Women in cybersecurity and technology roles still often face a fairly uncompromisingly masculine domain so I thought that it might be useful to discuss some important helper roles, some things that leaders can do to help, and also some ways that women can help themselves.
Firstly, I want to clarify some important helper roles in the fight for equality in the workplace:
Mentors are a really helpful sounding board for women. Some folks say that there are various roles that mentors can play, here are three that I like to focus on as a mentor:
- Consultant – provide the voice of experience and guidance for next steps and issues
- Counsellor – listening and provision of constructive feedback
- Cheerleader – provide support and enthusiasm
Personally I have found sponsors to be more valuable than mentors. A sponsor is someone who introduces and supports you from inside the organisation. They advocate for you and provide guidance as to how to navigate the organisation.
Being an ally for women and other minority groups in the workplace is an essential role. In this context it means making a commitment to speaking up for women, and ensuring that women are given the same space as men to prove themselves, to make mistakes, and to grow into roles.
It is probably worth noting that not every woman will feel that they are a member of an oppressed group. But it is also worth noting that women as a group, along with other minorities, have long been subject to systematic oppression.
If you are interested in being an ally it is worth reading up on it – this is a good place to start: https://guidetoallyship.com/. I have been learning a lot about what it means to be a good ally over the past years and continue to learn.
TO BE AN ALLY IS TO…
- Take on the struggle as your own.
- Stand up, even when you feel scared.
- Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it.
- Acknowledge that even though you feel pain, the conversation is not about you.
- Be willing to own your mistakes and de-center yourself.
- Understand that your education is up to you and no one else.
Things that leaders can do
There are several simple things that leaders can do to create a more welcoming environment for women in their workplace:
- Barriers to participation – remove unwarranted barriers to participation, such as unnecessary early morning or late evening meetings.
- Address bias in job advertisements – there are great tools like Gender Decoder that can help to strip out the unconscious masculine coding in job ads.
- Ensure that team language is inclusive – I have had to train myself to say “hey folks” instead of saying “hey guys” (I still do slip up occasionally) – there are some good tips here.
- Ensure that ‘Office Housework’ is shared by everyone – Office housework is what I call the myriad number of small tasks that are not on mission for a specific role. This is things like tidying the table after a meeting, tidying up the kitchen, or unpacking the dishwasher. Do not assume it is women’s work. If it needs doing everyone should pitch in.
- Jokes and banter – if your team is very blokey they may be in the habit of sharing jokes and banter that are not inclusive so you might need to take steps to address this in the workplace.
Things that women can do
Taking rejection & ignoring it
- You will be rejected – sometimes because you are a woman, sometimes for other reasons
- Pick yourself up, regroup and continue
- Resilience counts – a career is a marathon not a sprint
- Take every opportunity to get a 360 degree understanding of yourself
- Ask for feedback
- Reflect on your work, assess dispassionately
- Recognise your strengths and your weaknesses
Office housework – DO NOT DO IT!
These are all those little tasks around the office for which one gets no credit whatsoever – things like cleaning up the meeting room, emptying the dishwasher, or tidying the kitchen. DO NOT DO THEM. Men don’t do them, so why should you?
- People will unconsciously expect women to do it
- It takes time
- It distracts you from your mission
- It adds up over the years
- Find a work support network
- Often friends will not understand your work context
- Sometimes colleagues at work will diverge as you progress
Sponsorship not mentorship
- A sponsor is someone who will advocate on your behalf
- Mentors are helpful but to get ahead a sponsor can be more useful
- Nobody knows how you feel
- Own your success
- Some advise to Fake it until you make it
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- The crucial thing about the imposter syndrome is that there is often clear evidence that you are not an imposter. You have the feeling that you are an imposter but there is evidence that you are not. Check the evidence!
- Don’t panic
- You can (and probably will) have multiple careers