“There is only one way to look at things, till someone shows you how to look at them with different eyes” – Pablo Picasso
The IT industry is a lovely place to be in and as I wrote in my last blog, I firmly believe we need more women, meaning female characteristics, since diversity will accelerate the transformation and support in creating high performing teams.
The positive trend I witness is that more and more organizations are sincerely taking this diversity element into account in their recruitment process.
But why is it that we still feel that this transformation, this change, is going slow? Women still doubt whether IT is the place to be and the moment women are part of the team the real change is not always felt.
I have an observation I like to share, which I think is the key to unlock the real change and make this men’s world more diverse.
The key, ladies, is us.
To explain why, I will tell you my story.
When I started in IT, years ago, I was one of the first women being on the most technical side of the IT house, which was of course filled with men and I mean MEN. It was a ‘gang’, with a lot of masculine energy, competition and humor.
To be part of the ‘team’, I was watching them, their work, their language, their behavior, the group dynamics and joined in quite easily and I loved it. I always felt very comfortable among men, since from of my childhood you could find me hanging out with boys, so it was not that difficult for me to fit in and be part of this men’s world.
Some years later when I was leading an IT operations team one of my senior IT specialists came to me and asked me: “Why do you work so hard to be like the other leaders?” Before I answered his question, I asked him: “Why do you ask?” He answered with a new question: “Why do you think the leadership team hired you?” He continued talking, “Isabel, they did not put you in this position because you are the smartest and please, don’t get me wrong. You are a woman and of course your intelligence, background and experience, is needed to be in this place, but I think they choose you since you can bring something new. So, that’s why I was wondering why you try so hard to be just like them. Isabel show your own colors, not theirs. I am here for a long time now, it is time for change, you need to start it.” I answered with silence and said ” Honestly, I do not know”. He said: “Isabel, think about it”.
On my way home and the weeks after, I was thinking a lot about what he said. He was so right, but I was so used to it, that it was hard for me to change my behavior and bring more of me. This was about going back to my own core, while using the insights how to be successful in a men’s world.
After this mental journey, I decided to start my change, curious about the impact I could drive. I changed showing the power of connection and an one team approach versus competition, approached challenges with creativity instead of process and task orientation and consideration versus thoughtlessness, to name a few.
Concerning the latter, studies show men tend to process only in the left hemisphere of the brain while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres. This difference explains why men are generally stronger with left-brain activities and approach problem-solving from a task-oriented perspective while women typically solve problems more creatively and are more aware of feelings while communicating. So, if we do not show this talent, change will be very limited.
The moment I run into a new “situation”, I was determined to do it my way. The challenge I run into was a great one! This was my area, since it was complex and still in my eyes, easy. I promised myself to sit back, relax and observe, before immediately stepping into learned behavior, react immediately with a kind of “getting things done” and “fix it” modus. The funny thing was, I really enjoyed it a lot. The natural (male) behavior I observed was going straight to the action, solving the problem in isolation within that business unit and doing the same things a bit different and better and with more dedication.
By taking this time, I created the room to analyze the broader picture and unleash my real creativity. Instead of playing the game, I changed the game. I introduced a creative solution based on a more holistic picture, supported by data and analytics. The idea was basically that the solution needed to be found in a different place, a different department, who had a solution which could unlock the full potential and opportunity of the challenged area. Although the data told the story, the secret why they adopted the idea was that I brought the teams together and gave them the opportunity to shine with it together.
Of course, it is not always this easy and I also fail from time to time showing my old behavior. When I entered the leadership team of Microsoft I walked into exactly this pitfall. My most important learning is that in that moment I did not stay true to my purpose. I did not trust my own judgement and took too much comfort in the advice and convictions of the establishment.
The reason why this happens is that it is hard to be the first and start a wave, because dropping back in groups behavior is a considerable risk then, since human behavior and your unconscious bias, subconsciously steers you to become a follower, not a leader. That’s why I feel very fortunate to have an amazing sparring partner who knows me well, is keen on keeping me focused and really supports me in an excellent way in these type of situations.
When you are entering a men’s world, whether it is the IT industry or it is a boardroom, the most important thing is to stay true to your female characteristics and be your authentic self. If we, the first women, do not start the wave showing our colors, but instead of that copying masculine behavior, the positive effect of the power of diversity will not be felt and realized.
I am on a mission and my start is leading by example, be a role model and empower women and yes, I fail, I fail often, but that will not hold me back to start repeatedly, showing more of me and less of something that is already present plenty.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, a perfect day to extend the invitation, will you join me?
Senior Business Group Lead Cloud & Enterprise Microsoft