Establishing Your Professional Brand as a Woman in Tech
Part 1 of 5 in a series on leadership, community investment & decisive career growth from Capital One’s Women in Tech
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 does your professional brand matter as a woman in tech?
What is your professional brand? Your professional brand is a combination of your skill set, competence, and how you are perceived. Being self aware and intentional about your brand matters for everyone in the tech industry. However, it often carries more weight for women in tech who face the additional challenges of working under stereotypes, biases, and leadership gaps. Traditional gender expectations, confidence gap, and other challenges that women technologists must overcome all influence the elements of their brand-building.
1. Get a better understanding of how you’re perceived
When it comes to establishing your professional brand in tech, it first starts with understanding how you are perceived. Gather feedback from trusted colleagues, friends, and even family members on how they perceive you, your skill set, and your expertise.
Do they see you as someone beginning their career, as a subject matter expert or as a fungible resource? A people leader or an individual contributor? A disruptor or an organizer? Would they turn to you for your technical expertise or entrust you with decision making or both?
To make this feedback gathering process less intimidating and more fun you can leverage an activity like this to gather feedback about yourself. You can also create a similar list with words that resonate with you. Pick one word (or more if you wish to) from a list of personal attributes that best describe you. Now, from the same list, have others pick one word that they think would best describe you.
2. Analyze that feedback in comparison with your self-image
Once you have this feedback, you can run an analysis of it to self-identify where your professional brand stands. Try dividing a sheet of paper into two columns, then list out others' perceptions of you on one side, and your self perceptions on the other. Are there places where they do not line up?
As you uncover the rationale behind the words making up your identity, you can strategize how to make your brand consistent. This is the first step in determining if your brand needs maintenance tweaks or a complete remake. And if your goal is to fully rebrand yourself, focus first on identifying your strengths so you can leverage them to begin the process of making your way from one side to the other.
Personally, I would self-identify as a problem solver because using the latest technologies to solve business problems motivates me. To ensure other people identify me similarly, I’ve started to make it a part of my introduction in broader groups. Below is a template to consider that can make the process of branding or rebranding less stressful. You can also add your branding as adjectives, in addition to your title, on professional networks such as LinkedIn.
Hello, I’m <your name>. I’m a <your title> at <your company>. I consider myself <brand1>
3. Make a plan of action relevant to your career goals
Leverage your brand to promote the value you bring to your team and beyond. Maybe you think of yourself as a Cloud Architect, however your team may consider you a Cloud Practitioner. At this point, maybe working on a proof of concept (POC) that makes your application well managed and fault tolerant would help establish your architect skills. Alternatively, you could also try getting a new certification or learning a new technology/ framework to better brand yourself as a Cloud Architect. Demoing your work in the right forums is another way to promote your brand and engage with the broader developer community.
Be vocal in sharing your perspective and presenting yourself. Take into account the leadership style of your org’ leaders and try to align your goals to your org’s goals.
4. Consider the non-verbal side of your professional brand
There is also a non-verbal aspect that folds into developing your brand that should be taken into consideration in addition to the verbal and written communication aspects. That non-verbal aspect is body language. I became aware of some common body language mistakes upon attending a breakout session on powerful body language at the Grace Hopper Conference in 2016.
The talk captured how “high status” body language -- like expansive posture, direct eye contact, steady and deliberate movements -- is perceived as powerful and “low status” body language -- like contractive posture, wandering eye contact, and fidgeting -- is perceived as powerless. Learning non-verbal communication skills can help us change how we are perceived. Based on that session, I’ve personally learnt to avoid physically shrinking myself to make space for others. I now try to take up the space I need without hesitation. This has helped me portray my confidence, especially during meetings and presentations.
But there are lots of other factors to take into consideration, not just a shrinking posture. Want to learn more on non-verbal communication and body language in professional settings? Check out these resources to amplify the non-verbal side of your brand.
By not bringing my creative side to work, I ended up hiding 50% of who I am and I feel it impeded my career growth. My journey in becoming a leadership coach taught me the skillsets I needed to hone in order to have the courage to share my whole-self at work. This shows in a variety of ways, from turning my video on and sharing my theme based backgrounds, to sporting my wigs (or my mohawk), or sharing a personal story in a purposeful manner. Integrating my whole self at work has definitely enriched my interactions and left me a happier person.
5. Be patient and compassionate on your professional branding journey
As you work through your branding or rebranding journey, make sure you are not too tough on yourself. Do you find yourself aiming for perfection and end up focusing more on weaknesses rather than strengths? Many women do, so you’re not alone. But focusing on perfection can lead to exhaustion, and can also be a confidence killer.
It is very time consuming to always be overly prepared, to make sure you’ve got it all, and to make no mistakes. Playing by your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses, especially during rebranding, gives you an opportunity to achieve success while enjoying yourself and without becoming overwhelmed.
6. Focus on your strengths -- they’ll help keep imposter syndrome at bay
During this process, try to be your most confident self. Focus on what you know and don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you don’t know -- you can always learn new things, master new skills, or find ways to partner with people who complement your knowledge and expertise.
Consider if you are a full stack developer and Python is your preferred programming language and a strong suit for you. But you’ve landed in a role that requires a lot of data analysis. Instead of turning away from the role, you can consider leaning on big data or ETL developers to help you explore PySpark. This is a great opportunity to learn something new, that leverages your core strong suits, and brings your unique talents to the team.
Personally, I find this is the easiest way to overcome impostor syndrome, as it relieves the pressure of having to know everything. As an added bonus, this collaborative route helps establish trust with peers. When I’ve switched domains in my career, I’ve learnt to work collaboratively with the subject matter experts in the new domain while bringing my ideas to the table. This made for a great transition experience and also a quick ramp up time on the new domain.
Never pretend to know-it-all, and don’t be intimidated by people who do know-it-all. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Bring on someone who complements your weaknesses so you benefit from the power of collaboration.
7. Establish trust -- with yourself and others
Another big part of establishing your brand is to create trust as this will solidify all the other rebranding work you’re doing. As part of a local Lean in Circle, I learnt that establishing trust was a key aspect of helping women grow as leaders and lead with meaning. And to gain trust, you need to embrace openness and acceptance of others as well as yourself.
Here are some ways to foster trust at work. In doing so, you can identify ways to help your team develop emotional trust with you. Giving someone their due credit in a team setting, or covering for a peer while they recharge themselves during an ongoing production incident triage call are some ways I’ve learnt to earn trust from my team.
Go forth and build your professional brand!
Know that this isn’t a one and done exercise. You may need to revisit finetuning your personal brand multiple times over the course of your career, especially as you move teams or roles. Being self-aware and intentional about establishing your brand is going to be key. But don’t worry! With the right mindset and planning anyone can use professional branding strategies to help elevate their career as a woman in tech.
As you build relationships, who you know plays an important role. Be sure to connect with others as human beings. It goes a long way in establishing or re-establishing your brand.