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IWD 2024: So you want to become a female tech leader? How to make the leap
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

You’re going to read a lot of advice aimed at women in tech and the companies that employ them over the next few days. And although much of it will be useful and grounded in experience, I often find that some suggestions are easier said than done. ‘Fake it till you make it’ can mean that showing up to work as yourself becomes a challenge. Long-term that can have an impact on your enjoyment and wellbeing, which in turn has a huge influence on your chances of career progression.

‘Everyone else has imposter syndrome too’ doesn’t give you much to go on either. 

So while I do believe there’s a place for advice like ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’, I’m sharing a few ideas that, during my career, I’ve found a bit more practical:

Pursue great teams and managers rather than fancy technology or hottest company

Although there’s a certain kudos when it comes to having a big, well-known brand on your CV, you’ll go much further with a company that invests in its people. Look for their commitment to learning and development, how people (and women in particular) progress through the company, and what sort of networks and support are on offer. Check out an organisation’s website to understand whether they have a commitment to women in tech (my current employer’s focus is around providing opportunities for networking, support, and collaboration for example). And use your own network to build connections with people already working there to find out what it’s really like. 

Of course, it’s really important to be proactive when it comes to developing yourself, but I cannot stress enough how poor people development can impact your career and your ability to grow.

Use forums and communities to your advantage

Joining a community - or building your own - can be massively helpful. Whether you’re looking for advice to overcome an immediate challenge, or perhaps later down the line you’re introduced to a new contact who has just the role for you, a community is really valuable. They can even act as a sanity check, which we all need from time to time.

Networks that might have been difficult to find in the past are much more accessible now. There is such great content and support on Instagram, Fishbowl, Reddit etc. Start with the one you feel most comfortable with and put your effort there. Try not to spread yourself too thinly and be prepared to give support too!

Prioritise the people side of technology

Develop your technical skills and knowledge, yes, but business is ultimately about people, and the stronger your people skills, the better equipped you will be when you’re ready to start looking for more senior roles. 

Waiting to develop those skills will make it harder later on, so look for opportunities while you’re in your current role. If line management is out of the question, there are other options. Is there a chance to mentor more junior members of your team, for example? Or perhaps you could lead a project team to help you learn how to motivate, coach and delegate. 

Proactively ask others for development help and guidance 

It can sometimes feel uncomfortable asking people for their advice, especially when it comes to career development. But you aren’t being a burden, you’re advocating for yourself and using the experience of others. I can promise you, it gets easier and more natural the more you do it, and people are normally very happy to share what they’ve learned. 

When you do approach someone for advice, be prepared. Think about what would be most useful for you and use their time well. What do you want to come away with? You own the agenda, you drive the conversation. 

Understand what you have to offer them as well. Perhaps you can support one of their projects. Maybe you’re well-placed to champion a cause that is important to them, or even introduce them to one of your connections.

Know your coping strategies

You will face times of doubt, and ploughing through ‘faking it until you make it’ will only take you so far. What are your coping strategies? Try out different ideas and discover what works for you: power poses, breathing exercises, pre-presentation routines etc. Some people find taking a break from their screen or going for a walk before a big presentation really helps, others prefer loud music or a work-out. It’s completely personal and it can change over time. 

Whatever you discover helps you most, build it into your routine. And check-in with yourself regularly - notice how you’re feeling and whether your coping strategies are still useful or whether it’s time to try something new.

And before I sign off, I have a little advice for companies wanting to attract (and keep) more women in tech roles. Because it isn’t just down to women to turn the dial. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How diverse is your leadership?  
  • Are progression routes clearly visible? 
  • What do you offer for parental leave and is it competitive? 
  • How do you support parents to balance work and home life? 

If the answers aren’t immediately clear, then you probably aren’t doing enough. International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to talk about supporting women and equality, but there are 364 other days this year where taking lasting action would make so much more difference.