Women in security: Stand your ground against harmful gender stereotypes

Words and actions matter as much as technical skills in confronting diversity issues and gender stereotypes in the workplace.

Sometimes it's important to stand your ground in order to get your point across. But James Damore, the Google engineer who argued that the diversity issue in tech is a result of biological issues rather than discrimination, might still have a job if he understood how to communicate with people as well as he understands technology. 

Kudos, though, to Google CEO Sundar Picha for recognizing that our words do matter. According to Adrienne Weissman, chief customer officer of G2 Crowd, how we allow others to treat us is of equal import.

Progressing your career as a woman is not only leaning in when you can.

"There are certainly times when you need to stand firm and fight for what you are passionate about to get your point across," Weissman said.

Sometimes it's OK to stand your ground, Weissman added. "How much more should a female executive have to take on to prove that she is just as good or better than her male counterpart," she asked.

That's not to say one must always give a stern yes or no response. Rather, Weissman said standing your ground and leaning in are complementary approaches.

"It's about saying yes and being amenable to what is being asked, but also being able to say no," she said.

What to do when you sense gender inequality

Before taking on more work, it's critical to look at whether you are being asked to take on tasks specific to you or that challenge you. Ask yourself: Is this type of work being given to my male counterparts?

"I have bumped up into issues where the demands and expectations of me were very different from my male counterparts. Here I am, a female executive in the tech community, and a mom of three little kids, but many of my peers' spouses stay home," said Weissman.

There are issues that are very real in the day-to-day workplace, whether it's male colleagues responding to emails or subtle comments during a meeting. Weissman said, "I have challenged back and asked, 'Would you have said that to a male manager, peer or boss?'" 

The answer is usually, "I don't know."

As Weissman has grown in her career, so too have her ideas about gender equality evolved.

"It's definitely been learned, and it has been growing, revolving, revising and changing with my experiences. As a young professional coming into the work force, I didn't know what I didn't know," Weissman said.

Unlike many women, though, Weissman has been fortunate in many ways.

"I've chosen places that have allowed me to be who I am. A lot of this comes from the times I've been on maternity leave. If I worked an hourly wage or didn't have the maternity leave I have, it would be quite different," she said. "The idea that any woman would have to get on a bus to commute to work after only two weeks of delivering a baby is unfair. That we have that expectation is just insane."

In an effort to help other women see where they need to firmly stand their ground, Weissman teaches her children and her colleagues to not dismiss it if they sense something or feel they are being treated unfairly.

"Trust your gut. If you are having trouble articulating, do the due diligence to state the facts and provide the data so that the information can tell the story. Standing your ground is about learning to tell the story to make headway and change," Weissman said.

As the lines between business objectives and the digital world grow more obscured, the soft skills of technology are becoming more important. What we say, how we say it, and to whom it is said can determine the trajectory of your career.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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