How Women Can Succeed in a Male-Dominated Industry Like Tech

Oftentimes, companies hire women for leadership roles during periods of crisis, otherwise known as the 'glass cliff'

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Although the Civil Rights Act was passed almost 50 years ago, the workplace is still far from being a place where men and women exist and are valued equally. This is further exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen nearly 2 million women leave the workforce since 2020, often due to the still-unequal burden of parenting that women experience.

Gender inequality in the workforce is especially felt in the technology sector, where only 26% of the workforce is women. This shouldn’t be surprising due to the stereotype of the “tech bro” across pop culture and the eerily accurate portrayal of top tech companies and character archetypes in the HBO show Silicon Valley. Women, even in fiction, are noticeably absent from these depictions of the tech industry.

Female tech executives tend to be more heavily scrutinized and criticized, especially when their hiring is a last-ditch effort to save a failing company, also known as the “glass cliff.” The glass cliff is the phenomenon of women in leadership roles being more likely than men to achieve these roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the risk of failure is highest. Yahoo’s ex-CEO Marissa Mayer comes to mind.

The question, then, is how can women not only survive but thrive in an unequal workplace? If you’re already a woman in tech or another male-dominated industry, here is some advice for how you can thrive.

Make space, take space

As Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to U.S. Congress, famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Showing up is half the game. If you find that you’re left out of a meeting where you are critical to the discussion or decision-making process, call it out and bring a folding chair to make space for yourself. “Taking space” applies to refusing to be interrupted and finding allies in the room to make sure you are heard.

Vice President Kamala Harris demonstrated this best during the Vice Presidential debates when she replied, “I’m speaking,” in response to former Vice President Mike Pence interrupting her. Another good example to use is: “I respectfully listened to you while you were speaking, I’d like to be shown the same respect.”

Allies are also important in this space and are not always those who are senior to you. They can often redirect the conversation back to you or give proper credit to your previously stated points. Watching out for each other is critical to success.

Drop the ladder down

There are two types of people—those who drop the ladder down behind them and those who pull the ladder up. You can usually spot those who pull the ladder up from giveaways like “I did my time” or “I had to work my way up.” Don’t be the latter ladder-puller.

Beyond climbing up, move about the world in a way that allows others to follow. And once you get to the top, drop the ladder down to help pull up and support other women. They’re likely experiencing the same challenges you did, but now you get to flatten their learning curve through your experience. Pay it forward.

Find your people

Allies can come in all shapes and sizes. Future mentors are just a DM away. We are stronger together, so build your network and draw on the experiences from people you admire.

Diversity is key when creating your personal “board,” and that includes male board members. Choose someone who’s been where you are and where you’re going, reveals blind spots and shines a light on your weaknesses. Fighting for space can be exhausting, but you don’t have to do it alone.

These tips are not exhaustive, of course, but hopefully serve as a starting point. Although gender equality has come so far since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, there’s still so much more work to do. But as the famous World War II-era Rosie the Riveter posters say, “We Can Do It!”

This article is part of a special Voice series, Voices of Tomorrow: A More Equitable Working World for Women in Advertising, intended to educate marketers on how to continue making advances toward equity and supporting women in the workplace, business ventures and male-dominated industries.