Stand out for all the right reasons.
By Liza Daly (CTO, Safari)
Sick of hearing about how women face huge obstacles in male-dominated fields like technology? What about the flip-side of the argument?
I believe that our unique perspectives and experiences can unlock hidden opportunities. Based on my experience in startups, corporations and consultancies, I’ve shared techniques that can invert or avoid obstacles caused by bias, and even provide competitive advantages. Here are just four:
1. Specialize in a Women-Dominated Industry
In my startup and consulting practice, I focused on publishing technology. Publishing is a tough industry for a high-growth startup in the Silicon Valley mold, but it is undergoing rapid change and uncertainty, creating an opportunity for innovation.
Many industries historically well-represented by women are undergoing similar transitions, including education, fashion, healthcare and many nonprofit sectors. These industries are plagued by vendors who prey on that uncertainty by aggressively marketing products with dubious value.
This is a perfect opportunity for women consultants and small business owners to build reputations based on trustworthy, sound advice. If you’re meeting with women decision-makers, you have a leg up in building that trust — you’ll leapfrog over vendors using tired old marketing techniques that appeal to the old-boys network, and add real value to industries in transition.
2. Be Visible and Memorable
It can feel lonely and uncomfortable to be so unlike one’s peers, but standing out can be a competitive advantage in the attention economy. You have to prove yourself worthy of notice — and overcome initial biases undermining your credibility — but once you’ve established a beachhead you’ll have an advantage over the anonymous masses.
Even if you don’t win every job or client, you’ll leave behind an impression, and it’s all the more important that it be positive. If you’re the hundredth guy in a business suit, you’re probably forgotten the minute you walk out the door, but the rare woman in the field will be remembered – you may get a chance to successfully revisit those relationships in the future.
And thanks to increasing pressure to provide diversity in conference presenters, there’s more opportunity than ever to get in front of an audience and make that critical first impression.
3. Leverage Your “Jerk Filter”
Let’s face it: a man who won’t work with a woman is probably not a great man to work with anyway. In my experience, sexism goes hand-in-hand with other forms of bias, not to mention insecurity and egotism.
The tech industry is full of jerks of all stripes, and the potential for wealth attracts them like flies. Weeding out the losers early means you’ll be focusing your valuable time and attention on those who deserve it — allies who can become part of your lifelong professional network.
The value of that network lies in its strength, not its scale. And there’s ample reward for those who can nurture and sustain professional ties.
4. Lift Others up Behind You
Accommodations benefit everyone: ramps designed for wheelchairs are great for strollers and shopping carts, too.
As a woman, you’re uniquely positioned to understand challenges faced by other underrepresented groups in technology: those with disabilities, or ethnic and racial minorities (or any of the above!) By taking a broad view on who can be a technologist, you can capitalize on others’ myopia, and build a team or a company with great talent that might be overlooked.
While diversity isn’t the responsibility of the minority, small effort on your part to reduce bias in hiring or promotion can ripple through the organization. Sometimes all well-meaning managers and CEOs need is a push in the right direction — after all, they want more great employees like you, right?
In your opinion, which other skills give founders a competitive advantage?
Photo credit: Solomiya Trylovska via Shutterstock.
About the guest blogger: Liza Daly is the CTO at Safari, where professionals go to learn the technology, business, and leadership skills they need to have a remarkable career. Liza joined Safari via the acquisition of her digital publishing companies and was given a mandate to build a modern technology team to transform the business. She has been a software engineer, entrepreneur, and technical manager at both startups and larger organizations. She’s made her home and career in the Boston area and is active in the digital art and open source communities.