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IWD 2024: Empowering women in tech: Four strategies to stay ahead
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

With the theme of this year's IWD being Count Her In, I can't help hoping that she will finally be counted in for her merit and not just as a token gesture.

Over the past decade, in my corporate endeavours, entrepreneurship, and board participation, I have witnessed the all-too-common marginalisation of women—relegated as an afterthought rather than genuinely recognised for their merit. Panels of award nominees predominantly featuring male winners, questionable comments about token female selections, and scepticism directed at women in leadership roles illustrate the uphill battle that women continue to face. 

While progress toward workplace diversity and equality is evident, it often unfolds amidst skeptical sentiments. These experiences are not confined to large corporations alone; as a female founder, I have encountered dismissiveness, particularly in the early stages of my career, and even faced blatant prejudice during my journey into motherhood. I recall one particular incident with a potential male client as he witnessed me heavily pregnant during a pitch for a new business and remarked as I left, "Ok, well, we'll see you in five years." Safe to say, it didn't work out.

And yet, there is countless evidence pointing to the effectiveness of having women in leadership roles. According to Lindsey Taylor Wood, CEO and General Partner at The Helm, Female leaders tend to perform better than all-male teams. They have 35% higher ROIs and 63% higher valuations and generate $0.78 revenue per dollar raised compared to all male teams' $0.31.

I am by no means saying the issue is solely with men. I do not believe this is a male vs female issue. This is a deep-seated conditioning that can often play out just as much, if not more, through female dynamics. There are countless examples, even within the past year, of strong female brands that represent female empowerment (Rhode, Merit Beauty) choosing male CEOs despite a multitude of great female candidates. It is every founder's prerogative to choose their CEO, I just point this out to show that this issue is systemic and often very hard to define.

So why don't women get the credit they deserve despite the evidence to support their excellence? I believe a lot of it comes down to women not having the confidence to self-promote and advocate for themselves. The infamous Hewlett-Packard internal report found that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

This poses a large threat in today's rapidly changing tech landscape. 

Ray Kurzweil, arguably the world's most pre-eminent futurist, says, "We won't experience 100 years of technological advancement in the 21st century, we'll witness in the order of 20,000 years of progress when measured by today's rate of progress. Or about 1,000 times greater rate of change than what was achieved in the 20th century." Change is only getting faster, so it's more important than ever that women embrace change and become comfortable and confident working with emerging technologies even when they are not 100% up to speed on every new development.

As a female founder of a branding & marketing agency, the rate of change in the past two years alone has been mind-boggling. But what I've witnessed is that a lot of it is not as scary or complex as you would initially think. There is a lot of fear around change and AI. According to a "Trust in Artificial Intelligence" study, 42% of individuals fear AI will replace jobs in their area of work. But fearing it is not the right approach. I believe embracing and utilising emerging tech is what will keep you at the forefront.

Here are some of the strategies women in tech can harness to keep abreast of change and stay comfortable in the discomfort:

Set time and budget towards learning and growth
I invest time and money into myself and my team's continuous education and growth. Whether that's taking an hour or two out each week to try out a new tool and see how I could automate my processes or joining industry groups and masterminds to continuously learn. This has been pivotal to the growth of my business.

Don't be afraid to experiment with new services or iterations of your service. 
Beta test and bring the client along on the journey. If you're a copywriter, rather than reject and fear ChatGPT, could you create a new hybrid service where you utilise AI but then do a final edit? You could charge less but increase your volume of work substantially with the time saved. Clients love to know you are at the forefront of new technology and, in my experience, are grateful to be the first to trial a new service or product. 

Keep your team in the loop and encourage feedback. 
Encourage a culture of learning and sharing resources. Our team has a shared Slack channel where we pop in resources we come across, and we learn so much from one another. I also love to network with industry peers. We often do team' lunch and learns' with other agencies to share skills and learn from one another. Collaboration over competition has never been so important.

Work on your own mindset around change 
If you really struggle with fear, maybe it's time to work on your mindset. A growth mindset is so valuable in business and any career. Don't beat yourself up if you notice you have some limiting beliefs about technology and change. You can absolutely work on this with the help of a professional, and I personally believe any time you invest in yourself, it will have a direct impact on your business.

So whilst women are often relegated to box-ticking afterthoughts in professional settings, overcoming this undervaluation requires fostering self-confidence and embracing change in the rapidly evolving tech landscape, emphasising continuous learning, teamwork, and resilience. It is imperative for companies to create an environment that allows women to thrive and contribute effectively in today's ever-changing professional world. Not only because it's the right thing to do, it makes good business sense too.