Tech opportunity is on the rise, as digital transformation has created the need for skilled tech workers and leaders. Despite this, women only occupy five percent of tech leadership positions – and 20 percent of women over the age of 35 still hold junior positions. So, what’s holding women in tech back?
It seems it’s not enough for women in tech to lean in for opportunities to advance. They need to have the courage to jump into roles they might not feel ready for. That’s the advice from Lynne Doherty, executive vice president of global sales and marketing for McAfee Enterprise Business Group. As a successful tech leader, she knows all too well about the need to be courageous when it comes to advancing.
While working as a director early in her career, Doherty had the chance to apply for a VP role, but her first instinct was to say “no” because she didn’t feel she was ready to advance. With the support (and a little nudge) from a mentor, she ultimately pursued and landed the job, a career move that led to many other opportunities.
Doherty’s hesitation isn’t unique. She says there’s plenty of research to show that women are less likely than their male peers to take risks, which can ultimately create a barrier to advancement. So, what’s her advice for women who want to move forward in tech?
Don’t Count Yourself Out
According to Doherty, women will often self-select out of opportunities because they lack confidence. She admits that had she not had a mentor push her to pursue her first VP role, the opportunity would have been left on the table. She says women need to be willing to raise their hand when opportunities are presented.
“We can be our own biggest barrier when we don’t step up and throw our hat into the ring and take advantage of opportunities that are there,” Doherty explains. While it’s normal to feel insecure, women shouldn’t let that get in their own way of embracing new opportunities. It’s also a misconception that this only occurs at junior levels. Doherty says these feelings can happen at any time during your career, so women need to surround themselves with people who will bolster their confidence.
Don’t Get Intimidated
Not all barriers are self-imposed. The recruitment process itself can cause women to discount themselves when they see job descriptions with requirements that seem unattainable or become involved in an interview process that doesn’t feel inclusive. Doherty says that while diversity is improving, representation takes time, and says recruiters should be mindful of their recruitment language. “Many tech job descriptions are written with a male slant, and it makes a difference in terms of how many people are jumping into leadership roles,” she explains. She cautions women to recognize that job descriptions are written for everything, but that doesn’t mean that you need to have everything noted to pursue the opportunity.
Don’t Go it Alone
Doherty believes mentorship and sponsorship can make all the difference in helping women advance in their technology careers. She’s grateful for the support she received from a mentor who pushed her when she needed it most and who reminded her that she’s just as qualified as anyone for advancement. “It’s interesting to think about the difference one person can make,” she says. For Doherty, connections have been vital as she’s moved up, and that includes having mentors and being a mentor. Yet busy schedules often put mentorship at the bottom of the to-do list. Doherty says women need to work harder to carve time out for mentorship, sponsorship, and career development. “We do a lot of great work for diversity, awareness and women in tech events, but to make a difference, we need people supporting, pushing and elevating women, one person at a time.”
And for women who question whether they’re ready to take their next career step, Doherty says it's normal to feel insecure but that doesn’t mean your answer is not to do it. “Take the risk, jump in and surround yourself with people who can guide and lift you.”