As an organization, WORK180 exists to enable women to choose workplaces where they can thrive. The core of our advocacy is creating spaces for women to share their lived experiences to enable action and inspire those around them; that’s why we recently hosted a Women in IT Executive Roundtable in collaboration with CommBank.
Our table was filled with women in technology, from diverse career backgrounds. For three hours, we broke bread, laughed, and shared our reflections on the following questions.
1. KPMG found that 75% of women executives experience imposter syndrome (source). As a leader, how do we overcome imposter syndrome?
While the sense of imposter syndrome was one shared by everyone in the room, the source was different from person to person. For example, several attendees spoke of needing to prove themselves when returning to the workplace after an extended period of parental leave. The support provided by inclusive workplaces through return-to-work programs was vital for parents experiencing imposter syndrome during this period of change.
*Insight: 21% of WORK180 employers offer employees return-to-work programs following parental leave.
Others had their sense of imposter syndrome amplified due to the assumptions of others that women are not as “technical” compared to their male peers. Victoria (Vicky) Ledda, EGM Operations Technology Institutional Banking Markets, CommBank, shared her experience with gendered assumptions about her technical abilities:
“There was a situation where I was on the phone with a client to resolve a technical issue. When I didn’t give him the answer he wanted, he asked, ‘can I speak with someone technical’ and I told him ‘you ARE speaking to someone technical”
In circumstances of discrimination such as this, individuals need to have the ability to bypass their sense of imposter syndrome to enable self-advocacy. Self-awareness of one’s strengths and abilities enables this confidence to push back.
2. What do we need to do to create better outcomes for emerging leaders?
To enable greater outcomes for emerging leaders, we must understand the way different characteristics of identity intersect to create differing outcomes for leaders.
For example, several women shared how having a supportive relationship with their partners focused on equity enabled them to pursue their career ambitions. The OECD found that when assessing heterosexual relationships, women did two to ten times the amount of unpaid care work compared to their partners.
Different cultural backgrounds and family structures impact the way this additional caring load looks on a day-to-day basis. Juggling such high loads of responsibilities while pursuing their careers increased women’s risk of burnout and also their need for workplace flexibility, which was not always guaranteed. Therefore, having partners willing and able to take on more responsibilities at home created a greater equilibrium for women to pursue their careers.
3. While we work to change the world, as women, how do we overcome the barriers and biases that exist in modern-day workplaces?
Multiple women shared stories of receiving feedback that was less likely given to their male peers. In actuality, much of the “constructive feedback” they received is often used as compliments to male leaders. For example, Vicky shared how she had received feedback for being “too direct” while multiple women were told they were “too outspoken”. These attributes can also be described as being concise and honest.
Our long-term goal is to remove stereotypes around gender, technology and leadership to be gender-neutral and inclusive. However, in the short term, while gender stereotypes exist, taking a “gender-blind” approach to leadership can do more harm than good to an individual’s career.
For example, leadership theory expresses particular traits associated with effective leadership, such as assertiveness. However, when women behave assertively, they may suffer from consequences that men would not. This is called “gender backlash”.
Zak Hammer, Executive Director, Operations, ASIC, recommends the use of framing statements which reduce gender backlash by 27%.
Framing statements involve framing assertive statements with a “behavior phrase,” a “value phrase,” or an “inoculation phrase’.
“I’m going to express my opinion very directly; I’ll be as specific as possible.” (Behavior phrase)
“I see this as a matter of honesty and integrity, so it’s important for me to be clear about where I stand.” (Value phrase)
“I know it’s a risk for a woman to speak this assertively, but I’m going to express my opinion very directly.” (Inoculation phrase) (source).
WORK180 would like to extend a warm thank you to CommBank for collaborating with us on this event. We also thank all attendees for sharing their honest insights and learnings as leaders in a male-dominated industry.