Career advancement tips for women in tech
Part 2 of 5 in a series on leadership, community investment & decisive career growth from Capital One’s Women in Tech
September 20, 2021 9 min read
According to a recent LinkedIn survey, we are starting to see gender parity across many of the top 15 rising job categories. However, some of the hottest new tech roles are not on that list. How we, as women in tech, lead over the next few years will be crucial in bridging the gender gap in these technology fields. To help answer how we can make these changes on both a personal and industry level, I’ve talked to some of my colleagues at Capital One, to create a five-blog series on how to lead as women in tech.
Why your approach to career advancement can matter as a woman in tech
Career advancement can be a strong motivator. There are several beneficial outcomes that are usually associated with it -- be it monetary gains, personal satisfaction, taking on additional responsibilities, getting involved with research projects, or qualifying for newer engagements. Career advancement can also help associates stay satisfied and happy with their jobs, and can prevent the dreaded feeling of being stuck. After all, no one in tech wants to be doing the same things over and over again. It’s simply not challenging or rewarding enough.
For women in tech, career advancement can also mean paving the way for other women to follow. Chances are that you are more likely to aim for a role you’ve seen other women in as it may seem relatable and achievable. This has always been true for me and I was fortunate to always have women leaders to look up to in the organizations I’ve worked in.
How to approach career advancement as women in tech
1. Remember that self-doubt is often not grounded in reality
According to a recent study, women are more selective or hesitant than men when applying to new jobs. You have probably seen the statistics around men applying for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, while women do so when they meet 100% of the qualifications. If you tend to self-doubt yourself and feel unsure if you’re ready to take on a stretch role or new opportunity, know that you’re not alone.
Feeling this way isn’t because you and your fellow women in tech are less skilled or talented; it’s probably due to a thought process that reinforces that staying the course and delivering good work will earn recognition and opportunities on its own. Learning to speak up for yourself and express interest in the projects you want to take on, including opportunities at the next level, is a good career skill to develop for any woman in tech. Here are 4 ways to quiet that doubtful inner voice and start believing in yourself that I have found particularly helpful.
Be Proactive and take on responsibilities you are offered even when you don’t think you are 100% ready. Trust your instincts and those of your mentors and leaders. They wouldn’t put you up for it if they didn't think you would be successful.
2. Play to your strengths, but don’t be limited by them
Like I mentioned in my previous blog, focusing on your strengths helps establish your brand. Playing to your strengths can also help with identifying opportunities for improvement. Let’s say you are very detail-oriented and as a result you are good at getting to the root cause of a given problem very quickly and driving a flawless execution for a bug fix if needed. However, you need help elevating the situation and mobilizing resources when there are issues to fix.
Always being detail-oriented may limit you from flexing your influencing muscles. To start working on areas of opportunity, you may need to take a step back on the areas that are your strengths. Do this by identifying any limiting behaviors that keep you from being successful. Again, these behaviors may in reality be some of your core strengths. The key is not to eliminate these behaviors altogether, but to find a balance where you can pair your natural strengths with your goal strengths.
Try identifying the top 2-3 limiting factors that you think are keeping you from achieving your goals. Then brainstorm on ways to redirect or minimize them so they’re not getting in your way to being successful. Personally, realizing it was both a strength and weakness to pick up cues from the environment like a radar dish was game changing for me. Since then, I’ve learnt to exercise control over reading the visual cues in situations where I don’t need that information. Small habits like dialing in via phone vs. taking video calls or taking a short walk before an important meeting to clear my head have helped me practise turning this off when it isn’t needed. This has helped keep information overload at bay, and prevented me from getting overwhelmed in stressful situations.
3. Be your own best self advocate
In one-on-one meetings with your leaders or partners, make sure to take some time to pitch your ideas or your team’s ideas because if you don’t, no one else will. Talk about the new design approach you’ve been noodling over, suggest an alternative solution which you think would be better aligned to your organization’s strategy, or elevate the significant gains and value proposition your team achieves by addressing tech debt. Here are 5 Steps women can take to self advocate for themselves. Learn these and put them to work in your own career.
Women also tend to be very modest while writing their self appraisals or while asking for promotions. Take a third party approach while writing your self-appraisals or accomplishments. Give yourself a different name if that helps and advocate for yourself as you would for others. Here’s a snippet from a template that I leveraged during my last self appraisal.
<Jane Doe> is an exceptional <Technology> and <People> Leader, who can turn complex business and technology problems into clear, actionable recommendations and work across a highly matrixed team structure across the department, to build mission-critical solutions.
Some other tips to consider when writing an effective self evaluation:
- Include results from your learning goals in addition to organizational goals. This demonstrates how you were able to learn new tech in addition to delivering results using current technologies.
- Compare your roles and responsibilities to your recent performance. This helps you identify where you’ve excelled and where you have opportunities to grow.
- Leverage the STAR format and performance oriented action verbs while compiling your list of accomplishments.
Take a hard look at your current role periodically and ask yourself ‘Am I happy?’ and ‘Do I feel valued?’ If you are not satisfied with the answer, take the time to seek changes. Invest in yourself because you're worth it.
4. Master the performance review process
Don’t view Performance Management as a black box. Understand it and study how it works in your company and team so you know how to prove your performance and get ahead. Attend your company’s Performance Management overview sessions, or talk to your manager and peers to gather the details around the review process. Then use these inputs to create a personal roadmap of your career.
Categorize date-driven efforts like driving new or existing projects, scaling your applications to meet future requirements, or recruiting new engineers for high priority roles. Other efforts like contributing to open source projects, volunteering for internal or external tech events such as meetups or conferences, learning new technologies or even writing tech blogs can also have a place on your career roadmap.
Once you have your roadmap and understand the benchmarks for your next level, put yourself out there and give it your best. You need to see yourself at that level before others start to see you there. In this process, if you think you’ve given it your best and still get passed on for a promotion - don’t give up. Give yourself some time to get over the disappointment and then move on to reassess your priorities and new strategy.
What if a promotion isn’t what you are looking for? What if the responsibilities at the next level aren't aligned with what you would want to be doing? You can still advance your career and broaden your impact. Here are 3 ways to advance your career that aren’t promotion.
If you get a promotion without you having had to talk about or act on it, typically it is a few years too late. Own your career. Stop being silent about your accomplishments and go ask for what you want…whether it is a promotion, or that next exciting project.
5. Eliminate uncertainty that stems after a promotion
Once you are promoted, understand what defines success at your new level. The biggest challenge to new manager-leaders is to resist their urge to roll up their sleeves and exercise their technical skills. It can also be hard to know what success looks like after a promotion, especially at the more senior levels. You may be stepping out of your comfort zone and there could be anxiety, fear and uncertainty alongside all the excitement. I recommend working with a mentor or coach who’s been through a similar journey and seek their help to formulate your strategy.
One tip that I applied after my promotion to people manager was to do less of what I was already good at and shift gears to something I wanted to become good at. An example might look something like this - Let’s say you have led a flawless execution of a major release within your team that earned you a promotion. You may have led several design sessions, performed numerous code reviews, and collaborated with your product partners on bug fixes. At your new level, it may be naturally tempting to use the same strategies to drive and deliver results - but it may end up being counterproductive. As an effective leader, you need to facilitate and orchestrate your team’s performance. This might mean you need to figure out the best person to do a particular job and let them do it. So instead of doing all the things you did well earlier, your task is now to find and coach people who can drive similar or better results.
Go forth and work on your approach to career advancement!
Dare to fail and pick yourself up again. If or when you fail - don’t overthink, dwell on it, or doubt yourself. And, most importantly, don’t let that stop you from trying again. Learn from your career setbacks just as you would learn from error messages while building out a software application. Research the root cause, strategize how to overcome it, and apply the fix as you rebuild.
As you excel at what you do, your work speaks for itself and trust is established.
I want to thank Sesha, Michele, Lakshmi and Gayathri for their help with this article. Stay tuned for the next installment in this five-part series–How to Increase Your Sphere of Influence as Women in Tech.