Top 10 Ways to Thrive in Your Technical Career

Below are tips mid-career technical women can use to advance their careers. Increasing retention and advancement also requires that managers and leaders simultaneously work to make the company environment  more inclusive. See the resources below for tools managers and leaders can use.

#1: Work on projects with direct business impact

Choose roles that are strategically important to the business and be clear about how your work fits in with company goals. Ask trusted advisors, mentors, and colleagues to help you understand how your work fits into the big picture.

#2: Seek out challenging opportunities — stretch yourself. Research shows women often are raised to be harsher critics of their work than men; this can discourage women from taking on stretch assignments even when highly qualified. Be on the lookout for these opportunities as they often arise unexpectedly. Remember you are expected to grow into a new role; you needn’t have all of the answers before beginning.

#3: Be realistic AND strategic about your time — be willing to say “no” and offer alternative solutions that work for you. Consult with mentors about the best way to say “no” to roles that do not further your career goals or that are not central to the business. It usually helps to explain your rationale or, if possible, offer a creative alternative that meets your needs.


#4: Develop a strong network and continually look for ways to diversify it. Ask yourself what kinds of skills, knowledge, or opportunities are missing from your existing networks. Participate in cross-functional, cross-organizational projects to diversify these networks in ways that close these gaps and accelerate your future opportunities.

#5: Seek out mentors and sponsors who have organizational clout. Mentors help advise you on your career and on company culture. Sponsors advocate for you, making sure that your work is visible to influential people in the company. Technical capabilities can only take you so far; you also need these key relationships to help your career continue moving forward.

#6: Know what you are good at and promote that about yourself. Research shows that often women are raised to think that it is immodest to “sing their own praises.” Consult with mentors, your manager, and other colleagues about different ways to “pitch” your talents. Develop a succinct way to describe your strengths in a variety of situations.

#7: Seek out feedback to continue your professional growth. Discuss your career goals with your manager, mentors, sponsors, and other advisors and ask for specific feedback on how to obtain these goals. Also ask for specific feedback in performance reviews; when given constructive criticism, ask for specific examples of how you might improve.

#8: Remember that you are not alone in your challenges. Use your network to find out how others have handled challenges you face. Be willing to talk with your manager or mentor about these challenges and different solutions that will advance your career goals.

#9: Ask for flexible work arrangements as necessary. Talk with your manager, HR personnel, and other colleagues to find out what options are available, how others have used them, and how these arrangements are viewed in the company. With your manager, devise a flexible plan and make sure your performance evaluation criteria are written in ways that will reflect your accomplishments.

#10: Serve as an internal advocate and mentor for others — both women and men. Junior women and men benefit from having male and female mentors. Mentoring also can be a rewarding way to grow professionally and to expand your leadership skills. Make mentoring a part of your performance goals so that you are recognized in evaluations for this contribution.

Top 10 Ways Managers Can Increase the Visibility of Technical Women

Below are ten important recommendations supervisors or managers can readily adopt to improve visibility of their employees. These recommendations are particularly useful for improving the visibility of women, as well as employees from other underrepresented groups.

  1. Look for key opportunities where employees can increase their visibility

Recommend qualified women for these opportunities, and encourage these women to pursue such opportunities. Also, identify junior women who have the potential for more visible roles and work with them to develop the necessary experience and skills to fill such roles.

  1. Identify and recommend women for top leadership roles

Identifying these women early and actively developing their leadership skills is vital for increasing women’s representation in top leadership over the long term. Doing so also increases overall retention of female technical talent.

  1. Ensure women are visible at strategic corporate events

It is tempting to default to established networks and connections when selecting people for roles at high-profile events, but this can mean overlooking talent from underrepresented groups. Take the time to identify, recommend, and select women for visible roles as speakers, as panelists, in customer briefings, in cross-trainings, or in other roles important to your business.

  1. Give female employees credit for their work

You can make a difference by publicly recognizing female employees for their technical accomplishments. Research shows that women tend to give their team credit whereas men are more likely to take individual credit. In addition, women are often raised to believe that it is arrogant to “sing their own praises.” This belief sometimes means women go unrecognized for important achievements.

  1. Promote female employees’ technical contributions; market their value and technical ability

Not only is it important to give employees credit for their work, it is important to make sure that this work is visible throughout the organization, in the right places and with the right people. This advocacy is an important part of being a sponsor.

  1. Ensure women have a combination of effective mentors and sponsors with organizational clout

Research shows that women with mentors and sponsors (sometimes called advocates) are much more likely to remain with a company than those without. Mentors provide advice or guidance, while sponsors advocate for an employee throughout the company. It is important that sponsors have knowledge of the organization, as well as influence and power.

  1. Look for rotational assignments that will help broaden female employees’ experience, visibility, and influence

Employees must be visible across different parts of the company, as well as knowledgeable about the larger company and its industry picture. Recommend and encourage women to pursue cross-company, rotational assignments that will develop and expand their strengths and talents.

  1. Ensure female employees are focusing on high-value, visible work

Assign women to critical technical roles with high visibility. Keep track of which employees on your team get which roles. Watch for patterns where women are assigned to roles that are less visible or more endangered (e.g., first to be downsized or potential “scapegoat” roles).

  1. Encourage participation in technical conferences and membership in professional organizations

Publicize opportunities for professional development. Provide time and funding for women to attend conferences and professional development sessions.

  1. Help women expand their networks

Use your own network to help women expand their networks, connecting them with influential people across the company and in the industry.


AP Engineering?

Did you know that plans are in the works to create an AP Engineering curriculum? Though many might be surprised to learn this STEM staple doesn’t already exist, others have been waiting until K-12 schools were ready to implement such a program and colleges were ready to accept the credits. Auditi Chakravarty (vice president for AP curriculum, instruction, and assessment at the College Board) referred to the Next Generation Science Standards as an example of how schools will better integrate engineering-design practices, and explained that an engineering design curriculum will rely not on a single test, but a “valid and reliable” way of assessing a student’s portfolio of work. The proposed components include presenting a problem and identifying its requirements; generating an original solution; constructing and testing a prototype; evaluating and making recommendations; and documenting and presenting a project.

“This is not a test,” said Leigh Abts, a professor of education at the University of Maryland who is a leader in the initiative. “This is people looking at portfolios and awarding some high-stakes performance credit … This is really going to break the mold for how the College Board and others look at student work.”

Organizations involved with the effort to introduce an AP Engineering program include the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, the College Board, and Project Lead the Way. PLTW already has an engineering curriculum that it uses in schools and it has made its beta “innovation portal” free and available. What do you think? Could you see a program like this being implemented one day for computer science?

Did you know that more than half (56%) of women in technology leave their employers at the mid-level point in their careers?

Did you know that more than half (56%) of women in technology leave their employers at the mid-level point in their careers? Don’t you wonder where these women go when they leave?

We can tell you: 24% take a non-technical job in a different company and 22% become self-employed in a technical field. If companies improved their retention of women to reverse this trend, it would add another 220,000 people back into the tech talent pool. Given the crunch for talent these days, that’s a big deal.

We thought we’d share some other data points like this about technical women as this is what gets us going in the morning – read on for more eye-openers.

The median age of women in computing and mathematical occupations is 42. (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011, unpublished)

Of the approximately 903,000 women holding computing and mathematical occupations in the U.S, about a quarter million are between the ages of 25 and 34, and another quarter million are between the ages of 35 and 44. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011, unpublished)

The average female senior software developer earns between $74,660 – $100,591 per year and has at least a bachelor’s degree. (, retrieved 2012)

In 2008, technical women earned an average salary of $70,370. ( via The Facts, 2010)

The gender pay gap for female computer programmers is smaller (they make 7% less than men) than it is for other professional occupations, including attorney (women make 13% less than men) and accountant (women make 24% less than men.) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011)

Of the 20 occupations with the highest median earnings for women, 5 are computing occupations: computer software engineers, computer and information systems managers, computer programmers, computer scientists and systems analysts, and network systems and data communications analysts. (U.S. Department of Labor, 2010)

Women represent about 25% of the 3,608,000 persons employed in computing occupations. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011)

Between 2000 and 2011, the number of women in the computing workforce dropped 8%, while the number of men rose by 16%. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011, unpublished)
Just 3% of the U.S. computing workforce is African-American women, 4% is Asian women, and 1% is Latinas. (By The Numbers, 2012)

Of all women in computing occupations, 69% are white, 16% are African-American, 9% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 6% are Latina. (NCWIT Scorecard, 2010)

More than half (56%) of women in technology leave their employers at the mid-level point in their careers (10-20 years). Of the women who leave, 24% take a non-technical job in a different company; 22% become self-employed in a technical field; 20% take time out of the workforce; 17% take a government or non-profit technical job; 10% go to a startup company; and 7% take a non-technical job within the same company. (The Athena Factor via The Facts, 2010)

About 79% of technical women have a partner who works fulltime, compared with 37% of technical men. (Anita Borg Institute)

Nearly 70% of partnered, mid-level technical women have partners who also work in technology, while only 33% of partnered men have partners who also work in technology. (Anita Borg Institute)

Looking for even more statistics about women in technology? Check out Women and IT: The Facts and The NCWIT Scorecard, both available in a range of free formats.

More Minority Students in the Sciences

Did you know that Brown University has significantly increased the number of minority students in its life sciences doctoral programs over the last few years? With a grant from the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, Brown developed the Initiative to Maximize Student Development, a three-part strategy for increasing enrollment of underrepresented students across all nine of its life sciences PhD programs. The strategy includes building partnerships with undergraduate institutions that have high underrepresented minority enrollments, to make sure these students are aware of and consider Brown; developing “minicourses” to build the skills needed for doctoral studies (which Brown faculty have found are useful for all undergraduates transitioning to doctoral programs, not just minority students); and ensuring that graduate school faculty are deeply involved in the institutional partnerships and the training and mentoring of admitted students.

Since the program began four years ago, the percentage of all underrepresented life sciences doctoral students enrolled at Brown is up from 17 percent to 23 percent; and about one in five life science doctoral students at Brown is from an underrepresented group, compared to about one in 10 nationally. “The practices described here are generalizable and can be expected to lead to similar outcomes when applied elsewhere,” the initiative’s leaders wrote. “As a result, we look forward to seeing measurable advances in the representation of racial, ethnic, and other disadvantaged individuals in the scientific workforce.”