3 Simple Ways to Level the Playing Field

So you're tired of hearing about gender imparity in the workplace and you'd like to see some tangible results?  Follow these 3 simple steps to feel more empowered almost instantaneously. There is no short-term solution, but nothing worthwhile was ever achieved overnight, was it? 

Step One: Strike a pose

Improving your posture is a classic body language hack that every woman in a male-dominated industry can benefit from. Have you ever wondered why the men in your organisation often appear to be more confident, assertive and relaxed than the women?

The science behind confidence is rather simple. Confidence is a mindset managed by two hormones: cortisol and testosterone; and the recipe for success is a combination of low cortisol and high testosterone levels. 

So what does this have to do with women? 

Women produce only about 10% the testosterone of men; and compared to when we're 20, we can expect to produce about half as much testosterone by the time we are 45.  What's worse is that a stress-induced drop in testosterone levels can cause a reduction in energy, mood, muscle mass, sex drive and metabolic rates. That being said, when we produce more testosterone, it improves our energy levels, emotional outlook (mood) and sexual desire. This is why it is known as the 'dominance hormone', and why men are biologically more likely to appear confident. 

Cortisol is the 'fight-or-flight' hormone and it controls our response to stress (both psychological and physical). It's the thing that makes us superhuman.  Our cortisol levels increase when we experience something we are unfamiliar with (i.e. a threat or an uncertainty) and in doing so it shuts down unnecessary bodily functions allowing us to cope with the problem-at-hand more acutely. Gender differences in cortisol secretion and response is inconsistent in research however it is suggested that cortisol levels in men return to normal faster than women. 

Great. So what's the solution? 

Fake it 'till you become it.

Nervous about that upcoming meeting? Put your shoulders back and pick a 'power pose'. Pause and hold for two minutes. Proceed with fierce grace and confidence. 

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist from Harvard, has done numerous studies on gender differences and how to overcome them in the workplace. In her Ted Talk she talks about the effects of 'power posing'. I highly recommend it. 

Step Two: Find a mentor, be a mentor

Ladies, we are stronger in groups.  A consistent issue that is raised at almost every 'women in tech' event is the fact that we lack mentors.  Mentors not only provide us a clearer idea of what we can achieve, but they also become someone we can relate to and a role model to look up to.  They serve as an confidants to help us navigate an industry built by men; one that came with no road map for how to pioneer the uncharted territory, and no armory to quash the tacit obstacles that lie before us (i.e. unconscious bias, stereotypes, etc.). 

The word 'Mentor' was inspired by the adviser (under Athena's guise) that guided young Telemachus in Homer's Odyssey through times of difficulty when his father headed to fight in the Trojan War.   In order to close the gender gap in tech, we need to be more encouraging of one another and channel our inner Athena to bring women to the top with us. 

The extent to which we impart our wisdom and share our stories and experiences with those less experienced than us can have a profound impact on their lives.  As a mentor, you will find value in serving others and more often that not, it will serve you. By demonstrating growth and reflecting on your experiences you stand to learn more about yourself and what you could have done differently.  As a mentee, you stand to gain access to influential social networks and will be accountable to your goals. 

So how do we go about this? 

First let's be clear: you won't reap the benefits of having a mentor overnight, but you certainly could approach someone today to start the process. What is important is to first think about why you want a mentor? What are they going to help you with? You'll find that the more specific you are with what you want to achieve, the more mutually beneficial the relationship will be. 

Start by looking at your own network: who are the women in your day-to-day life: who inspires you? Is there anyone in your office you look up to? Are there any female employees that you think may benefit from your support and guidance? This may be idealistic if your firm is struggling to recruit and retain female employees (many women I have spoken to are the most senior in their organisation or the only woman in a technical position), in which case you can look externally. Go to networking events,  join a mentorship programme or ask your friends and family if they know someone who may be able to point you in the right direction. 

“Mentoring and training women in technology will arguably improve demographic representation in the industry.” -  Sebastian Whale interviewing Martha Lane Fox

That being said, if you feel you really need someone within your organisation to talk to, don't be afraid to ask a male colleague to mentor you. While having female role models are absolutely critical, a mentor doesn't necessarily need to be a female to help you through your journey.  A mentor is someone who needs to lead the change - someone to talk to, someone you can confide in and ask for advice on how to handle novel situations; someone who will equip you with the skills you need to reach your goals.  I think you'd be surprised at the response you'd get from a male colleague if you asked them to mentor you; and, you'd probably open his periphery to the scope of the challenges you (as a woman) face.  Men aren't the problem and they don't need to be 'the solution', but they certainly are a part of the solution.  Let's involve them. 

Step Three: #LeanIn

The final step is as simple as it sounds.

In order to truly see a change in the tech sector, we need to start thinking about gender differently. More than that, we need to start the conversation within our organisations, between both men and women, that will allow us to think differently.  Is there someone in your organisation that needs a boost of confidence, a little encouragement, or to step up to their potential?  Do you need those things?  Now is the time to raise your hand, and raise the hands of those around you. While being in leadership is one thing, the moral of Sandberg’s story is more important than the message: you will not get anywhere by sitting at the side of the table.

Are there girls around you that may be missing opportunities?  Are you doing all you can to support and encourage those around you to reach their potential on a daily basis?

Take 5 minutes today to think about what is holding you back. And now think about how you can give back. 

Together, by #leaningin, we are positioning ourselves within our organisations to reach our potential and in doing so creating more creative, cohesive and supportive organisations that stand to be far more competitive than those that are leaning back.

The world changes with every woman that leans in, but it will change with far greater magnitude as every man leans in, too.  Now is our time: let’s level the playing field.