How can women in technology get themselves into the boardroom, C-Suite and promoted? I’ll tell you how they will not. Jeans, a witty T-shirt, a rucksack and Converse. What is it that will do it, then, I expect that you would ask.
There is a list, and if you want to be taken seriously, it comes down to details you had not imagined affected. Like wearing the right underwear. It all comes down to two words – personal branding. “You need to take branding seriously no matter what field you are in. They say a brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room,” says internationally acclaimed personal branding expert Connie Aluoch.
What, pray tell, is this mythical creature, personal branding? You are certain you have heard about it. You even know people who brag about something unbefitting of their brand. Personal branding is simply the practice of marketing yourself and your career as brands. Here are reasons in numbers proving why you need to take your brand a little more seriously than a catchphrase or punchline.
- In 2020, only 25 per cent of GAFAM’s (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft), employees are female.
- 25.5 per cent of Google leaders globally are women.
- 24 per cent of all computer programmers are women.
- 37 per cent of tech start-ups have at least one woman on their Board of Directors.
Women are overtaken by men in the world of technology because they suffer from a number of handicaps that get in their own way. It isn’t enough that you are currently afflicted by the impostor syndrome or stung by the Queen Bee Syndrome. Crowning it all is The Tiara Syndrome – waiting for someone else to talk about you, your achievements and accomplishments.
Someone, you think, needs to give you credit. The Tiara Syndrome is a term originally coined by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, and later referenced by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In. “In branding, you are your own Brand Ambassador. If you don’t sell yourself, no one will,” breaks Connie. Do you suffer from The Tiara Syndrome? Take this self-assessment test and find out.
Survey commonly says this is reflected in how men and women apply for jobs. Men will not hesitate to jump on an opportunity if they meet an average of 60 per cent of the qualifications. Women apply for the job if their ducks are in a row, meeting 100 per cent of the criteria. While the man will take the risk, the woman will wait. This has been repeatedly attributed to lack of confidence compounded with an inability to speak up.
Survey commonly says this is reflected in how men and women apply for jobs. Men will not hesitate to jump on an opportunity if they meet an average of 60 per cent of the qualifications. Women apply for the job if their ducks are in a row, meeting 100 per cent of the criteria. While the man will take the risk, the woman will wait.
But, not so fast. A 2014 Harvard Business Review (HBR) study may have revoked this belief. It just so happens that “Men and women also gave the same most common reason for not applying, and it was by far the most popular, twice as common as any of the others, with 41 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men indicating it was their top reason: “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”
While systemic gender disparity inevitably rears its unattractive head in technology, as does the absence of female role models, there is the altruistic part of women that helps others. The problem is, even this is to their own detriment. Remember to push your own brand out there too as much as you are doing it for the sisterhood.
Finally, that annoying work-life balance especially when it comes to supporting young mothers, is missing. “As women, you need to sit and reflect. Is there something you can do to improve yourself?” It may seem there are far too many strikes against women, but surprisingly, there is a lot that is in your power. A power, Connie really believes, lies in actively building your personal brand.
Your values, strengths and goals
Let’s start by testing your values with a hypothetical scenario.
You are currently working on software that has great market value. A prominent Tech company approaches you with an offer to buy the software. You are bound by a contract but your current employer doesn’t know how far you are in the development stage. What do you do?
1. Sell it and stall your employer until you get another project. (27 per cent)
2. Decline the offer. (43 per cent)
3. Resign and sell it to the Tech company. (30 per cent)
Whatever you pick illustrates your values. Being a brand means having values that are non-negotiable. Brands are based on values which is why they have slogans at the reception. Values affect what you are willing to do and not do. In this case, the majority chose to honour their contract with their employer. They went the way of integrity. We are all driven by different things and there is a confluence of factors at play in making this decision. But what tilts it in whatever direction you pick would be your values.
Strengths: What makes you unique, an asset and indispensable? More specifically, what makes you a lot to lose for the company that you are working for?
Goals: Meet with yourself every 6 to 12 months to get a grasp on who you are, where you are and how you got there, figure out what’s next and if you are on the right track.
Grooming, dressing and non-verbal communication
Kenyan women in technology do not suffer a reputation for stylishness. Quite the opposite. “Women in tech; why do we not wear dresses? Why not take the time to present themselves in a proper manner? Take time investing in your brand. Part of being a brand lies in first impressions. Chances are you can do the job, but the impression you are putting out here is that you do not invest in yourselves,” points out Connie.
Women who take the time to be and look feminine with their personal branding such as Marissa Mayer, whose fashionable sense of style got her featured in Vogue, and Isis Nyong’o Madison on magazine covers, establish themselves in technology owing to their visibility.
This naturally segues into makeup, something that research has proven directly impacts a woman’s chances of career growth. Does it take away from your work? A tad. It turns out women wearing makeup look more professional than women wearing no makeup at all.
Wearing makeup, and this is just enough to look like you are wearing some but not so much that it is distracting, makes you look more competent and more professional. The effort counts for something. Women who take the time to be and look feminine with their personal branding such as Marissa Mayer, whose fashionable sense of style got her featured in Vogue, and Isis Nyong’o Madison on magazine covers, establish themselves in technology owing to their visibility.
“How you wake up is not how you are going to leave the house. I call it kighafla. Groom yourself, especially for the webinars. Invest in yourself and your client or employer will feel that you will deliver their work with caution and care,” affirms Connie. That means do not just roll out of bed and go. Pause, do your eyebrows, get a little colour on your lips and take care of your skin. And while at it, mother was right. Sit up straight and look alive.
Now, hair is quite political, but the surprising clear frontrunner and most accepted hair preferred by women in technology in Kenya is an unmistakeable win for natural hair. Be it Teenie Weenie Afro (TWA) to dreadlocks, as favoured by both Ory Okolloh and Julianna Rotich, women in technology who have built formidable personal brands and now sit on boards.
It is the no-nos, however, that are a stumbling block. No body odour – “A woman can’t have ‘no scent.’ Wear scent in whatever form but you can’t just be without a womanly scent” – insists Connie; no panty lines, ill-fitting bras, tights as pants, too much boobage, ripped stockings, ripped jeans, misplaced slits, sheer tops – all the things the corporate world raises eyebrows at apply here too. Manage yourself. “Your brand is on 24/7. It does not take time off. Be aware of what you are communicating. Make an effort. If nothing else, wear classics that will last you a lifetime and not go out of style.”
What is your online presence?
I’ll keep this simple.
- Update your photos preferably every year. People change.
- Optimise your social media account by using it for networking, meeting people, generating leads, creating opportunities – social media is prime real estate. Use it well.
- Tweet what is relevant to the industry you are in.
- Social media is a great way to sell yourself.
- Go back and clean up your social media footprint. This is the first line of defence when potential clients or employers want to get to know you.
Ultimately, your personal brand, an amalgamation of who you are and what you can do professionally, adds up to the opportunities that come your way and your capacity to seize them.
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