When I started my career in tech, I knew I was joining a male-dominated world – one where I knew I would have to deal with gender stereotypes and biases.
Now with over 27 years of experience in tech and mentoring women, I have learned many things that I wish I could tell my younger self.
Take Risks and Question the Status Quo
The most important thing I would say to myself is this: take risks. In my experience, women always have the tendency to think that they are not ready for the job. An oft-cited Hewlett Packard study found that men will apply for jobs that interest them, whereas most women only apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the requirements.
But the fact is this: we grow when we challenge the status quo, push our boundaries, and take risks. While you may not have a particular skill, it’s important to test your limits and reach out for that new challenge. That steep learning curve may seem daunting at first, but that’s exactly what will get you to the next level. Moving out of your comfort zone will break barriers for you, your team, and other women.
Once you’re on the job, it’s important to be visible and speak up, but remember to be your authentic self. Just like leaving your comfort zone, staying true to yourself creates more space for you and other women to be assertive at work.
The second piece of advice is to challenge existing biases. As someone who has sat on hiring boards, I’ve seen firsthand that many leaders tend to have an unconscious similarity bias. They tend to hire people who are similar to them in interests, ethnic background, and other factors.
We need to challenge that in two ways. First, for those of us that are leaders, we must become more aware of our own hiring choices and make a commitment to hire and promote diverse views and skills. As Albert Einstein said, “We must not only learn to tolerate our differences. We must welcome them, as the richness and diversity can lead to true intelligence.”
Second, we need to promote intelligent technologies in our hiring and other talent management processes that can help uproot unconscious bias. For example, SAP SuccessFactors solutions help flag prejudice across different parts of human resources activities including recruiting, compensation, and performance calibration.
Businesses need to increase diversity not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they owe it to their stakeholders. Consider this: Credit Suisse Research Institute found that companies with one or more female board members had higher average ROI and better average growth than companies with male-only boards.
Creating individual and operational change that supports gender – and other forms of – diversity is a win-win for everyone.
Pursue Your Passion
The last piece of advice I would give is pursue your passion. As cliché as it sounds, passion is what will get you ahead. Women tend to have a lot more self-doubt compared to men, which may cause them to second guess their ability to succeed in fields like STEM.
Although women are still highly underrepresented in STEM professions, it is encouraging to see that share steadily grow over the years. As per a U.S. census report, the share of women in STEM increased from 8% in 1970 to 27% in 2019. Women should continue to be role models and continue to encourage more girls to take up careers in STEM. I am glad that I have been actively doing this at home as well as via my mentoring program. For example, I encouraged my elder daughter to pursue her interests in math and science, and she recently completed her master’s degree in data science.
Shutting out self-doubt is easier said than done. But in my experience, if women pour their energy into the things that excite them intellectually and stay focused on the results, it will lead to personal and professional growth.
Finally, looking back on my career, I was fortunate to have fantastic female role models. I admired their grit, energy, desire to make a difference, and their ability to navigate a male-dominated business world. Although I can’t truly give advice to my younger self, I hope through my leadership and mentoring I can pass on the advice and skills that I’ve cultivated to ambitious young women who are ready to leverage their passion and take the risks. The world is ready for them.
Aneesha Shenoy is senior vice president and chief operating officer for SAP Business Technology Platform.