The vast majority of female IT pros I’ve spoken with over the years have indicated to one degree or another that they’ve had to work harder than their male counterparts to get ahead. That sentiment is typically conveyed not as a complaint, but as a simple statement of fact in recounting how they’ve managed to succeed in a male-dominated profession.
At the same time, it has occurred to me that one thing I’ve never heard any of these women say is that they found that they needed to be more competitive (which is generally considered to be a male trait) and less collaborative (which is generally considered to be a female trait) in order to make it. They overcame the odds without compromising that collaborative spirit. So is there a lesson here for male IT pros?
I think there probably is, and it lies in accepting the value of cultivating that ostensibly “female” trait. Interestingly, that cultivation is the subject of a new book, titled “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life.” Dr. Nancy D. O'Reilly, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book, champions the idea of what she calls “Connecting 2.0”—fostering collaboration and innovation by taking a deeper approach to connecting with other people.
"The Connecting 2.0 movement is nothing like the phony, self-serving, let's-exchange-cards-and-move-on networking that most of us hate," O'Reilly says. "Sure, connecting with other people does pay off in amazing ways, but the rewards flow organically from a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of others."
Here are 11 tips that O’Reilly has compiled to foster that approach:
- Aim for a good mix of online and face-to-face connecting. It's easy to send an email message, and it's really easy to like, to share, to follow in the world of social media. That's why so many people do it. And while there is nothing wrong with social media, it's also no substitute for real-world human interaction. The Connecting 2.0 movement depends on both types of connecting: virtual and face-to-face. If you're burning up social media, consider taking an online contact offline.
- Join a new group that interests you, and really attend the meetings. Make them a priority. It doesn't matter what activity it's based on. This may be a book circle or a kayaking club or a community cause. What's important is that you're getting together with other people who share a common interest—and that you go to meetings and events often enough to let these strong connections develop. It's the shared passion for the activity that generates the connections. And those connections take on a life of their own. You may end up forging alliances, finding jobs, winning clients—even though that's not the purpose of the group.
- Get involved in a philanthropic cause that speaks to your heart. Women and men who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents, and treasure are the kinds of people you want to meet. They tend to be "other-oriented" and want to make new connections, too. So whether your cause is homeless animals, kids with cancer, adult literacy, or clean oceans, get involved. I actually met the 19 women who co-wrote my book through my Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation. In fact, the book is living proof of the kind of collaboration that happens when people make connections based on their desire to serve.
- Get on a different team at work. We tend to stick to our comfort zone. But shaking things up from time to time keeps you sharp and puts you in the path of exciting new people. When you work with people you don't know on projects you're unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.
- Think about what you need to learn, and seek out mentors who can help you learn it. Let's say you have a small catering company specializing in weddings, parties, and family reunions. You'd like to expand into the healthcare conference arena but know nothing about the field. You might reach out to someone who plans such conferences and offer to trade services—perhaps cater an upcoming event for free or for a greatly reduced price—in exchange for the chance to learn and get a foot in the door. You're not asking for something for free. You're also bringing something to the table. Who knows? The other entrepreneur's clients may love your fresh approach, and it could result in the two of you starting an entirely new venture.
- Likewise, give back to men and women who need your expertise. In other words, don't just seek out mentors. Be a mentor to people who can benefit from your knowledge and experience. It's "good karma" and it can pay off in unexpected ways.
- Take a class. (And don't just sit there—talk to your neighbor.) Whether it's continuing education for your job, a creative writing class at the local community college, or even a martial arts training session, actively pursue new knowledge and skills. This will bring new and interesting people into your life—women and men who, just by being there, show that they have a zest for life and learning.
- Volunteer your speaking services. Yes, yes, you hate public speaking. Many of us do. But taking to the podium is a powerful way to get your voice heard, to build up your confidence, and of course to make new connections with those who hear you speak. And there are many civic and service organizations—like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club—that need speakers.
- Handpick five to 10 powerful individuals in your community and ask them to participate in an event. This might be a roundtable discussion that takes place at an industry conference or a community fundraiser, for example. And don't think that busy, important men and women won't have time for you. Many successful people love sharing stories, best practices, and ideas. You might be surprised by how many will say yes.
- If you're invited, go. When someone invites you to an event or gathering—whether it's an industry trade show, a party, or a hiking trip—go if you can. Yes, even if you're tired, out-of-sorts, and feeling blah. Say yes if it's remotely possible. There are always reasons to say no, and some of them are good reasons. But overall, life rewards action. Life rewards “yes.” The more times you say “yes,” the more connections you will make. The more connections you make, the richer and more creative your life will be.
- Set a goal to meet a certain number of new people each month. Come up with your own number, depending on your circumstances and personality. Hold yourself to this number (it will help greatly to keep track in a journal or calendar). If you take this metric seriously, you'll figure out how to make it happen. And while meeting isn't the same as connecting, it's the essential first step.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.