When I’m asked for advice about how to promote women in technology, my response is typically: “If you want to see more women in tech, you need to start today with your daughters, your nieces, the girls in your neighborhood, the classmates of your sons, and the girls you teach, coach, or mentor. It starts with girls, not women.”
This always brings me back to my own childhood. My parents eagerly anticipated the birth of a bouncing baby boy, and I arrived three weeks later amidst a fireworks display that later earned me the nickname, “firecracker baby.” From that point forward, my parents raised me to embrace every nuance of my personality—they encouraged me to play sports, wear dresses, sing out loud, and pursue every dream and aspiration that crossed my mind. Nothing was off limits or discouraged because I was a girl. I could slay dragons while sporting my Wonder Woman swimsuit and win math competitions while sporting ribbons and braids, and my parents were there cheering me on every step of the way.
Academically, they never steered me towards one subject over another. I was expected to excel in math and science and encouraged to read literature, write poetry, paint canvases, and make music. Born with an innate desire to win, I attacked every pursuit with equal intensity, and it never occurred to me that my interests should align with my gender or that certain endeavors were better suited for my male peers. I still remember wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed, “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” My parents embraced that mindset, and because of that I never doubted myself and the belief that I could achieve anything.
Voices Still Not Heard
Fast forward many years, and here I am working in technology. I’ve led and participated in “Women in Technology” groups at a several companies, and I’m always surprised to hear that women still feel as if their voices aren’t heard among their male colleagues. Over the years, I’ve noticed that personality traits become intertwined with gender: men are analytical, and women are creative; men are assertive, and women are better at building consensus. The list goes on and on. But what’s important is—when we align personality traits with gender, we encourage those traits in one gender and discourage them in another. So, when a woman is assertive, it can be viewed as aggressive. We then start to pit personality traits against each other and struggle to see how someone can be both analytical and creative, regardless of gender. And, ultimately, we allow our assumptions about what and how people should be dictate how we see them.
So, my second piece of advice is this: Take gender off the table and view women and men as the unique individuals they are, resisting the temptation to assign value (negative or positive) to their behaviors and personality. I want to ensure this comes across clearly—just because I see people as individuals, it doesn’t mean I don’t love and appreciate that which makes men and women different. I just don’t think those differences are as black and white as some believe.
It is also why I think it’s so important for businesses to embrace and promote diversity—it’s not just a box to be checked because it’s the right thing to do. When you bring people together from different backgrounds, with opposing points of view and a blend of personalities, that’s where the magic happens—the best ideas are born, innovation thrives, creativity flourishes, and a healthy dose of debate materializes. Bringing together a diverse set of people and personalities is good for business, and it becomes clear that those businesses that embrace diversity are the ones that create winning strategies and change the world. And, at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to win? (Yes, women can be competitive, too)