It’s no secret that there are fewer women working in tech than men.
And while things are getting better, there’s still a lot of work to be done. So, what sort of tangible steps can managers take to create a more welcoming environment for women in tech, and how can they recognize and correct gender bias along the way?
Emily Lyons Soelberg, Vice President, Product Management and Channel Enablement for AT&T’s Internet of Things, has a few ideas on how to do just that.
Though she started out as a literature major, Emily was enthralled by the technology sector early on after a stint at a marketing communications firm that used new technology to market financial services. She embraced that interest, despite her unrelated major, and pursued an MBA from Vanderbilt in eCommerce.
For Emily, it was a natural fit.
“What I really love,” Emily says, “is the intersection of technology and business. Once I was in the business world, I could see how technology could impact companies and businesses, and how they could then bring things to market that would affect end users and consumers.”
Today, Emily and her team figure out not only what products their customers want, but the characteristics and requirements of those products, and how they can bring them to market in a way that sellers and customers understand.
But, it’s not just about being at the forefront of technology. According to Emily, AT&T also encourages women in tech by implementing programs such as employee resource groups, targeted recruiting, coding workshops, mentoring programs, and leadership training.
AT&T uses these programs to ensure that they hire, develop, and support women in tech while creating a pipeline of skilled female talent for leadership roles.
“Women technology leaders make great role models for future leaders, and some of our most critical technology functions are led by strong women,” Emily says.
Recognize Gender Bias
And a big part of helping women leaders advance at AT&T (and elsewhere) is acknowledging that the playing field might not be equal. We’re all familiar with the concept, but we often overlook that it can happen without our even knowing it—in subtle, unconscious ways. Companies, not just the board of directors or management but everyone from the top down, need to be aware of gender bias.
So, evaluate whether you or someone around you is making a choice unaware that gender is attached to it. For instance, would you be more lenient on a female employee who comes in late or leaves early due to childcare issues than you would be a male employee? If so, then take a look at your policies to make sure gender bias isn't playing a role.
Tackling bias, unconscious or not, is a great start. But to really address the problem, we need to understand that this was never a women’s issue alone, it’s everyone’s issue.
Make Sure Everyone Is Heard
Managers should know that there are a wide variety of work styles, and employees have their own means (and volume) of communication.
“I think that applies to everyone, but is certainly something women, and managers of women, should be aware of,” Emily admits.
Being the only woman in the room can be intimidating. Our voices can sometimes get lost, even when we're at the table.
“Being the only woman in a room can be intimidating,” she adds. “This is amplified if you’re also one of the younger people in the room. Layer onto that, that sometimes women are reluctant to speak up unless they feel over-qualified on a topic. Our voices can sometimes get lost, even when we’re at the table. Women need to get out of their comfort zones and speak up. And as leaders, we need to encourage this. Ask the people who aren’t talking what they think. Don't let the loudest voices be the only ones–if someone interrupts or over-talks, pause and allow the woman to finish.”
And it could also be someone who’s introverted or an employee whose second language is English. “How do you get the most diversity of opinion and interest to get the multidimensional aspects of the workforce?” Emily asks.
People need to speak up and really be heard, and managers must encourage those at the proverbial table to use their voice.
Let Employees Lead
Once your employees have found their voices, it’s time to let them be masters of their own destinies.
Sometimes managers are sensitive to employees who are dealing with work-family balance, so they avoid putting those employees (often women) in situations where they would have to do things like travel frequently. And while this is done with the best intent, it unconsciously limits opportunities for women.
So, Emily advises managers to remember that it’s really up to the employee to decide how to balance work and family life. That’s how Emily leads at AT&T, and she’s found that employees thrive when given that autonomy.
So, check your bias at the door, speak up, and take control of your career—that’s not just great advice for women, but for everyone.