That women are underrepresented within the tech industry (as well as within general leadership positions) is nothing new. Yet, companies across America and around the world remain stuck, unable to make much of a dent in increasing the number of women in the tech field. XO Group, however, is the exception to the rule, employing 70 percent women and working under a board that's 40 percent female. In an interview with Inc., XO's Executive Vice President of Editorial and Marketing, Dhanusha Sivajee, shared what women can do to change the pattern of male dominance.
What steps can women take to make themselves more comfortable when they're in situations that might make them feel intimidated?
"Whenever there's a new opportunity, either ask to take on the new project or take on that stretch assignment. If one hasn't been put forth, then actually volunteer an idea. I think it then shows the rest of the company, your male counterparts and your leadership that you actually want to impact the bottom line and help pull revenue for the company. And then all eyes are on you. [And by default, you're already working on the thing that everyone cares about].
"[Secondly], make sure you focus on the outcomes and not necessarily the activity. So you can be busy, but did you deliver results? Bringing it back to those outcomes always helps bring the spotlight on your success."
How can you find a balance between the initiatives or stretch assignments you want to promote and still find a place for yourself in everything else that needs to get done?
"Prioritize what you are working on to make sure [they're] the [top 3 to 5] things that [align with your career goals and that will] have the biggest impact. Then, also make sure that you're using those [precious] 3 hours a day that are truly your own to do some of those other things around self-promotion and your own personal activities."
How would you address the issue of people not being able to accurately convey their true skill set, be it because they've never had the opportunity to do so, they think other skills are more desired, etc.?
"Know what you're good at. Investigate what other people think you're good at. And hopefully, the two align. Make sure that that is something everyone else knows about you. Know what your brand is. Then, make sure that that's the thing that you lean into in every meeting, every initiative, because it already comes naturally to you. And if you enjoy it, if it's something that is leading to your success, make sure that it's a thing people know and that you do more of."
How can you get to the point where you feel confident if you don't have a real grasp of just how good you are or can be?
"Gather any and all data you can to back up [decisions], because I think data gives you confidence. [...] Coming in prepared, maybe having practiced some of those questions ahead of time or knowing exactly what you want to say, regardless of where the questions or where the conversation goes, is a good way to insert yourself into meetings or dialogues.
"[Secondly, be] really open to productive conflict and debate. Because if [women] are not comfortable standing up and representing their point of view and challenging others' opinions if they don't agree with it, then I don't think that they're going to move too far up in their career. [And] in order to be innovative, you've got to be able to push boundaries and bring in new thinking."
How can you get ahead without sacrificing the opportunities that are available for other women in your group?
"Informally, they can certainly serve as mentors. Secondly, [they can help through sponsorship]...Third, create programs and initiatives for women in the workplace."
"You should have a diverse set of role models of all shapes and sizes and genders at a company to really move your career forward. Have mentors outside of your company. [...Go] to different networking events. [Meet] women through your network who maybe aren't at your company that can also serve as role models, sponsors [or] mentors."
How can women deal with the isolation that's often present for females working in tech?
"I know what's worked for me over the years is just having that network of women outside [of my company]...just having a peer-to-peer network of women. [If support isn't there internally, create it externally.]"
What's the one thing women need to do every day to make it and be successful?
"Really be true to yourself and make sure that you do the right thing by yourself. Make sure that others know you as being somebody they can trust and rely upon to get the job done. Because the job will change on any given day. The scenario and the industry will change on any given day. But your integrity and reputation won't. Once that's been marred, it's hard to change that. [And] if you want mentors, if you want sponsors, as you move throughout your career, you need people to know who you are and what you're about."
How do you feel when you go into companies/agencies where there isn't as much openness to women? What do you wish you could tell them?
"[To women starting out], put points on the board early [...] to build up your confidence, and to also show others in the room what you're capable of. [...] Make sure that you're displaying those competencies early on. Once you've established that foundation of this is what I'm about, this is how I add value, it's very early to build on [everything else], ask for more resources or ask for more assignments.
"Don't be a leaf that's floating in a river with the wind and the current. Take control of your own career. No one else is going to do it for you.
"[Lastly, to leaders], it's not about hiring women for the sake of hiring women. It's about hiring the best talent...We hire the best talent. It just so happens that 7 out of 10 times, it's happened to be a woman."