I’m a woman. I’m a COO. I work at an enterprise software firm.
Surprise – my name is not Sheryl Sandberg. Unlike the famous operations guru who is currently leading the charge at Facebook, I haven’t quite gotten to her level of fame or notoriety. However, much like Sheryl, I have climbed my way to a position of leadership in an environment and industry that most women have not.
As technology has grown in stature in both consumer culture and the mainstream media, an intensifying light has been pointed at the very real gender gap present in the tech industry. There are dozens of studies that highlight the frighteningly low number of women software developers, strategists, and managers in this field. I’m sure those numbers (which I don’t know off the top of my head), are alarming and will eventually be used as impetus for an Arab Spring. It just hasn’t happened quite yet.
Sandberg has gone so far as to write a book on the matter. Her recommendation, as the book’s title,Lean In suggests, is for women to proverbially ‘put their back into their ambitions’ and push against intrinsic societal barriers to attain career leadership success. It would be an understatement to say that I agree; throughout my career I’ve taken a progressive approach on propelling myself forward. And while I hadn’t read Lean In before starting my own career trajectory – I find her accounts and my personal experiences towards leadership startlingly similar.
Start with Growth
The book states in 2001, Sandberg was evaluating a number of potential employers for work. After a long job hunt, she was offered a position at Google by then CEO,Eric Schmidt. However at that time, Google was a relatively young company that didn’t have the pedigree it carries today. Unsure of her decision, Schmidt ultimately sways her by telling her to choose her ‘rocket ship’ based on a single factor: growth potential.
Undoubtedly, this is the first step. And it’s so crucial. Icreon, the software firm I currently work for, is fortunate enough to work with some of the world’s largest brands developing software applications and business solutions. However, it didn’t start out this way. When I joined, much like Google, we were expanding into new markets in the highly competitive tech sector. However, I saw two key things: an already brilliant core team & the opportunity to learn whatever I wanted. Much like Sandberg, the potential for growth was too much to pass up. Proverbially speaking, I got aboard the rocket ship.
Build Channels to Competency
Now aboard, with little clue as to what to do next, I started from the bottom. I began my career as technologically illiterate, ironically enough. (I can say that now without feeling too ashamed). The truth is, after having come from much more stable positions as a television host and management consultant, I was a bit out of my depth.
While at Facebook, Sandberg recalls a story about a former eBay employee asking her for a job. Rather than trying to convince Sandberg with a list of credentials and qualifications – the candidate simply stated, “What’s your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?”
As a non-techie working in a tech firm, I supplanted what little experience I had through a ferocious tenacity to solve my colleagues’ problems. UX Designers, mobile app developers, software architects, and web designers alike were subjected to my curiosity. There was nary a day I didn’t coming bugging them about how I could learn about their specific roadblocks. Interestingly enough, working to solve others’ problems was the best way to solve my problem of building a proficiency in tech. And, today, while I’d never be the best person on our team to lay out the software architecture for a company’s enterprise software system, I’d be the best resource on how it would affect the company’s bottom line.
Seize Leadership Through your Actions
Yet, competency isn’t enough. I know numerous professionals who are highly competent at their jobs. Most of them aren’t necessarily leaders.
The hardest part of any large problem isn’t trying to find the correct answer. It’s taking the initiative to put a stake in the ground and declaring your answer correct. That initiative means potentially being wrong; and it makes all the difference.
In Lean In, there is a passage that describes a vague issue around Facebook’s growth strategy in late 2007. Sandberg, tasked with finding a solution, saw her team struggle to define direction for a week. Eventually, one member of her team gathered enough quantifiable information to propose a data-centric resolution. That member was shortly awarded with a promotion.
Leadership, regardless of whether you’re a male or female, has to be seized. And ultimately with enough voices in the room, the loudest echo is the silent action. From sales to marketing to partner outreach, I built my competencies into a tangible set of actions and subsequent results that proved my dedication and merit to my colleagues and the organization. Clichéd as it may be, the hard work paid off.
I can say that leadership in technology is by no means easy. And excelling as a woman comes with its own set of obstacles. To be sure, Sheryl Sandberg has quite a bit of experience that I don’t quite yet possess, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short career of leaning in, it’s that to truly succeed, you must deliver before you can expect.
Originally published on Forbes.
- Devanshi Garg, COO of Icreon Tech.