5 Must-Know Tips for Aspiring Female Leaders

Female executive representation in tech is woefully behind other sectors, with just 9% of functional executive rolesheld by women compared with a workforce average of 26%. This is despite studies showing women in leadership positions raise an organisation’s likelihood of outperforming in their sector on key profitability and performance metrics – not to mention that a female CEO leads to around a 5% increase in market value.

While support for female leadership in the workplace has increased with time, there is much more scope for improving gender equality in technology. Addressing structural issues around flexible working conditions, the gender pay gap, unconscious gender bias in recruitment, and paid paternity leave are essential.

However, there are also steps women can take in order to put themselves in the best possible trajectory for their careers. We’ve assembled some of the key tips for aspiring female leaders to prepare you for the journey.

1. Embrace Your Strengths

A recent study in the US of top tech leaders showed that throughout their careers they’d received feedback for being quick learners, adaptive and always looking for ways to improve what they or their team did. Both genders also cited “setting a vision” as the most important trait that helped their rise to the top of the corporate ladder. However, the data showed that men ranked higher on capabilities relating to envisoning the future, while women excelled in engaging and energising the organisation.

It may sometimes feel like the tech industry, particularly within startups, is a “bro culture” where one size fits all. But by identifying and capitalising on your strengths, you have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd – for all the right reasons. Overall, women in the workplace are considered better communicators and more likely to seek collaborative working arrangements. It’s important that you acknowledge and embrace your strengths rather than try to be something you’re not.

It’s also worth noting that in the technology sector, not all leaders come from a technical background. Women often doubt their technical capabilities more than men, and can underplay their achievements in interviews. Remember that in a leadership role, you need to be able to have conversations with software engineers or data analysts – not do their job for them.

2. Draw Up a Career Plan and Check It Regularly

Mapping out your future career trajectory, or the path you’re aspiring to, is an important navigational tool as a leader. Start by plotting out where you see yourself in the next two to five years, and then create regular milestones that you can hold yourself to. This may include thinking about what kind of leadership role you want – for example, overseeing a large team or operation compared with a more strategic role.

Career planning doesn’t stop once you’ve entered a management or executive role; it’s a practice that will serve you well throughout your working life. Leaders often find that once they’ve settled into a new role, their focus on immediate tasks and projects detracts from thinking about their long-term direction and why they took on the role in the first place.

Make sure you’re taking time to review your personal goals for a new position and, if necessary, re-examining your game plan periodically. Check in with yourself throughout the year to reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far and record the next steps you want to take. Formalising the process keeps you accountable and helps you track how your current situation aligns with your motives.

3. Perfect Your Leadership Skills

The ability to form networks and gain people’s trust are crucial leadership qualities, so honing your communication skills is a wise investment. Understanding your own communication style can also help determine how to improve and recognise the communication styles of your colleagues.

With the fast pace of changing technologies keeping organisations and leaders on their toes, disruption will only accelerate. That means that soft skills such as flexibility and resilience are also invaluable qualities to cultivate for women in tech.

One of the hallmarks of an effective leader is confidence in their own skills and ideas. Women leaders often struggle with confidence issues (particularly impostor syndrome) and can default to people-pleasing to avoid appearing harsh or domineering. Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal signals you might be giving to others that dilutes your power, e.g., prefacing statements with “I’m sorry, but…” or “This might sound silly, but…”, or waiting to offer your insights and ideas until everyone else has spoken.

The art of leadership includes being assertive while ensuring your team is on board with your vision. Developing a consultative but firm approach to leading people will help empower your colleagues and instil a sense of fairness among your team.

4. Seek Out Suitable Mentors

Mentors can provide immense value to aspiring leaders. Many women IT leaders report having had mentors during their careers, from whom they have received valuable support and education. The right mentor can support you through your job search, career transition, promotion, new project, personal issues or just be a sounding board who gives advice when needed.

A good mentor can be male or female and you can have more than one. Think about the people you look up to professionally and what wisdom they can share with you. Remember to show them gratitude and help them where you can in return.

5. Be Kind to Yourself

‘Self-care’ and self-compassion can fall by the wayside in leadership roles, but it gives you the necessary energy and perspective you need to be an effective leader. Self-care includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with regular breaks from work, exercise, and a nutritious diet. It’s also important to take time out for purely personal activities and spend time with loved ones.

Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing helps you manage the increased stress that comes with leadership roles and reduces the risk of burnout – remember, prevention is better than cure! Use mindfulness as part of your daily work practice to help you navigate challenging situations. And when you make a mistake, try not to focus on what went wrong but what you can learn from it.

Summary

Reaching the leadership level can be a challenge for women, but with self-belief and resilience there’s nothing that can get in your way. Women leaders have the chance to make a real change in IT from a cultural and technical perspective. And cultivating your strengths and seizing opportunities to become a leader in the industry can serve as vital inspiration and role modelling for other women.

At Emanate Technology, we’re passionate about supporting women IT professionals and helping them to grow their careers and become leaders. With years of experience in technology and digital recruitment, we can help you land your next leadership role. To find new opportunities, get in touch with our teams in Brisbane or Canberra.