DiversityLeadershipPerspective

Attracting Women in Tech Part 2 – Get Curious

I’ve talked about creating an innovation culture as the first key to attracting women in technology (and keeping them at your company). Now, of course, this is a key element to attracting and keeping top talent regardless of gender, but I believe it is so important that it’s worthy of being key #1. In this article, I cover key #2: Get Curious.

Key #2: Get Curious

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

– Dorothy Parker

Getting curious means asking “Why” and “What if” especially where the status quo is concerned and keenly watching how people work. Getting curious about women technologists, their aspirations and finding out about their personal missions is critical to attracting and keeping them on board. Change perspective and see the world through their eyes. But not many leaders do . . . or even know how to see things differently . . .

The Company –

Recently, I had a conversation with a VP of Human Resources for a rapidly growing U.S. tech company. We hit on the topic of the successes and challenges of how the company has been “onboarding” employees from over 25 acquisitions in 7 years. She told me “We’re a fast-paced company, and we expect our new people to dig in and be aggressive. There is a plain indication of what’s expected…they need to ‘fit in’ to ‘our way’ even if it’s challenging for them.”

So much for onboarding. “Sink or swim – but bring your own paddle.”

The Candidate –

Let’s take a look at today’s young women in technology. The millennials are widely considered to want instant gratification, constant feedback, have short attention spans and are always looking for their moment of fame. Huh? Based on that who would hire them at all much less want them on the A-Team!

However, what if we get curious and look at these traits through a different lens? What if we understand them to be highly creative? And curious? And VERY confident?

The misinterpretation that they are “self-important” is really a deeper sense of having many new ideas and a desire to contribute. They want their tech savvy skills to be used by their senior managers, not feared or seen as a waste of time. They may crave feedback and recognition, but it’s part of their upbringing. As a generation, they were made to feel special from the start with every milestone was marked with celebrations and praise. It’s been installed in them that they are not only vital to the nation, but to their parents’ sense of purpose. Many of them feel, or have been told, they are here to solve the world problems that older generations have failed to solve.

And when did seeking feedback and recognition become a bad trait?

Side story: I went to a conference for start-up entrepreneurs earlier this year in which there was a gold medal in our lunch box…just for being there! YAHOO! A medal for eating lunch! It did make me feel special for a moment and then I wondered…is this all we are talking about to make some of the new employees feel good? Why have I been making it so hard?

InnovationCEOThe Leadership – (Gen X and the Baby Boomers)

The current leadership today is also in an interesting position in the workforce. There are many people in leadership roles that were not able to retire according to their plan due to economic downturn. While the economy has been a challenge, it has also provided many new opportunities.

Leaders in new roles are expected to rapidly, and effectively, size up their operations – and are typically given little guidance in doing so. They must deal with an increasing amount of diversity in their companies especially if they want to foster innovation through experimentation. Diversity of gender and background plus differing perspectives all contribute to innovation. Speaking of this in general terms, David Feitler in The Case for Team Diversity Gets Even Better, writes that Stanford professor, Lee Fleming found “that higher-valued industrial innovation (by its nature also riskier) is more likely to arise when diverse teams are assembled of people with deep subject matter expertise in their areas.”

Leaders are increasingly being hired to have significant impact in complex situations, with an expectation of near-immediate results. As they enter new roles, they rarely have the same understanding of the operation and the role as their peers, their subordinates, or even as their boss. These gaps in understanding, if not exposed and addressed, will contribute to poor performance and leader derailment – costly, disruptive failure.

To be specific, I could not agree more with Avivah Wittenberg-Cox who writes in It’s Time for a New Discussion on “Women in Leadership” that “… it is time to shift the discussion away from a lingering women’s problem or an issue of equality and instead focus on this as a massive business opportunity.” Diversity of all kinds leads to new perspectives. As long as companies and leaders are willing to experiment with the new ideas coming from these new perspectives, there can be a huge impact. I will say this many times – new and differing perspectives lead to innovation, which fuels new revenue opportunities. It’s a business benefit that goes far beyond doing what’s fair in the workplace.

Getting Curious Exercises

(answer these questions)

  1. Do I dig for the right question, make compelling observations, talk to diverse people and try things out? Am I an example for everyone else? Do I encourage people on my team to do the same, so they can come up with new, associational insights? Or do most of our new ideas come from one person or group? And is most of what we create really just incremental changes to our existing products and services?
  2. Are we asking, “Why does it have to work that way?” and “What if it worked this way?” Do we engage in thought experiments to question our own ideas from multiple perspectives? Or do we often hear, “we’ve never done it that way before, so why should we change?”
  3. Are we practicing really observing things and people around us? Do our people regularly visit customers and potential customers to ask questions and discover their issues and problems, or even what’s working well for them? Or do we make decisions based solely on our own assumptions and past experiences?

Next time, we’ll cover Key #3 – Stay Connected

Read all Four Parts of this Series:

Attracting Women in Tech – Part 1 – Culture of…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 2 – Get…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 3 – Stay…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 4  – Be…
Attracting Women in Tech – Part 5 – How to Pull this off