I recently had the opportunity to interview and learn more about Dr. Melanie Polkosky and her views and recommendations for helping women survive and thrive in the technology industry.
I really recommend you listen to the 20-minute interview – find it here – Dr. Melanie Polkosky – A Tech Savvy Woman. Below are a few highlights from our conversation.
Melanie talks about the two critical gotchas for women in tech: the pipeline and the trap door.
There just aren’t enough women considering a career in tech which means the pipeline is not full. For those women who do pursue a career in tech the statistics show that once a woman hits 35 +/- she exits from the field causing there to be a trapdoor effect.
So I asked for her thoughts on how we might get women to stay in their technology positions and seek advancement opportunities. Melanie said that we have to get company leaders and women to understand the fact that the culture is not conducive to a long career for women.
They are faced with:
- Long working hours
- There is often unexpected and frequent travel taking employees away from their homes without notice causing challenges for juggling family obligations
- Often the day-to-day culture is in crisis mode which keeps stress levels high
So, what are some tactics that women faced with these cultural issues can do?
Melanie views the situation as a two-pronged opportunity:
- Companies need to understand the cultural issues and how it impacts the daily lives of their employees. Often companies appear to be very diverse however, when you closely examine the top leadership that is where diversity ends. Culture is created and disseminated from the top down and if the top leaders are white males, the question becomes, how understanding are they of the needs of all their employees?
- Women need to understand how they respond to the culture within their company. Those women who become angry by the work culture tend to do better because they begin to mirror the same responses as their male counterparts. Melanie coaches those women who tend to internalize their response to the culture; helping them develop their confidence and strength to survive in the male dominated world.
In the second half of the interview, Melanie goes into detail about how the experienced women in tech can best survive the stressful environment.
- Be aware. What is the company culture? What energy do you personally bring to the company?
- What triggers negative responses? What do my responses tell me about the culture; which experiences make me angry, and which help me thrive?
- What is this experience teaching me? What do I need to thrive in this environment?
Melanie explained that she lasted ten years longer than most women in tech and attributes her long success to the fact that she had a coach who supported and encourage and challenged her along the way.
Melanie stresses that women in tech need to closely examine how they define success – what is important to them. It may not be the traditional straight line to the top but in fact, may involve a few detours that provide additional learning and opportunities along the way.
JJ DiGeronimo — the president of Tech Savvy Women — is a speaker, author, and thought leader for women in tech and girls and STEM. Through her work, JJ empowers professional women and consults with senior executives on strategies to retain and attract women in technology to increase thought and leadership diversity within organizations.
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