The gender gap in Silicon Valley continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the technology sector. Indeed, at places like Twitter and Google, gender is split about 70-30 worldwide, in favor of men. In tech roles specifically, this gap widens, with women making up only 16 percent of these jobs globally. These numbers depict a stark reality: The technology industry has failed to close the gender gap, with weaknesses across the board from education to the workforce to salaries.
Recent news and research further accentuates this issue:
- The number of female chief information officers (CIOs) has remained static at 14 percent for a decade, according to a report by research firm Gartner.
- Women start only 3 percent of technology companies, according to a 2013 article on BusinessWeek.com.
- Only 2.7 percent of the 6,517 companies that received venture funding from 2011 to 2013 had female CEOs, according to a Babson study released in September 2014.
While the numbers are bleak, we need to be focused on how to drive change. As a female tech founder, I've seen many of the challenges firsthand and wanted to share the lessons I've learned along the way. Here are my seven tips to help women break the technology glass ceiling:
1. Listen to the Positive Voice Inside.. You have one life. If you have a goal, go for it. People will tell you that you can't do it. Sadly, some will even go out of their way to try and stop you. Be persistent. From a young age, I had a positive voice inside telling me I could do whatever I set my mind to do -- and I did it. You can, too. Think about who you want to be, evolve, and become that person.
2. Forget "Lean In." You Need to Charge In.. While I appreciate the headway Sheryl Sandberg is making on behalf of women, I don't believe it's enough to "lean in." Frankly, most women don't have the luxury to "lean." They may not have the ideal background, be of the right pedigree, or hold the right connections. Is leaning in enough for these women? No. Women need to take charge of their own destiny, lead the way where others are afraid to go, and make their dreams come true.
3. Don't Accept Being Labeled.. I love Sandberg's plea to do away with the word "bossy." Many young women are called "bossy" for simply being determined and intelligent. Unfortunately, this pattern exists today. This is wrong. Parents and teachers need to stop unfairly labeling girls as "bossy" when they exhibit these leadership traits.
The reality is women make great leaders. The best in fact, according to research by Zenger and Folkman. In their study of 7,280 leaders, women outscored men in all but one of the 16 leadership competencies measured, including taking initiative and driving for results.
4. Heed the Advice of Roosevelt: Don't Let Fear Govern You. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The path to success will not be lined with roses. It will be hard, and you will encounter fear. Press through it. Take leaps of faith. I remember joining business groups when I was either the only woman or one of few in a group of 100 men. These experiences can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, I stayed the course and, ultimately, forged great connections and friendships.
5. Build Your Support Network. Regardless of gender, striving for success in any field or building a company from the ground up is never easy. We all need supporters along the way. This is magnified when you are female. Rely on the small support network you have and look for ways to build it. There are other women trying to do the same thing you are. There are progressive men. Tap into all of these. You don't have to go it alone.
6. Be Ready to Make Sacrifices. All career women juggle a lot, and mothers with demanding careers juggle even more. Top this off with the reality that in technology we're still trying to fit in, prove ourselves, and advance, and it can seem downright impossible. Be prepared to make sacrifices. If you are single, for example, you may have a romantic partner but little time for friends, or your dating life may barely exist while you get a company off the ground. If you are a mom, you may put your family first but your friendships on hold, which leads me to my next point...
7. Own Your Choices. People, including your family and friends, will question what you do or why you work so hard. Be comfortable with your choices. Make sure you're doing things for the right reasons. If striving for the highest level of success is what you want to do, then, as the famous Nike ad says, "Just Do It!" Don't waste precious time and energy explaining yourself or fostering relationships with people who question or criticize you. Surround yourself with people who support you, and go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
The Bottom Line:
One by one, let's change the paradigm and create an even more vibrant technology sector. Technology is driving our world, and there is not only an opportunity but a need for women to help shape the industry. Let's dare to dream, pull together, charge in, and help engineer a better future.