Women tend to be natural-born networkers. From an early age, we have girlfriends with whom we share our lives with, confide in, encourage and support. We cheer on our best friends, we nurture our love ones.
Tapping into that innate ability is key to becoming a great networker.
This was echoed last week at the Wonder Women Tech panel discussion at The Dallas Entrepreneur Center. The 4 women panelists, all of whom have held executive positions with technology companies, are master networkers.
They’ve succeeded in a highly male-dominant industry. Each of their key points led back to the underlying theme of networking effectively. Here is why:
According to a recent LinkedIn study, in 2016 only 28.6% of new hires in technology are women. Only 18.7% of those were hired as leaders. They urged women to not be afraid to call on other women; connect and talk about what each is working on. Offer to connect her with others.
There was much to be learned from the panel, which included:
- Brenda Boehme, Principal, Smart Life Strategists
- Tanis Cornell, Owner/Dallas EWF International, CEO TJC Consulting
- Cynthia Heyn, Founder, SmartNTX
- Tabatha Hill, Director, Technology Governance & Transformation, Capital One
Some of the key points were:
Want to get ahead in your field? Get to know technology.
The four panelists agreed on the metaphor, “since every company delivers its services through technology, every company is thus a technology”. Gain an understanding of how tech drives business and creates impact, be familiar with trends shaping your industry. Don’t be resistant.
As Brenda Boehm said, “Every time there has been an evolution in my field, I was able to be a part of it. It’s part luck and part being willing to jump on the bandwagon.”
The acceleration of tech-driven change is huge; breakthroughs create yet more breakthroughs. CEOs must constantly grapple with this acceleration. There are many courses through MOOCs such as Udemy, Coursera, Saylor, Lynda – constantly be upskilling. One of the biggest issues many CEOs have expressed concern about is the “pace of technology change”. Being a part of the change is a great career accelerator.
There is opportunity in tech.
Cynthia Heyn mentioned that despite more than 55,000 graduates each year, thousands of jobs go unfilled in tech. Engineering is one path, but there are multiple disciplines – cybersecurity, coding, engineering, data scientist – that are needed.
Tanis Cornell encouraged women to consider sales, sales engineering, marketing and other functions that contribute heavily to a tech company’s success.
“Keep on swimming.”
It’s not only difficult to recruit women, but also hard to keep them in tech. Despite the huge need for talent, Tanis cited that more than 50% of women in tech leave it within 10 to 15 years – 56% leave at the “highlight of their careers”, according a Forbes article. Many do so because they feel they can’t balance the demands of family with the demands of the job.
A woman in the audience asked what companies are doing to help with this; it was a good question. Many are offering male maternity-leave and the like, but frankly, it’s still a man’s world. (For example, the latest Cisco demographics showed that out of 71,822 employees, 77% are male.)
The tide is slowly turning; the same LinkedIn study showed a 24.4% increase in women-hires 2008-2016, and as Tanis Cornell mentioned, study after study shows that gender-diverse companies are more profitable.
“It’s been a hard battle, but progress has been made”, Cynthia Heyn said. Tabatha Hill told an inspiring personal story of overcoming fear of open water while training for a triathalon. She would tell herself, “keep on swimming” and swimming is now her favorite part of training.
Encourage girls to explore technology early.
We must reach children early, urged Tabatha Hill. By middle school, 26% of drop out of STEM; there is a push to choose your high school path in middle school. Panel moderator and Wonder Women Tech founder Lisa Mae Brunson mentioned that girls are more likely than boys to say, “our school doesn’t teach us that”, or “I would never think of that”. We’ve all heard the “I’m not good in math” that girls tend to say, but compound this with the pressure to choose a career at such an early age leads many women to not choose technology as a career at all.
Adding to the above paragraph, there are programs that involve kids in technology early. Brenda Boehm cited many initiatives and organizations that are working to bring tech to kids early, such as iCode, Renegades of Code, and Tech EdVentures that aim to foster a love of tech. I am a mentor to a high school girl through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Texas, and share with her what the career-world is like and encourage her to explore technology – not just the hard-tech but also in a the creative and design sense, such as user experience design.
So go out and build your network. A diverse network IS important – women shouldn’t limit themselves to women-only networks, but there is something extra gained from networking with other women and I believe it’s our innate ability to befriend and nurture those relationships. The best networkers are the most authentic networkers who aren’t looking for WIFFM (what’s in it for me?), but to develop a respectful, mutually beneficial relationship.
Be you! We don’t have to be men to succeed.
What makes us great connectors and leaders – is tapping into what sets us apart as women. And settle down, men. By saying that women are great connectors and leaders doesn’t erase that men are as well. Authenticity and embracing diversity is better for all of us.
So network “LikeAGirl” and be YOU.