IWD 2023: How men can, and should, support women in tech
For the first years of my career, I did not quite understand the benefits of attending women-only events. Surely, if 74% of industry professionals are men, I would prevent myself from accessing opportunities if I would only attend women-focused events. This reasoning pushed me towards getting out of my comfort zone and connecting with male professionals who had built the careers I was aspiring to have myself. As a result of not attending women-focused events, of not proactively networking with women, not even one of my mentors identified as being a woman. During some parts of my career, I did not even know any women in tech beyond their social media profiles.
And this is exactly what happens to so many people in the industry. Many would not be able to state off the top of their heads the last woman they had a technical or work-related conversation with.
If you are reading this article, you identify as a man, and you are working in tech, just imagine for a second what it would be like to work in a team of only women, all your mentors are female, and every conversation is driven by their experiences, their ideals, their goals and their lifestyle. How would that make you feel? Probably very isolated.
This is the value of women-focused events. To connect with like-minded people whom most of us usually don’t have a chance of meeting. Most of the engineering teams that I worked with were all men. Having a safe space to connect with other women can make us feel seen and validated in our experiences. And most of all, it increases the likelihood of being considered for opportunities.
The problem is that this is like a cold drop of water on a hot summer day. It won’t do much difference, and any difference that it will make is going to take far longer without additional help.
This is why we need men to become the greatest advocates for women in tech.
Advocating for women and helping to bridge the gender gap in tech is not something done on the side, it is not something that can happen in a day, a week, or a year. Instead, it must become a mindset.
Developing the right mindset for advocating for women
You can make all the difference to someone else’s experience at work and potentially their career by adopting these few changes to your day-to-day interactions. A lot of the suggestions listed below might seem obvious, but without proactively thinking about them, asking yourself every day whether you have done the best you could and holding yourself accountable, they will likely be forgotten.
- Create space for women to speak up
We all have different communication styles. On average, women are more likely to listen first, before they get involved in the conversation or decide to speak up.
Whether on Slack, Zoom calls or in-person work meetings, pay attention to those who are most vocal in the room. In the next conversation, instead of letting the same people lead the topic, invite the women, or any less-vocal members of the group, to share their thoughts first. You are not putting them on display but inviting them to speak up and make them feel seen.
Once they have provided their input to the conversation, it is important to validate their thoughts and build upon them. In case you have a different perspective on the ideas shared, ask the person to elaborate on what drove their thinking before you share your opinion. It is very important not to make assumptions about the ways that the other person came to their conclusions.
I have been in the situation several times where my thoughts were invalidated in some form. Throughout the conversation, it turned out that the other people in the room and I were thinking similarly, but because of the way I expressed my ideas, they concluded that our ideas differed. Bring an open mind and don’t perpetuate this cycle I’ve too often experienced.
- Consider women at every opportunity
Whenever you can share an opportunity with someone else, consider the women in your network first. Yes, this might sound like I am asking you to give women preferential treatment – but hear me out: The number of times the opportunity will still go to a man will outweigh women potentially being over-considered.
This is an example of how easily it can happen. You are at a company offsite, and a few of you want to go get a drink after dinner. Work conversations happen in these informal situations and often build employee relationships and ignite new projects or ideas. Who is in that group?
While this is only one example, it is most likely that whenever opportunities are discussed informally, you will be surrounded by like-minded people. Thus, it really doesn’t hurt to proactively consider women, or diverse peers in general, whenever there are opportunities to connect on a more personal or social level or even during a brainstorming session. Other opportunities include who gets to give the project presentation, take the lead in implementing a new feature, or join a customer call. Given the underrepresentation of women in tech, it is very unlikely that women can be considered more often than men.
- Acknowledge your own biases
Nurse, teacher, doctor, mortgage broker, lawyer, scientist, housekeeper.
For each profession listed above, what person were you picturing? We all grow up with these stereotypes. Instead of ignoring them, it is a lot more effective to acknowledge them.
One of the struggles women in tech face is being the go-to person for the glue work. Glue work is any type of work that needs to be done around the actual job to deliver a feature, finalise a project, or get to the next release.
This work might be talking to stakeholders to gather requirements, updating the documentation, or extracurricular tasks. It is usually the type of work that women are naturally better at, but that does not feed into consideration for promotion. Here is a great article on glue work by Charity Majors.
Taking on glue work takes time away from your actual job, from learning new skills and building the career that you want to have. The next time that your team is dividing responsibilities, pay attention to the glue work and who is being assigned to it or steps up to take care of it. You can make a difference by ensuring the work is rotated between team members.
- Become a mentor
Finally, if you really want to make a difference to women working in tech, become a mentor. Obviously, you cannot just reach out to women in the space and ask them if you can mentor them (that would be perceived as creepy!). However, there are lots and lots of organisations that provide mentoring to women in tech.
You could reach out to:
- Programming bootcamps
- Mentoring organisations – just Google “women tech mentoring <your country or city>”, and you will find a variety of organisations
- Women in your organisation and ask them whether you can help them with anything related to their work, from there, you can establish a mentor-mentee relationship
- Your organisation’s HR team to encourage or drive internal mentorship programs
- Mentoring can take only an hour a week, a small commitment that can make a huge impact on someone’s future.
Whether you agree with the information shared in this post or not, thank you for reading this far. There is a lot of inspirational work done by amazing organisations to help bring more diversity into tech. I highly encourage you to get involved – especially if you identify as a man. The more people who help do the good work, the faster we can increase diversity across the board.