Firm
It takes serious confidence to set out and build your own firm. Panelist Abha Bhatia, who founded and runs Digital TechBox, the digital platform innovator, shared that being taken seriously was the first challenge she faced as a woman building her own technology business. Counseling the audience of technology professionals in the importance of being self-assured, Bhatia explained how it can sometimes feel that you are making a hard choice between being respected and not liked or being liked and not respected. Taught to be humble growing up, Bhatia described how she had to adjust that tendency in order to lead in IT. Her advice to the audience was to “be yourself but to also be firm.”
Be Direct, Be Confident
Playing off of Bhatia’s point on the importance of being yourself (your firm self) as a female IT leader, Merran Kubalak, Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared how she had to teach people to value her direct approach to communicating and leading. Kubalak explained how she has sometimes been called ‘too direct.” She told the audience she learned to dig up the confidence to challenge the idea that her directness is a fault. For Kubalak, directness is a skill and being purposefully direct has made her a better professional. The message here was to be confident in 1) who you are 2) the knowledge and skills you have 3) the experience you have gained and 4) what you are doing. More women in tech and across business need to speak and act with confidence rather than with caution.
Ask for What You Want
Several audience members had questions about how to get the salaries or promotions they know they deserve as technology professionals. The message from the panel was clear—know your worth, the value of your skills and ask for what you want. There is a high premium for technology talent across the industry, and there is no reason to be underpaid and undervalued in a talent market like today. Sharpen your confidence level, remind yourself of what you bring to the business (experience, skills, performance, etc.) and go ask for what you want. With confidence and a clear case, you will get it.
Confidence Starts with Knowledge
The topic of teaching women and young girls the opportunities and values of a technology career early on was echoed through the evening. Hillary Batsel, Marcom Media Director for Microsoft, shared a story of a time she asked an audience of young women to name some female inventors and the room was silent. No one could name even one. They weren’t being taught that there are women in science, math and innovation.
For Batsel, it was a clear wakeup call that the industry and women across the industry need to work to ensure that young women know that “it’s okay to like math” and “it’s okay to like science.” We gain confidence in ourselves when we see people of similar backgrounds, experience and stories succeeding. Learning about other women who have forged successful careers in science, engineering, math and technology helps other generations of women gain confidence in their own possibilities.
Brooke Steger, General Manager for Uber, agreed that increasing interest in technology is going to require promoting female tech industry role models to people of all ages. Steger emphasized the importance of pushing public schools to require more math classes and encourage and immerse students in these programs. Noting that even areas like marketing are moving into a very analytic, data-driven space, Steger stressed how important and confidence-building it is for women in any area of business to increase their tech skills.
Confidence in Numbers
Panelist Jessica Scheibach, who is a Principal Program Manager of Mobile Apps for Zillow, explained how her “mobile first” company has recognized the need for more women in mobile development and made a concerted, successful effort to boost numbers. One-third of the company’s app development team is made up of women. One element of Zillow’s success in hiring more women technologists has been changing the interview process to try and always include a woman in the interview loop. Women candidates gain confidence in Zillow’s commitment to diversity when it’s reflected in the people they are meeting. It ensures female candidates have the chance to hear the perspective of a woman who is on the inside, knows the culture and does the work.
Contribute with Confidence
Throughout the evening, audience members were reminded that there is more than one way to lead or to innovate in the technology industry. Encouraging women to be creative, bold and individual in the workplace and in their careers, the panel underscored the primary importance of confidently “making your voice heard!”
The event ended with all panelists agreeing that we all—from the very top of IT leadership down to new industry entrants and recent grads—have something important to contribute in the effort to increase the ranks of women in technology. Whether through mentoring, training, promotion, education or advocacy, we can all find ways to forge a better path for rising generations of highly competent and confident female IT professionals.
To learn more about what you can do to promote and advance women in technology, visit ARA and explore how to push for progress in your area.