Here’s an interesting fact – back when computers first came out, there were more women doing the programing than men. Today though, we have less young women enrolling in computer science at the university level, less women entering technology and related professions as a result, and more women leaving because of the challenges inherent in male dominated workplaces. This leaves less role models at the top, confirming the subconscious biases of women and technology and discouraging even more young women from entering the profession.
This downward spiral has coincided with an upward spiral of power and prestige that technology has garnered over time. As a result, men are predominantly benefitting from its higher wages and independently creating solutions that affect society as a whole. Given the need for far greater diversity in such matters, many institutions and organizations are investing in programs to recruit and retain women in tech. Sadly though, change is slow at best. It appears that something far more fundamental is at play, and understanding it is imperative to helping women enter and advance in a profession that is leading the way into the future.
I have spent many years researching women’s confidence in the workplace, and my findings show that many highly talented and driven women are unable to rise to their full potential because of deep-seated beliefs of inadequacy. These beliefs develop very early on in life, the result of a complex interplay of nature and nurture, and drive individuals to prove their competence through their performance.
What results is self-doubt, playing small and staying within a limited comfort zone for fear of failure. And in the high-stakes and fast-growing world of technology where success is not guaranteed and uncertainty is par for the course, it means that a lot of talented young women are staying out or opting out.
I believe that there is much tech employers can do to support their female staff and mitigate the challenges they face in the workplace such as lack of flexibility, of role models, of professional development. But I also believe that these efforts need to be bolstered with programs to help women develop lasting beliefs of mastery. Unlike competence, which is tightly coupled with performance, mastery is a deep-seated belief of capability that allows individuals to take risks, to step outside their comfort zones, and to learn and grow through the process.
Mastery is essential in the uncertain and complex world we live in – and all the more so in the ever-changing world of technology. Here are 2 ways of building it:
Most women recognize that failing is important for growth. And yet, many of them struggle to take risks that don’t guarantee success precisely because failure surfaces the painful beliefs of inadequacy (while success masks them). One way to overcome the fear of risk-taking is to share the intention to do so with trusted others in order to feel supported. Another is to have role models, even if they are outside the workplace or industry. This is great for two reasons. One, women can learn from what their role models did to rise from challenges and failures. And secondly, they can find strength in the mantra: If she can do it, so can I!
Mastery is also built by reflecting on achievements. Again, most women do not do so because of a legacy of modesty and of downplaying achievements. This leaves ample room to focus on failures and feeds an inner critic that is particularly loud for many high-achieving women. It also doesn’t allow them to appreciate the skills and strengths they have and use them intentionally to their advantage. For women in tech who struggle to feel authentic in their professions, reflecting on achievements and underlying capabilities will help them shift their self-perception and see themselves not only as capable, but also as techie!
The reality is that technology is fast becoming the new medium of communication. The demand for capable professionals is by far greater than the supply, and the influence of the profession has permeated most industries. The best chance women have of bringing an end to the “feminization of poverty” and to become a contributing part of decisions that affect not only our generation but the generations to come, is to enter tech and to rise through it.
Having a sense of mastery is critical to doing so.
About the author: My work is about helping women develop an authentic sense of self-worth. Its grounded in years of psychological research and coaching experience, and based on my pioneering and evidence-based framework called Own Your Voice. www.homairakabir.com