This is a guest blog from Béarice Piquer-Durand, vice president of marketing at Ipanema Technologies.
International Women's Day was earlier this month, and received a lot of media attention. It's a day which both celebrates the progress women's rights have made, but also highlights how much more work remains in the battle for equality between the sexes. I work as VP of marketing at Ipanema Technologies; my journey to a senior position over the years has been peppered with excellent advice and career lessons, as well as some words of 'wisdom' I'd rather forget!
Women are very heavily outnumbered in the technology industry, and the BBC recently reported that they make up only 17% of workers. It's notorious for being a sector which appeals mainly to men, though recent high-profile female appointments such as Marissa Mayer to President and CEO of Yahoo last July and Julie Larson Green to President of Microsoft at the end of last year are paving an important path.
Employment in technology faces a paradox. On one hand, the industry is set to enjoy very strong job growth for the next decade, with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) suggesting that there will be a growth in jobs of 22%. On the other, the NCWIT highlights that 56% of women in technology leave at a 'mid-level' position within their careers, a number far higher than their male counterparts. I believe the presence of women at the head of companies can boost results; and that in general, when women reach executive level, they are highly motivated and effective.
Below are a few pieces of advice which have helped me greatly over my career, and which are relevant for workers across all sectors.
Don't feel pressured to act in a masculine way.
If you're surrounded by men, a natural instinct may be to act like one. Don't - there's no need. Before I joined Ipanema Technologies, (but still working within the technology sector), I was given some awful advice by a senior colleague, who told me to curb my 'feminine' creativity, and favour rationality. The advice was more than just offensive, it was wrong; it completely overlooked the opportunity that comes with combining different ways of thinking. It's not about women being 'better' than men, but simply the fact that diversity maximises creativity, and with creativity comes results. Enjoy the differences in approach, and try not to fit in purely for the sake of it.
Draw a line between work and home
Juggling a hectic work schedule with a demanding family life can be an enormous challenge, and the pressures of an intensive business environment can be tricky to navigate. With seniority comes an elevated workload, and this means work time can threaten to bleed into home time. It's particularly important to be able to draw a line between office and home life and minimise the crossover as much as possible.
Create clear boundaries in terms of where the work day finishes and family time begins. I usually work into the evening, but then I close my laptop. This allows for family time to be fully appreciated without distraction, and affords a complete break from work duties for a few hours. Maintaining this healthy work-life balance can be difficult, but it's absolutely crucial.
Separate work and play
Holidays can also benefit from this strict compartmentalisation. Setting clear boundaries with colleagues allows you to switch off and dedicate yourself completely to family time. I have found it particularly helpful to have a 'phase out' period. For the first three days of holiday, I still respond to some emails. After that, I switch off. I'm only available for emergency calls.
Be organised but not inflexible
Women working at senior levels have to be organised - both at work and at home. If you're working full-time, there's a good chance you'll need to rely on others to assist with childcare or housework, which naturally requires scheduling and foresight. It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can 'do it all', but there's a need to be honest with yourself regarding what you can achieve alone, and where you need help.
We've probably all learnt the hard way that even the best-laid plans are prone to falling through. This is where flexibility becomes necessary, be it from your own working schedule, or from having family members who are willing to help in an emergency. A strong support network is a huge help and can help minimise a great deal of strain.
Attitudes towards women in the workplace are certainly becoming more progressive. But there are still old stereotypes to battle with. I've noticed that occasionally women in business are perceived as being less efficient, seen as having less time to dedicate to work because of responsibilities at home.
I also work in France, where there's the belief that women are only interested in shopping and houses, not business and technology.
I found that to handle this, I needed to prove I could communicate competently with the rest of the team, demonstrating that I had learnt about and understood the technology within our company. Once you've shown others that you're able to handle yourself and the situation well, gender doesn't come into it quite so much.
The tech industry has a very bright future. I've no doubt that many share my hope that women are an integral part of that future.