There is no question women are in the minority in tech, from entry-level positions up through management and leadership roles. A 2020 study by the AnitaB.org Institute found that women make up only 28.8% of the tech workforce. The study also showed that women are disproportionately hired at entry-level and are not promoted into management roles.
A McKinsey study, “Women in the Workplace 2021,” noted women account for 48% of entry-level hires but only 41% of first-level managers. Women account for only 16% of senior-level tech jobs and 10% of executive positions, according to the “Quantifying the Gender Gap” study by Entelo.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have the ambition to be leaders in the tech industry. Almost the same percentage of women and men tech workers—62% and 67% respectively—are actively asking for a promotion.
We’ve all heard about the glass ceiling but have you also heard about the broken rung? That is when women are never considered for middle management jobs. For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager level, only 72 women are promoted and hired. This broken rung results in more women getting stuck at the entry-level and fewer becoming managers. Black women and Latinas are more likely to be held back by the broken rung. For every 100 entry-level men promoted to manager level, just 68 Latinas and 58 Black women are promoted. Likewise, for every 100 men hired to a manager level, 57 Latinas and 64 Black women are hired.
That said, we can’t forget the glass ceiling exists. That unseen barrier keeps women, especially minority women, from advancing into C-suite roles. 24% of women who sought these roles indicated that a glass ceiling was in place at their organizations. Hispanic women (34%), African American women (50%), and workers with disabilities (59%) also felt this way.
While the broken rung and the glass ceiling are issues we as women in tech need to address, that doesn’t mean that every woman in tech should manage a team. Management requires a different set of capabilities and experience than the average entry-level tech worker uses daily at work. To paraphrase Julie Zhuo, management is something learned on the job, not necessarily something you can practice in a cubicle.
The job descriptions of most managers are filled with people-oriented tasks and goals, which can be a difficult transition for tech-oriented workers. Managers spend most of their time interacting with their team, not working with tech. Communication and feedback are crucial skills for managers, as well as the ability to be goal-oriented, to make difficult decisions, and to take responsibility for their team.
It is possible to learn management skills before being promoted. Volunteer to lead an ad hoc project team or ask for a stretch project where you manage a group of colleagues. Your employer may offer training classes or webinars that can help you learn management styles and skills. Trade and professional journals, organizations, and consultants are great resources. As you take advantage of these opportunities, make sure you’re communicating with your manager so they are aware of the effort you are putting into building your management skills.
Even while in a non-management level role, you can think and act like a manager. It involves working from a big picture view of your current work. What happens to your outputs? What is the end product? Who is the end-user? How does it help them? How does your work contribute to your employer’s strategic plan? Taking a higher-level view will help you apply strategic thinking and relate to colleagues in other departments. Make a point to practice active listening and effective communication skills with others. Strive for positive, outcome-focused decisions clearly aligned with business strategy.
According to Harvard Business Review, management consists of controlling a group of people to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an ability to influence, motivate, and enable people to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.
Good managers understand the difference between managing and leading. Let’s talk about the qualities that make a good leader.
Leaders are effective communicators
Leaders exhibit compassion
Leaders can make difficult decisions
Leaders have vision
Leaders lead by example
Leaders foster an inclusive environment
As you can see, leadership involves 20,000 feet level strategic thinking, while management tends to involve more real-time and/or tactical activities. Both are crucial to being a great manager. To be an effective manager, learn how to incorporate leadership skills into your management style so you can successfully grow and develop the people you manage.
What Else Should I Know About Management?
Moving into management can feel like you are stepping out in front of a very bright spotlight. You now have a group of people looking to you to tell them what to do, provide feedback on work they’ve already done, help them to develop and hone their skills, and back them up with upper management. It’s a whole new world.
One of the first things Julie Zhuo, Product Design VP at Facebook asks people who are thinking about becoming a manager is this:
Imagine you spend a full day in back-to-back 1:1s talking to people. Does that sound awful or awesome?
According to Zhuo, if that sounds awful, management may not be the best career path. Management means that your perspective shifts from yourself to others. Even though the spotlight is shining on you, the glare is not about you at all. It’s about your team.
The type of person who becomes a great manager genuinely likes working with people. They see problems of employee motivation, personal issues, or unclear alignment as challenging but fulfilling to tackle. The satisfaction comes from watching others shine brightly.
Part of managing people is managing conflict. You are expected to proactively and reactively resolve disputes between your team members, which can be very challenging. An effective manager identifies and addresses small issues before they turn into large conflicts, mitigate conflict if it occurs, and deal with confrontations between team members.
Managers need to know how to successfully delegate. If you are used to being a worker bee, delegating can be difficult at first. Good managers know they can’t do both their new job and their old job. They also know that micro-managing their team will not get the work done quicker or more accurately. And they trust their team to do the work to the best of their ability.
As a manager, you don’t need to know it all. You definitely should not pretend to know it all. The best coaches aren’t the best athletes. The best teachers aren’t the best students. Good managers hire employees who are smarter and more capable in their specific job than they are. Your job is to get better work out of your team than they could have produced without you.
Managing up is another skill new managers need to learn. Being a manager often means you must work with people below you and above you. You need to know how to manage in both directions. Your team is relying on you to communicate their needs and their output to upper management. Good managers learn how their manager likes to communicate, what types of information their manager needs and wants to know, and understand the politics of the office. Office politics can be a minefield for new managers. Tread lightly until you have a better view of the landscape.
Find a Role Model or a Mentor, or Both!
While there are not a lot of choices in the tech industry when it comes to finding a woman to be a mentor, it is worth the effort to try. They’ve been in your shoes and have climbed over the broken rung and maybe even cracked the glass ceiling. These women can be invaluable to you as you learn the management ropes. The best mentors know that we need to carry as we climb. It’s critical to battle the gender inequity in tech.
If you don’t know anyone to be your mentor, spend some time thinking about your previous managers, male or female. Could they be role models? What did you admire about them? How did they treat you? What did they do to earn your trust and respect? What did they teach you? Use these qualities to guide your behavior as a manager.
A woman may still be underrepresented in tech management, but it is a viable path for many professionals. If management is your goal, embrace your unique position and remember you are paving the way for other women and girls to be where you are someday. Hopefully, they won’t have to work as hard to be leaders in the sector.