Lessons I Learned From Being a Woman in Tech in the Heart of Silicon Valley
While women held 57 percent of all professional positions in the U.S. in 2014, they filled only 26 percent of tech jobs. Nonetheless, being a woman has never held me back — and it doesn’t have to hamper your career, either.
I come from not one but two male-dominated industries: tech and entertainment. As a pioneer in the digital media revolution starting in the mid-’90s, I was part of the team that launched Apple’s music and entertainment vertical. I also partnered with rocker Todd Rundgren in a side venture to develop the earliest version of a direct artist-to-fan model, PatroNet. Despite the gender gap in tech, I managed these accomplishments well before tech companies took measures to promote internal diversity.
Regardless of the business climate and its slow pace of change, you as a woman can find success here and now if you embrace your strengths. I’m painting with broad strokes here, of course. Not every woman will be talented in every area. My point is, you should play to your unique strengths — don’t try to emulate your male colleagues.
Find your femininity.
We may be tempted to model the behavior of men to more readily find acceptance and success. But this is a huge mistake, as it fails to capitalize on our unique, intrinsically female characteristics.
The workforce doesn’t need more men; it needs more confident and self-assured women playing their own strengths to ensure a productive balance of styles and approaches. Women are often better at both seeing and seizing opportunities to improve their career trajectories by adding unique value with a naturally strong attention to detail and penchant for building strong relationships.
Don’t lose your focus on the details just because male counterparts sometimes cut corners — leverage it and use it to your advantage. To make your mark as a leader, seek out high-visibility projects that excite you, and get involved. Go the extra mile to ensure tasks are handled efficiently and effectively, and you’ll become a valued asset to your team.
What’s more, women often excel at the open, diplomatic communication that creative collaboration demands — a skill I used at Apple by enrolling people from different groups in our complex cross-divisional campaigns. With more teammates taking ownership, these projects were highly successful, and we all felt more invested in the outcomes. Making connections wherever you can to create rapport and build trust with colleagues is always a wise strategy.
Create executive allies who will fight for you and find your posse.
Put your big-girl pants on and get to it, because the right mentors and professional allies can work miracles for your career.
To illustrate, Apple was a pretty political company during most of my time there. The vibe became especially testy when times got tough, leading to regular layoffs. Throughout those times, I had key mentors in management who protected me and enabled me to live another day (for many years) — an acknowledgment that I did good work, established strong relationships, and made myself a valued team member, regardless of my gender.
A senior mentor or trusted adviser can guide you, offer insights on key moves, shield you, and champion your cause. Find one with a great reputation and a clear power base within the company — someone who can actually help, not hinder, you. Once you identify that person, be direct. The best mentors are busy people, and you need to be bold enough to approach someone in a senior position to ask for mentorship.
Also look for ways to add value for people in your ecosystem. When you know what matters to your peers, you can become a reliable go-to resource whom they can count on. Set aside time to meet with colleagues outside the office, perhaps over coffee or a meal. As you learn more about them, really listen and get a sense of how you might be able to help them grow in their own careers in the near term and over time.
It’s all about making and growing connections by constantly feeding and fortifying them. If you invest in relationships from a 360-degree orientation — with managers, mentors, colleagues, sponsors, partners, customers, influencers, and role models — the people who like and believe in you will make a huge difference in your success.
Stay True to Your Strengths.
The gender gap in tech is a popular topic these days. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist — I certainly notice an imbalance in terms of women in senior positions and on boards — but countless women and men are working hard to shift the paradigm.
As more Millennials enter the workforce and grow in their careers, I expect the wage gap to shrink and gender bias to significantly diminish. Younger women now confidently ask for higher salaries and seek higher-level positions — and many succeed. According to one study, junior women’s starting salaries are currently 7 percent higher than those of their junior male counterparts.
What I want to share with all female colleagues — rookies and seasoned pros — who seek to run their own businesses or rise in their fields is: Women can succeed right now, regardless of appearances. We don’t have to wait until demands are met and wage gaps close. When we employ our strengths and build strong alliances with the right people, right where we are, we can do anything we set our minds to.
A highly sought-after consultant, super connector, trusted adviser, celebrity wrangler, and thought leader, Kelli Richards is the CEO of The All Access Group. She facilitates strategic business opportunities in digital distribution among innovative technology companies, talent and media companies, and brands to foster new revenue streams and deliver compelling consumer experiences. As a trusted adviser, she transforms the quality of people’s lives. Kelli is also the author of a bestselling e-book, “The Magic and Moxie of Apple: An Insider’s View.”
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