As someone with a decade or two of work experience in the intersection of media and technology, I am often asked or put in a position of giving advice to people that are earlier in their career paths. (And by ‘people’ I do mean mostly women, yes, as women are the ones who struggle more to make themselves heard, fit, advance… )
So, what do I know now that I had not realised when I started working? What are the ‘shortcuts’ I am trying to pass on?
Above all, the conviction that it is not us, as women, doing something wrong. That we do not need fixing. It is the system that needs fixing, as it was indeed built to favorite another archetype (aka stereotype).
So, everybody should know that a woman’s professional career is in general much more difficult than men’s and that the struggle is not due to a personal weakness or shortcomings. According to studies, it takes women on average 2 years longer to reach the level than a man with the same qualifications.
No single person, man or woman, can correct a whole system all by themselves. But what can we do to improve our own outlook?
1. Dare to ‘want’
The educational and professional system has traditionally kept women away from the most interesting and well-paid jobs, in a way that women, more often than not, do not even dare to think that we can pursue such careers. (According to the most recent study, only 19% of the ICT specialists in the EU are women).
While in reality, we are both necessary and competent for any of those jobs: who is the most suitable to create women’s hygiene products? A mammography method that is both accurate and painless? To eliminate the AI gender biases?
Who can do it better, if not us?
So, the first step is to learn to want things. Against a system that makes it hard for us and pushes us in other directions, we have to start by embracing the possibilities and opportunities of the ICT space.
2. Don’t self-reject
I believe I was way too old when I first dared to apply for my first big tech job – and of course, convinced that they were not going to hire me.
So, I did not apply to get the job – I applied to try my muscles and prepared for every interview as if it was an oral university exam; I aimed at giving my best game, the best impression, to get to know the people that were interviewing me, more about the company. For me, the opportunity was the interview, not the job.
That time, I even got the job. Other times, I didn’t. But every single time, the effort made me a better professional. I increased my knowledge, got new contacts, and learned more about myself – how I react under pressure, my strengths and my weaknesses.
So, yes, nothing happens if we limit ourselves to the spectator’s seat, if we are scared of exposure and trial. Let the others reject you – do not hurry to pre-reject yourselves!
3. Don’t be afraid of learning (yes, Growth mindset)
We should not forget that since birth, we had to learn everything: how to walk, to talk, to write. There is nothing we know that we didn’t learn.
And today this applies more than ever in our professional lives: our generation faces around 35 years of professional lives, which practically means that we are going to have a new profession every ten years, either literally because we will change jobs, or actually because our job will change so much that will have nothing to do with our initial one.
So, our main asset is not what we already know, but being willing to keep learning.
And it is easy: instead of ‘I don’t know’, you just say ‘I can try to learn’.
(This is actually my main trait that I think got me where I am: never hesitating to learn what I do not know. But if I had realised earlier how important asset that was, I would have used it more as a tool for self-advancement).
4. Find your tribe and habitat
If we are being honest, we must admit that not all colleagues or work environments are good. We can all get along. Not everybody deserves our help: I am sure, for example, that you can all bring to your mind at least one colleague who always asks for help, but never gives any.
This is why it is very important to search and chose: search for colleagues that we can work well together. To actively pursue relationships and partnerships that are good for us.
To choose who to trust. Who we are helping and who we need to protect ourselves from.
Remember that every time we say ‘yes’ to something that does not deserve it, we are depriving ourselves of something better.
Our ‘yes’ is valuable and we should not say it easily.
The fastest and easiest way to become better, to achieve more, to improve our weaknesses, is to be socialize and cooperate with people that are better than us.
To learn from people who know more, who are smarter, more experienced, more… anything positive – whether they are men or women!
A compatible and supportive environment is the basic external factor that can help us grow. That’s why it is important to build our own professional family, made of people who support us and that we support back, who trust us and we can trust them.
5. Last but not least? Do it your way
You do not need to become a different person: we are not and we do not need to be all the same. On the contrary, diversity is a must for evolution, for the system to work.
Think about your hand: if all the fingers were the same, it would not be functional. The same applies to our career – what makes us different, makes us special!