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IWD 2024: Pushing through the uncomfortable to empower your teams
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to highlight the successful careers of women in STEM from the past and the present. What drove their successes, and how can we repeat them? In 2024, women are making headway for gender and pay equity in the workplace and raising their voices at tables in industries such as engineering, biotech, astronomy, and so many other traditionally male-dominated fields. Research from McKinsey revealed that nine in ten women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and three in four aspire to become senior leaders, revealing a clear desire for career growth and opportunities to up-level in today’s workforce.

Women in tech have had their own unique challenges, but no matter the industry, we are stronger when we work together and share our advice and experiences to help those who are newly navigating their careers. For me, the secrets to success come down to three pillars: being an active leader, knowing your worth, and building trust with your colleagues.

Leadership is more than a position: it’s an action every single day.

To be a leader, you must be a servant to others and a guiding light to those who need it. Your attitude, how you speak about topics, and what your body language is communicating will all have more of an impact on others than you think. Be cognizant of the effect you have on others because where you lead, they will follow. If you are upset, they will be upset. If you are motivated, they will be motivated. If you feel comfortable showing vulnerability, they will feel comfortable showing vulnerability. We are all humans with emotion and it is good for us to be aware of our ability to affect others with our emotions and actions. 

Pull a seat up at the table - you deserve it.

You have a voice, an opinion, knowledge, and wisdom. Use these things to help you and your company grow. Harnessing and sharing your diversity of thought will undoubtedly improve your company's performance. As others learn from you and share their opinions and knowledge, you will learn. Learning is essential for growth.

In addition to using your voice, always know your worth. Learn how to get comfortable with uncomfortable situations, whether negotiating for your compensation, addressing a sensitive issue with another employee, or advocating on behalf of your team. I call it “pushing through the uncomfortable.” Once you do it a few times, it becomes easier. You can also establish a common vocabulary to establish what you hope to convey. For example, if I know a hard conversation is coming or one that could be sensitive, I just clearly state, “I have a sensitive item to discuss, but I am coming from a good place and just want to make sure we are on the same page, and if not, that is ok - we can work through it.” Setting that expectation always softens the mood and helps ensure a mutually impactful discussion.

Building trust comes with consistent practice. 

Ultimately, builds trust before anything else. Once your team or peers trust you and see you want to help, your ideas and recommendations will be well-received. Building trust can mean identifying opportunities or challenges and how we address them. Challenges will always come and go, but no matter the obstacle, it is important to keep the following in mind: 

Look for red flags. If you know something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to ask. Asking for clarification isn’t the same as questioning someone’s decision. If it is done with the right tone, clarifying things will help to clear red flags. Showing you aren’t afraid to clarify will help build trust that you are acting in a respectful and professional manner.

Don’t be a saviour. We have all been excited to start a new job and try to turn things around on day one. However, there is context in everything. Learn your new business before you judge your new company. There are reasons why things are the way they are. Read the first 90 - it is a great approach to any new position, project, client, etc. When you acknowledge the past to plan for the future, you will gain respect from those who were there before you.

As we imagine the future for women in STEM for years to come, creating work atmospheres where trust and leadership shine through as top priorities will usher in growth and new opportunities for women to excel. We have a great opportunity to impact each other's careers for the better, and it’s time we stepped up to the plate to support all women, you all deserve it.