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How Coaching Can Help Women Get Ahead in the Tech Industry

How Coaching Can Help Women Get Ahead in the Tech Industry

Women in technology face well-known barriers to career development. Only 25% of “computing” professionals are women, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, and the percentage shrinks moving up the corporate ladder. In fact, only 11% of executives at Silicon Valley tech companies are women. And the numbers for women of color are even worse.

The causes of this imbalance are many and still debated. They include bias (both conscious and unconscious), structural barriers, and organizational culture. In addition, research has found that women working in traditionally male-dominated industries and functions (like technology) have access to fewer leadership development opportunities than men in those fields.

As a result, while 80% of women in science, engineering, and technology report “loving their work,” the female attrition rate in such fields is higher than it is for men. In “high-tech” industries, they leave at more than twice the rate as men (41% compared to 17%).

What’s a talented woman to do when she feels torn between staying and leaving? What’s her organization to do to make sure she stays?

What is coaching?

Coaching is an increasingly popular strategy used to help talented women build their skills and advance in their careers. Many organizations make the investment themselves in coaching for their “high-potential” employees, and research has shown that coaching can be particularly effective in helping to narrow the gender gap in leadership development.

Coaching is a one-on-one relationship in which a professional coach works with an employee or client to achieve personal professional goals, providing feedback and direction that facilitates improvement. Sometimes, organizations or individuals hire coaches from outside the organization. Increasingly, though, they’re training managers or other employees to serve as coaches inside the organization, especially as a way to support performance or supplement more formal learning and development programs.

[Related: Women’s Advancement in the Law: Small Actions by Male Allies Make a Big Difference]

Benefits for the organization.

In addition to the obvious benefits of demonstrating support and encouragement for female employees, an organization profits (literally) in other ways from providing or supporting coaching for its high-potential women. Coaching improves employee engagement, productivity, and retention, as well as business management and team effectiveness.

As individuals learn to manage relationships better, the entire organization benefits from those improved relationships. Now that organizations are starting to use coaching across levels rather than just for executives, they are building resilience across teams. Coaching also supports recruitment, especially of the ever-in-demand millennial generation.

[Related: Creating Opportunities for Women to Succeed in Male-Dominated Industries]

Benefits for the woman.

So, what specifically happens in those coaching conversations, and how can they help women in tech?

While coaching is not a replacement for therapy, mentoring, or training, it can provide related outcomes and be an important part of a more comprehensive personal and professional development plan. Coaching can support improved leadership, communication, and time management skills, and improve self-confidence, relationships, and work/life balance.

Popular goals include:

  • Working toward a leadership role.
  • Improving professional performance.
  • Improving relationships.
  • Increasing self-confidence.
  • Managing work/life balance.

Sound familiar? Many of these challenges – especially advancing into leadership and managing work/life balance – are common among women in technology.

Recent research revealed promising data about coaching, especially regarding its potential to equalize leadership development access between men and women. In a 2017 survey, men were 50% more likely than women to say their leadership training was “very effective.” However, when respondents reported having received coaching as part of their leadership development, that difference almost disappeared.

If you’re a woman in technology wanting to move into a leadership position, it may be worth finding a coach outside the organization to help you build your skills. However, you may also ask a senior member of your team – one whom you respect and believe has the time and people skills to do the job – to be an informal, on-the-job coach. Make sure this person is willing to coach you and also understands what the role of a coach is (for instance, it’s not the same as a mentor). You might even find that there are people in your organization who have been trained in coaching skills.

If you’re a business leader, especially in tech, who wants to improve gender diversity across your organization, consider bringing in an outside coach, or offering training to managers to help them learn to coach high-potential women. You might find that the costs of losing your female employees far outweigh the costs of coaching them.

[Related: Lessons Learned From Leading a Women's Group for Ten Years]

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Taryn Oesch, CPTM, is an award-winning editor at Training Industry, Inc., an online media and content marketing company for the corporate training sector. As editor, she manages all website content, including planning, editing, writing articles and blog posts, and co-hosting “The Business of Learning,” Training Industry’s podcast. She is the board secretary of The Power of the Dream, Inc., a nonprofit organization working to support inclusive employment and entrepreneurship for individuals in the Triangle, NC area with autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities.

She will be speaking with her colleague Amy DuVernet, Ph.D., CPTM, at the Tech Up for Women Conference in November on this topic. If you're there, come say hi!


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