Giving Women Credit

What can be done to improve retention of women in tech? Here’s one suggestion: recognize and reward our accomplishments. As management advice goes, this may seem obvious, even trivial, but it can have huge impact on women’s job satisfaction and career advancement.

Everyone has been given career advice like this:

“In addition to doing excellent work, you must make sure that your work is recognized. This may consist of making a point to tell your boss, or your boss’s boss, what you have done—either orally, or by sending reports or copies of pertinent correspondence.

Deborah Tannen: Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work

In other words, “lean in.” But… there’s a Catch-22 for women in such advice.

For a man, self-promotion is perceived as normal and necessary career-advancing behavior, part of “being a go-getter.” But a woman who self-promotes in the exact same way men do is often perceived – by both men and women – as “a pushy, arrogant bitch.”

“…if they speak in the styles that are effective when used by men—being assertive, sounding sure of themselves, talking up what they have done to make sure they get credit for it—they run the risk that… they will not be liked and may even be seen as having psychological problems.” (Tannen)

Women tend not to self-promote because we know it can backfire.

But if we don’t self-promote, we don’t get rewarded – others may even take credit and reap the benefits of our work. And if we try to correct the record, we are not being “nice.”

Sad (and infuriating) but true: women need others to speak up for us, to ensure that our work is recognized.

This is why I constantly go out of my way to praise others to our bosses. If you (man or woman) are managing women, and you want them to stick around, you MUST work to ensure their contributions are correctly attributed and appreciated.

Be loud for us, because no woman is allowed to be loud on her own behalf. That behavior – the most man-like of all – is almost always punished.

This isn’t about making people feel good (though it will). It is a matter of career life or death. People whose work is not recognized don’t progress in their careers. They get discouraged and they leave – just this job, or the entire tech industry.

This is one way you can help retain women in tech, and it’s easier, faster, and cheaper than “getting more women into the pipeline.”


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