Women make up the majority of users of social networks and technologies, and they’re the key drivers behind numerous purchasing decisions. And yet, the creators, designers, and developers of the very products whose success hangs in women’s hands are most often men.
In 2006, Shaherose Charania was working in various tech roles and while she felt confident in her own abilities to succeed among men, she began to notice that there were very few other women among her peers.
More, while women in other parts of the world — in places like Africa and India — were beginning to take on more leadership roles and becoming entrepreneurs themselves, the Western world was inexplicably falling behind. What role models did these women have in the West? Jack Dorsey. Steve Jobs. All men. Shaherose and a few friends began to feel that there was an acute problem, but not everyone agreed. Many in the tech community said, “so what?”
There are people who work in tech who don’t look like you,” Shaherose told us. “We began creating a presentation around options to connect to a different type of profile (a young woman, for example). We want to break the stereotypes: there is no formula for who can do this work.
The tech industry is changing the world. For women to not be a part of its core fabric — designing and developing the products they themselves were championing — seemed like a huge gap, and unsustainable. Shaherose and the founding team of Women 2.0 set out on a bold mission: to change the conversation around women in tech.
“We didn’t intend to have a business,” Shaherose said. But after five years, she and her teammates realized that what they had built was much bigger than what they had originally envisioned and their efforts could empower a lot more women around the country, and the world (Women 2.0 operates in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the United Kingdom).
The organization has a network of volunteers around the world and holds hundreds of events per year — each seeing 50 to over 100 attendees. By choosing a mission and a message that people could intellectually and emotionally connect to, Women 2.0 began to grow through the power of its community. The key to its reach was a powerful early tactic: matching the message to the audience and making it almost impossible — for virtually anyone — to not want to get involved.
Over the years that Shaherose has led Women 2.0 as its CEO, she’s honed in on a number of ways that team leads and managers can empower all team members to do their best work — from the very beginning of their career to the time they are ready to step up and be leaders themselves. Her advice is equally motivating and actionable.
Empowering teammates, leaders, and future leaders
For an organization focused on empowering women, Shaherose wants to make it abundantly clear that the message isn’t about how to treat female team members and leaders differently.
Shaherose is a firm believer in finding and being in control of your own destiny. She told us, “Let’s redirect the conversation. It’s good to talk about [problems] but we should do so in a productive way, not a complain-y way.”
In fact, Women 2.0’s (and Shaherose’s) goal is to create more equal opportunity environments where women can be unafraid to tackle the big challenges that their male counterparts have been working on for years. If you’re a leader, Shaherose has the following recommendations for working better with your team members, regardless of gender:
- Treat all employees with respect. Trust in your team members and give them opportunities for growth, regardless of gender.
- Publicly reward great work. Acknowledge good work when you see it and find appropriate ways to make these recognitions known to the team.
- Get to know team members as individuals. Each team member will inevitably have different needs. As a manager / leader, your job is to be sensitive to these needs. Find out: do they need extra feedback? Do they prefer to work in a group or alone? Learn their preferences and do whatever you can to support them.
Finding mentors, overcoming biases and fear
We opened the door to speaking about women in tech in a non-confrontational way. We focused the conversation on value creation and gave people a lever to talk about change from a forward-thinking perspective. Anyone who heard our message wanted to help.
As a leader, you may already be familiar with the stereotypes and biases you were faced with early in your career. But no matter your gender, you can make a huge impact on your teammates by helping them visualize success and step outside the boundaries of gender biases.
Shaherose has a refreshing take on ways anyone can get ahead in their career; she believes that intentionality and a proactive attitude about work and relationships can help team members of all genders, roles, and seniority levels.
Are you communicating this advice to your team members already? If not, consider sharing these points with them:
- Be very deliberate. Whether it’s building out a set of mentors or focusing on what exactly you want to accomplish in your career one, two, or five years from now — identify goals and make specific plans — and discuss them with your manager.
- Make friends. There is no straightforward formula for finding mentors, but Shaherose recommends making friends with people who are ahead of you in life. If they latch on to you, they will become your mentors and your relationships will be built on authenticity. You can find mentors in any number of places: at networking events, conferences, hackathons, and various social events.
- Maintain regular touch points. Get into the habit of checking in with people who matter on big and small goals. Whether it’s a regular 1-1 with a manager or a meet-up with a mentor, make time for face time. If you take time to step away from the field, try to stay ahead of the game, still: work on side projects or try some consulting.
- Be ok with being first, and embrace it. Remind yourself, early and often that just because you don’t look like other people in your field, doesn’t mean you can’t be equally successful.
- Identify your strengths, and leverage them. Are you naturally good at some things? These qualities are likely to be ones that your team will value. For example, studies have shown that women tend to be great at building internal team culture which Shaherose says is ‘everything’ for a company. If you happen to be one of these people, figure out how you can build upon this passion to create something truly meaningful for your team and company.
- Don’t let stories and fear paralyze you. We often tell ourselves that the stories we hear are real, that the reality we see is a reflection of some sort of truth (that there is a certain ‘type’ of person who is suited to a certain ‘type’ of role or industry). This inactive choice can get in the way of our desire to get things done. Actively and regularly tell yourself that you don’t believe these stories about yourself or others.
These suggestions (and they’re merely that — as Shaherose emphasizes there are many different paths to success) can help team members look inward and outward in order to make small and big differences within the context of their careers, their team’s work, and the impact they’ll have on a much broader industry.
On building a great team: “Culture is everything”
“What’s one piece of advice someone gave you that you keep coming back to?” we asked Shaherose at the beginning of our interview. To which she replied, “Everything is about people: founders, investors, employees. You can’t skip the people: you have to trust the people you work with — believe in their skills — while staying true to your standards.”
As a leader, whether you’re building a founding team or hiring key members of your team, remember that investing in people is the most important thing.
When you’re bringing new people onto your team, make sure you’re aligned on 4 key factors:
- Is this person someone that I can easily communicate with?
- Do we share similar values around deliverables and deadlines?
- Do we have the same or similar views when it comes to ethics? Are there past examples from their careers that will help me decide?
- Does this individual have the skills we need? Are their skills complementary to the skills we already have on the team?
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for yourself and your team is to get to know the people you are working with, or would like to work with, enable their skills, and continue to empower them over the course of their careers.