Lessons Learnt While Working in Technology
Women in technology are underrepresented though happily there is ever-increasingly constructive discussion around the issue. This presents women with a wonderful opportunity to rightfully claim the respect and acknowledgement that their work commands, and for women considering a career in the technology sector to feel empowered to follow their chosen career paths.
Leading the Nano Foundation over the last few years, and having negotiated more than my share of gender-based hurdles, I want to share the lessons I have learned along the way.
“The epiphany? I realised that I didn’t have to ‘compete with men on their own terms’, be ‘as good as any man’, or ‘prove myself in a man’s world’. I didn’t have to do those things because I am not a man and have no wish, or need, to be one.” - Jane McCormick, McCormick Consulting Group
1. Be Driven by your Passion (and Make Mistakes!)
Passion is one of those intangibles that drives an entrepreneur and needs to ooze out of every pore. This passion is infectious enthusiasm that ultimately feeds the energy and drive of every teammate while also being the glue that holds the company together and gets it through the most difficult times.
We at the Nano Foundation have been a team of 12 over the last 3 years and have faced more challenges than most. It is the passion for Nano’s huge global potential with the core principle of an equal and fair global economy, that has kept us going through some of the darkest times.
Work for something or someone that you truly believe in: it is the passion that picks you up when you fail. Therein lies another tit-bit; failure is an absolute necessity (and sometimes the most important part!). Whether it is a missed opportunity that led to something greater down the line or a slip that served as an important lesson or milestone, failure plays a hugely important role in our continually learning; the biggest hurdle in any learning process is the fear of making mistakes!
You can look at someone and think they have everything, but to hear them say that they have failed is an incredible leveller, shows vulnerability, and connecting to what makes us most vulnerable is what makes us human - I don’t think that is said enough in the tech-sector.
2. Speak Up!
Time to get out your megaphone! A necessity in championing women in technology is equalising voices. Whether it is interrupting, mansplaining or having others take credit for your ideas, for those of us in a minority - we all know how prevalent this can be.
Research shows that when women are in the minority, they learn to perceive their gender as an obstacle to success. The glass ceiling hypothesis states that not only is it more difficult for women than for men to be promoted up levels of authority hierarchies within workplaces, but also that the obstacles women face relative to men become greater as they move up the leadership ladder. As a result, they consciously and subconsciously avoid gendered labels and discussions for fear of damaging their reputation, being told that you are over-compensating or ‘playing the victim’.
I can personally attest to that by deciding to enter the blockchain sector with my childhood moniker of George,- my full name is Georgia. Having gone to an all boys boarding school from 7-13 years old (I was the first girl), George came naturally to me. However it was not until Jan 2018 when first entering into the blockchain sector that I consciously decided to use this as a hiding mechanism, in the hope of giving myself the same anonymity enjoyed by the vast majority of those occupying the digital space; in truth I was embarrassed to be singled out and not be ‘one of the boys’. Thankfully, I can say that the sector has evolved since I first joined. No longer do I get the daily phone calls asking to ‘speak to my boss George’ when a female voice answers the phone, for me to emphatically correct them with “This is she”. However ‘Women in Tech’ is a work in progress.
I’ve learnt to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and lean into the latter. You may well be the only woman in the room however the tides are changing. In order to effect change, we need to help more women to grow and have the courage to stick with their chosen path despite being outnumbered while also being their own advocate. We need to be bold, speak up and participate in tech. Results have no gender.
3. Encourage the Next Generation
We need to reframe the conversation around what it means to be a woman in tech. It can range from robotics to gaming to digital marketing. It is important for young women to know that they can have successful and impactful careers in tech without committing to a life of programming (of course that’s an option for any woman to whom it appeals). There are so many other ways you can contribute to cutting-edge technology even in these software-driven times.
To break away from bias, you must make sure you are defined by your work quality and results, not by your gender. Using qualities and areas of strength such as relationship building, empathy, time management and effective communication can be just as powerful as the ironically called ‘hard-skills’ of specific technical knowledge. For those trying to enter into the space, figure out how to position your skills in a way that is relevant to your role and do not under qualify yourself: your confidence and positivity is infectious.
According to a survey, 48% of women said the reason they are underrepresented in technology is due to a lack of mentors; 42% said the lack of female role models in the field hindered their equal representation in the workplace. Women miss out on a lot of high-quality mentoring experiences — especially those that open doors for leadership, growth, and promotion. If you’re a leader in your workplace, mentor and champion women by offering guidance and teaching. Make it your mission to encourage and empower them. Commit to providing equal access to mentoring opportunities, giving actionable advice, helping women network and make key connections, and advocate for them in the workplace as I hope to do.
Written by George Coxon, COO at the Nano Foundation