CXO

5 pitfalls women tech leaders must avoid

Females climbing the career ladder in tech tend to face some common challenges. Here's how to recognize and avoid them.

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Women climbing the tech career ladder tend to face some common pitfalls that prevent them from reaching their full leadership potential, according to Barbara Annis, founding partner of the Gender Intelligence Group, a leader in gender diversity and inclusive leadership training.

The concept of gender intelligence refers to "an appreciation of the neuroscience that men and women bring in different thinking to the workplace," Annis said. "Often, especially in technology, women feel sometimes forced to fit in, to behave more like a guy. This is about moving beyond the stereotyping, or learning new behaviors that are not authentic."

In the first year of her career as the first woman in sales at Sony, and after winning a sales award, she said her boss told her, "you're good with the clients, but you're not really a team player," and that she lacked assertiveness. He sent her to a training called "Guerilla War Tactics for Women in Business," which aimed to teach women to act as alpha males. "I went back to Sony and applied those tactics," Annis said. "At the end of the year in my feedback my boss said, 'She's become a very dangerous woman.' You fall into this Catch-22."

SEE: How CXOs can develop a diverse workforce (Tech Pro Research)

Annis ultimately became Sony's first female sales manager, earning 14 Outstanding Sales Achievement awards and Sony's MVP award.

Women still struggle to be taken seriously, especially in the tech industry, Annis said. She cited the recent example of two women who started an e-commerce marketplace for artwork, but found they received far less condescension from industry partners after introducing an imaginary co-founder, to whom they gave a male name.

"Women still even today are facing these challenges in technology and other industries around feeling dismissed or excluded," Annis said. "When men learn about gender intelligence, they see the competitive advantage—that we actually need to have that gender balance at all levels, because the diversity of thought that women bring is complementary to men."

The Gender Intelligence Group conducted research involving interviews with 2,000 female leaders. Here are the top five pitfalls women leaders tend to fall into.

1. Talking yourself out of good ideas

Women often come up with smart ideas for their companies, but then spend time dismissing or talking themselves out of those ideas, Annis said.

2. Not negotiating

"Women tend not to make bold requests in terms of negotiating," Annis said. Research shows that men are more likely to negotiate a first offer relative to women, who are more likely to accept without negotiating terms. One 2009 study had men and women negotiate a starting salary for themselves in a simulation. Then, they were asked to negotiate on behalf of someone else.

When the women negotiated for themselves, they asked for an average of $7,000 less than the men did. However, when they negotiated for someone else, they asked for the same amount of money as the men. "Although women are brilliant negotiators when they negotiate for others, it's often harder if they do it for themselves," Annis said.

SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report

3. Falling into the loyalty trap

When women take on a job or a large project, they often assume that if they work long enough and hard enough, their work will be noticed and appreciated, and lead to promotions and raises, Annis said.

"It's that assumption that people will see the quality of your work, where men tend to be much more bold in terms of how they share their accomplishments," she added.

4. Failing to network strategically

While women tend to be strong at networking, they often fail to network strategically, Annis said. For example, if a woman has a project or a five-year plan she wants to achieve, she is less likely to find or reach out to people who can help her advance her goals. Instead, they tend to focus on people they like and relate to, Annis said.

"Women tend to network for relationships, rather than networking for what's missing in their network," Annis said.

5. Not staying the course

In conflictual situations or difficult negotiations, they tend to give up more easily, or decide that their concerns or desires are a waste of time when that it's true, Annis said.

"Stay the course when you are in difficult conversations or difficult situations, and create a win-win," Annis said. "Women are very talented at creating win-wins, but sometimes we don't stay the course."

Overall, women—especially those just starting their careers—need to declare their career and leadership intentions, Annis said. "Nobody's a mind reader," she added. "Really say something like 'I see myself here in five years.' Then involve people, both men and women, in supporting that or making it even more robust. Enlist sponsors for yourself."

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Image: iStockphoto/imtmphoto

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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