I used to cry because I’m not a sales engineer. I considered going back to school, pretty much every week. Every time, my partner told me,”You are the best sales person out there. You have three sales engineers to support you!” Of course he was right, my sales work was fully supported, but I just wanted to do it all on my own. You see, one of my favorite things while at Sanbolic was to spend time with the IT administrators and datacenter engineers at customers’ sites, with those who were installing our software. Seeing their faces when it worked. We had developed one of those “I can’t believe this is possible”- products, so it was always amazing to see their reactions. The road to get to that place of sitting next to the guy who was doing the install was usually very long, and difficult, but I was determined to help our customers solve their problems. What I found most fascinating while sitting there, or watching engineers at work in general, is the logic they apply to the process, especially during troubleshooting. I have great respect for all people in technical roles.
The logic of moving from one step to the next, and using a method of elimination, is partially what I am offering you in the work I’m doing now. I don’t want to compare it to engineering, but I think engineers can relate to my thinking. There is a lot of talk about allies and advocates of women and minorities at work these days, but very little guidance on what that actually means. In a time when it’s tricky to know what to do and say, or where to begin in supporting others, I hope to make it easier for you. There are experts out there talking about unconscious bias and harassment, and fear and uncertainty grows the more you hear about it. I have taken a different approach and done a little “troubleshooting” myself. What’s the problem here and how do I get rid of all the noise to make the message clearer? I interviewed five dussin men, just like you, in tech related companies and roles. From individual contributors to CEOs. I asked about their willingness to, and what they were actually doing to support women’s advancement, and they gave me tons of great examples. Seven character prototypes of men, at different levels of understanding of equality in tech, willingness to support, and actions they were actually taking, emerged. I put them into a matrix. As there is no way to use one message to get a broad group of people to move (unless the motivation is very strong and everyone starts from the same place), I created different messages for each of the seven character levels.
I invite you to identify with one of the character prototypes on the matrix – Mark, James, Samir, Memo, Al, Cree, or Richard, and start from there. Once you identify with a character, ask yourself if you want to do more to support others. If the answer is yes, simply familiarize yourself with the character above yours, and what he’s already doing. Imitate his actions and you will climb to the next level. I am not going to tell you what to do, but help you to find your motivation to be a better ally or advocate, and then offer you examples of what other guys are doing. When you have started and done the same thing as them, an action of support, a few times, you will notice that your confidence is improving and you’ll find a sense of comfort in your actions. When you are ready, you can move to the next level on the matrix. This method means that there is constant room for growth, and once you reach the top, you can talk to other men about how they can get more comfortable supporting others. As the people around you constantly shift, there is always something to be done.
My wish is that you get comfortable enough to take over building inclusive teams of diverse individuals. That you realize that it’s part of everyday..not work..but being. That you stop thinking that someone else will do it for you, or that it’s not your problem. In a time of increasing talent shortage, which will not be reversed, only you can draw the talent in and keep them with you. The task is as much yours, as you are part of a team, as it is the team leader’s. Women and minorities are similar to you. They will thrive in a workplace where they feel seen, heard, respected, and included. The need to belong varies slightly between people, but you can safely assume that most people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s your responsibility and your care that will make your teammates decide if they want to be fully invested in the work you are doing together, or look elsewhere.
**This article was written by Eva Helén. To order her book, please visit: https://eqinspiration.com/product/women-in-tech-a-book-for-guys/ (NAASE Members receive a discount; use Code NAASE.) **