When I told people where I would be working this summer, I got several warnings that my organization–big, old, traditional–would be an old boy’s club. It has nothing in common with a hip young company where you might expect to see innovative feminist practices sprout up. But what it does have are tons of women working in technical roles: as developers, architects, data modelers, and QA testers. Also, there’s a surprising amount of women represented in leadership roles within the IT department–program managers, directors, vice presidents (one of which is a Scripps alum!), group and senior vice presidents. It wasn’t just my team, in the more frequently lady-inclusive world of project management, where my manager and almost every member were women. There were smart ladies everywhere!
I’ve taken two key points from this unexpected environment.
1) The extremely varied but effective leadership styles of the women I saw in leadership are a toolbox I can use to develop my own.
2) Big organizations, as unhip as they are, can be more supportive and inclusive of women and marginalized populations than startups, because they are so deliberate.
When I first started work, trailing behind my manager to many, many meetings, I was blown away by the authority and directness of the women leaders I saw. These women are fierce to question vagueness, to correct information, to redirect discussion, and to stake their claim. These are qualities I’m sure their male peers shared, but I was fascinated by the women. Part of this is just my subconscious, culturally constructed created view of femininity. But my appreciation was also based on my lived experience as a frustrated loudmouth in a sea of girls who seemed more polite, more attractive, but also so quiet! I don’t know whether it was debate, my hippie church, my feminist mama, or some genetic factor that made me stand out in middle school and high school as that girl in class. I was (and basically still am) a know it all, a chatterbox, a teacher’s pet, bossy, annoying, blunt….the list goes on. But in these meetings, unlike in class, it was considered helpful, appropriate, and impressive for everyone to speak decisively and directly on the subjects they owned.
Obviously, in most of these meetings, I wasn’t the subject matter expert, so I didn’t speak up. But when I do know something, and no one else shares it, I chime in. This didn’t happen from nowhere; I was imitating the behavior I saw from effective female leaders.
The universal factor I saw was authority, as I’ve mentioned before. But apart from that, I saw different women use a variety of styles and tactics to lead.
Empathy: This is an old stereotypical lady strength, but I’ve seen women who embody this value without losing their toughness. For example, our chief product owner frequently backs up her points by referencing the impact it would have on her reports, the product owners. Managers and officials who make a point to understand and be appreciative of their team’s effort are well-liked and well-respected.