female data scientist, woman leading team

Women in tech: How to progress to the c-suite

female data scientist, woman leading teamAli Palmer, Partner and Head of the Consumer and Telecommunications Practice at Odgers Interim, offers 5 top tips for female tech leaders looking to secure a c-suite position 

In 2017, PwC published their Women in Tech report. It found only 5% of leadership positions in the UK technology industry were held by women – a statistic that is unlikely to have changed much in the past three years.

For female technology professionals in senior management positions, it can mean having no female peers to turn to for support, suffering from a lack of role models and reporting into all male leadership teams. In short, the woeful underrepresentation of fellow leaders means breaking into the c-suite will be an uphill battle.

It is however, far from being unachievable. With the right approach, c-suite positions can be attained. Here are 5 key practices that successful female technology leaders use to progress their careers:

1. Join professional networks

Building relationships with technology leaders and influencers is a key step in generating career opportunities and developing your own knowledge of what is a rapidly evolving industry. This could be anything from a technology forum to a CIO network. It’s a simple move that will not only build your profile within the industry but will also lead to you becoming recognised within your own organisation as someone who works at bringing external relationships into the business. Make the effort to maintain this network and continuously make a note of who you do and do not know; your next opportunity could be one conversation away.

2. Break into workplace networks

As a senior manager in the technology industry, you’ll be working alongside, and managing, some highly technical individuals. If you’re a non-technical manager, then you’ll need to bridge the technical/non-technical divide that can often exist between management and the front-line. It’s a lesson in resilience made that much more difficult by the gender divide you’re likely to come up against. However, in overcoming this obstacle you will be able to break into the informal groups around the business and get key individuals on your side. This is an important step; securing the respect of the right people will make your transition to the top that much easier.

3. Work with a mentor

A mentor or executive coach is a guiding hand; there to steer you in the right direction and help you progress to the next stage of your career. Their position affords them an objective and more accurate perception of the colleagues and contacts around you; a perception they will share with you. It means they can connect you with the right people and point out colleagues you need to build relationships with, who you shouldn’t build relationships with and who you might need to manage differently. If you’re struggling to find your voice or contribute in senior management meetings, then a mentor that works in the same company can be a critical boost of confidence. They will also have their own networks and personal contacts and as a result will open doors to other opportunities.

4. Become a female role model

If you’re a senior female figure in a technology company then it’s likely you’ll quickly become a role model for other women in the organisation, and possibly the wider industry. This should be embraced; by supporting your female colleagues you will build your own relationships and gain a better understanding of the business you’re working in. Whenever you meet someone new, you should be thinking, “who do I know that it would be good for you to know?” Helping others build connections in this way is one of the best methods of building your own network as people tend to remember those who have created an opportunity for them. What’s more, when it comes to the technology industry there can often be an environment of isolation for female employees which only increases at the senior leadership level. Many successful female leaders have overcome this by championing women in the workplace, leading female leadership programmes and creating female only career groups.

5. Have a voice at the table

Senior management meetings are where you want to be recognised by your peers for the quality of your ideas and your vision for the company. However, you might be one of the only women in the room, putting you at risk of being outspoken by your male counterparts. It’s a challenge that can be overcome with preparation, ensuring you come armed with an opinion for at least one of the points on the agenda and that you’ve done enough prior research to offer an intelligent contribution. You should also cultivate your allies carefully; build a relationship with a fellow senior manager who you know will ask for your opinion or provide support for an idea you have.

In an industry dominated by men, career progression for women is a journey littered with hurdles. However, by adopting these practices, the transition to the c-suite can be made that much more possible. Yet the future of women in technology depends on more than just individuals; it requires an industry-wide effort to address the gender imbalance by encouraging more women to work in technology, championing women in the workplace and supporting more females to take on senior leadership roles.

Ali PalmerAbout the author

Ali Palmer is a Partner and Head of the Consumer and Telecommunications Practice at Odgers Interim – the UK’s largest interim executive headhunting firm. Ali works with tech industry giants including Avanade, Smiths Detection, Colt Technology Services and Nominet UK to place senior leaders across the c-suite and senior management levels.

Ali previously worked in retail banking, specialising in fund and risk management. Prior to joining Odgers Interim, she was a Vice President of a large European Investment Bank. Ali is just as successful outside of the working environment, being the Chairman of her school’s Old Girls’ Society and has recently been appointed as a School Governor at St. Paul’s Boys School.