How do women overcome their fear of speaking up and sharing ideas? Is success more a matter of skill or luck? These and other questions were addressed at this year’s first virtual event held by the organizers of the 2017 IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference. The speakers were Kim Cruz, CEO and founder of the Center for Integrative Leading, and J.J. DiGeronimo, president of Tech Savvy Women. Cruz’s group trains leaders how to make changes within their organization. DiGeronimo’s venture helps companies attract and retain women.
OWN WORST ENEMY
Women are waiting too long to take on leadership roles in their careers, holding themselves back and not applying for job openings until they believe they are 100 percent qualified, according to DiGeronimo. “We feel we have to dot all our i’s and cross our t’s,” she says. “Women are putting up barriers for themselves.”
She referenced a TEDx study in which 10 men and 10 women were invited to present at an upcoming talk. Nine of the men accepted, but only one woman did. “Waiting until we’re fully ready for such opportunities doesn’t help us learn and grow,” she says.
Although women are good at networking with peers, she says, men often network with people at higher levels. A professional network that includes people who are at the level you are aiming for is key to advancing your career, she says, because they can help you choose your next move. When DiGeronimo was debating whether to leave her position as global director at VMWare, a virtualization software company in Palo Alto, Calif., she first sought advice about starting her own venture from coworkers, and they told her not to take the risk.
But by including entrepreneurs in her network, she received different perspectives that helped her step out on her own. “People see you based on the work you do today, not what you want to do next,” she says. “Align yourself with those 5 or 10 years ahead in their careers to help you make the leap.”
Cruz says that early in her career, she was driven by fear—what would her boss and those on her team think of her if she spoke up and shared her ideas? As she matured in her career, she says, she focused on the unique value she could add based on her experience—which gave her the confidence to ask, for example, for more work-life-balance benefits. “Be true to who you are,” she says. “Practice trusting yourself.”
DiGeronimo says testing new ideas at your company and taking on a role that “scares you to death” are great ways to push yourself. “Are you raising your hand? Are you letting people in your company or industry know where you would like to have an impact?” she asks.
LUCK VERSUS SKILL
Cruz says she doesn’t view being lucky in one’s career as random. Success comes from being strategic about where you position yourself, such as initiating a project or taking on a bigger role, Cruz says. Although she has been grateful when unexpected career opportunities have been presented to her, she says, her positive outlook has a lot to do with the breaks she receives. “Are you optimistic, or discouraged? Changing your energy levels changes your luck,” she says.
DiGeronimo advises women to invest in themselves by hiring a career coach, which can help them get clarity on where they are and where they want to go. “Laying down a path to follow will help expedite the journey you’re burning to get to,” she says. “Women don’t invest in themselves enough.”
Visit the IEEE WIE ILC website for a list of upcoming virtual events.