Women should play to their advantage in tech

Go to any tech conference and you can almost count on one hand the number of women attending. Every event acts as a constant reminder of how underrepresented women are in the industry. It is tempting to cover the same ground that has been covered by so many before of how male-dominated the tech industry is and that women should definitely make their voice heard but this doesn’t teach us anything we don’t already know.

Philosophical discussions on how things need to change aside, what we should really be discussing is how we can actually trigger this change and have a real impact on the tech industry. I think that, first and foremost, we need to take a step back and reconsider how we talk about technology in the first place and how we communicate about technology with those around us.

Looking back at my early days in the tech space three decades ago, my technical knowledge was obviously what kick-started my career but not what eventually shaped its course and enabled me to climb up the ranks. What in reality made the difference for me was my ability to communicate complex topics effectively in a clear and uncomplicated way.

In this industry, I have found the tech-savvy often get carried away with the nitty-gritty of technology, and trap themselves in complex technical details while failing to communicate why the technology itself is important and what added value it can provide to an organisation. Women can actually use the techies’ inability to communicate to their advantage and thrive in the tech world.

My experience has shown me that to move forward and advance my career I needed to be able to clearly and concisely articulate (and many times even 'translate') how technology works and its real impact on organisations. Simple as it may sound, this is not an easy task. The business world often gets caught into the hype of successful companies without diving into what actually makes these organisations successful.

I am a firm believer that women are not simply communicators – they are good communicators. Women are good at explaining complex issues and concepts in a much simpler and more accessible way, without their substance being ‘lost in translation’. In fact my argument that women are better communicators than men is scientifically proven. Research conducted over the past 30 years by the University of Maryland School of Medicine backs up this theory.

 It’s a matter of understanding this advantage and making the most of it. Performing technical work like coding is one aspect of women’s career in tech. Another equally important aspect is being able to talk about the impact of that work and making it understood to a wider audience. We cannot forget that communication is an important part of a manager’s role. A senior professional needs to connect with both employees and other executives to explain business goals and how they can be achieved. They need to be able to brief diverse teams and explain processes and targets. Explaining your work and most importantly the impact of your work is an essential part of leadership and an area that women can dominate. 

It is not about how many people you are addressing – it could be 4 or 400 – yet the idea is the same. After years of practice, I see myself as a confident speaker and above all as an effective communicator. This is the feedback I receive from the members of the audience who feel they understand the situation or topic that’s been discussed more clearly thanks to the way I’ve communicated the content. Young women, in particular, frequently ask me how I manage to look confident and relaxed when I’m presenting in front of an audience. I always tend to answer the same way – being prepared and knowing well what you will be talking about are of course the obvious tricks. But what really makes the difference is helping your audience understand the big picture and put together the pieces of the puzzle.

By delving into what is necessary to be successful and providing information that is really valuable to a business in an easily accessible and relatable way, you are in fact making the case for yourself. Good communicators rise up and create the opportunities to advance their careers.

I’m by no means suggesting that communication is the silver bullet. I do, however, believe that women, regardless of their professional backgrounds should make the most of this skill. It will not only tick yet one more box on their skill set but it will also help them stand out from the crowd and make their voice be heard loud and clear.

Colleen is responsible for market planning, strategy and product marketing for Progress’ OpenEdge Business Unit.  She has more than 20 years of enterprise software marketing, sales, and product strategy experience.