I work with women in tech. Yes, I might talk with one woman about how to invest her 401(k) or another about what to do with her stock options. But I find the one topic that comes up with just about every woman I talk to:

the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry.

It can affect job satisfaction, job performance, job compensation, the ability to start your own company or get the promotion you deserve, and the list goes, depressingly, on.

Women Supporting Women: It Really Works.

A recent FastCompany article ranked cities worldwide by how good they were for women entrepreneurs. Though the article’s headline trumpets New York City topping San Francisco, the real essence of the article was contained in this sentence: New York City beat out San Francisco because:

women entrepreneurs in New York City have more access to capital through women-to-women funding groups, and access to city policies that provide an equal playing field for women.

I don’t pretend to know much about how to change city policies, but the “women-to-women funding groups” is the kind of woman-to-woman support  that you can start cultivating immediately.

I’ve spoken with several women* in tech (a manager, a programmer, a founder, and a marketing director) about their experiences building a Good Ol’ Girls’ Network, as it were, and how such a network helps them navigate a male-oriented environment. Below you’ll find some low-key, helpful steps, based on their experiences, that you can take Right Now to cultivate a strong support network in high tech.

Building a Good Ol’ Girls Network

Find a female mentor. Oftentimes it’s serendipity. And you probably can’t force it. But be on the look-out. Talking with a woman who has gone before you can provide a uniquely helpful perspective.

Even Jane, a Crossfit coach, MIT grad, and very well respected at her programming job (which is all to say, this woman has it Going On), thinks that having a female mentor is important. Her mentor “was probably more apt to notice things like the team taking advantage of my willingness to do much of the thankless organization work that needed to be done.” (Hmmm…that sound like a familiar dynamic to anyone else but me?)

Embrace the co-worker diaspora. This happens to all of us: we work with people, get to know them, get to like them (sometimes) and then they or we leave the company to work at another one. Thankfully, this sort of just happens. But you need to be intentional about maintaining relationships with former co-workers if you want to include them meaningfully in your network.

Twenty years ago this might have required some real work, but nowadays you can maintain some connection with simplicity using social media. If it’s someone you truly want to remain connected to, go a step further if you can: ask the person out for the occasional coffee or lunch, write them Actual Personal Emails. These people will probably be your first line of defense if you need a new job or if you need a sanity check for something happening at your current job.

New Jobs = Proving Yourself All Over Again. I’m not suggesting you never leave a job, but I have heard from more than one woman that they didn’t face as much of the “you’re a woman…prove to me you’re technical” attitude because they had been in the same company for a long time.

Officially network with women in tech. From low-key meetups to Grand Conferences like the Grace Hopper conference and the Women in Technology Summit… Hell, I thought I’d moved to a Sleepy Pacific Northwest Outpost when I came to Bellingham, WA a couple years ago, and it turns out we have an awesome women-in-tech professional group here. Sign up. Attend. Find out some women’s stories. Make lasting connections with people you feel kinship with.

I happen to love networking, exactly because I love finding out people’s stories. But I realize that networking makes some people uncomfortable.

In that case, I suggest you check out BrazenBFF’s Networking Survival Guide, which provides several resources for making the most out of networking events.  [Note: my friends Jen and Addy run BrazenBFF, a community of women who are ready to “level up,” a phrase I am assured I would understand if I played videogames. I was featured on one of their podcasts…the one, not surprisingly, about money.]

Cultivate a more casual group of women you like. If you’re in a high tech area, finding a group of local women should be doable, and then you have the added benefit of the occasional coffee or lunch. But even if you’re not in a high tech mecca, hello videoconference!  

Cindy, a marketing guru in high tech, has had a “jobs club” for years. The most recent incarnation is only women, all of whom are mid-40s and have or had senior-level positions. They have their own Slack channel. They meet Fridays for breakfast.

Although men have sometimes been in the group, this all-women makeup has made it noticeably more comfortable for her to ask certain questions, and to find out about women-friendly firms (because generally women are more tuned in to that dynamic than men are, no matter how well-intentioned). She also feels more free to ask about salaries,  giving everyone a better idea of what’s reasonable to ask for in negotiations.

Cultivate a network in complementary professions. You know that classic trope: “Oh, let’s use Bob’s company for that. We’re golfing buddies.” Where “that” is the 401(k) plan or marketing video or or or. There needs to be some Marys and Kellys in there, too. (Though, lord, if it all depended on me playing golf, women’s equality would likely never happen.)

You might be a programmer, but you’ll benefit from knowing women who are marketing experts, or project management experts, or videographers, or <ahem> financial planners, or accountants, or business coaches.

Get involved in women-focused technology groups. Emily is in her mid-30s and just last year helped found a startup. She got involved in 2xintech and tech lady mafia, and that network of women who have “been there and done that” helped her navigate challenges that were new to her.

Whose Game Are We Playing, Anyway?

The point of cultivating a women’s equivalent to the Boys’ Club isn’t necessarily so that we can do exactly what men do. Maybe we don’t have to define success the way it is currently defined in high tech.

Sibley, a long-time engineering manager in the software industry, often has direct reports who express feeling inadequate or unsuccessful or otherwise unsatisfied by the environment they work in. To shake them out of this self-destructive thinking, Sibley will ask them, “Did you make the rules?” The answer is always “No.”

Is our goal to play the man’s game better? Or do we create a different game with different rules, and a different definition of success? I don’t know the answer to that, but thankfully I do know that any improvement for women is going to involve women knowing and supporting other women in the industry.

What steps have you taken to cultivate a career network? What’s the Very Next Step you’re going to take to help make your network even stronger?

* First names only to protect privacy.

I’m no career coach. But I can help you craft an effective, low-maintenance, supportive financial life so you have the time and energy to cultivate a better career for yourself.  Reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.

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