Facebook Chief Says Women Must Drive Their Own Success... Here's The Reaction

Apr 26 2014, 6:05am CDT | by

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, this week issued a call for women to shape their own success in business, and to push even harder to create an “equal world”.

The comments have prompted extensive reaction from many women in the technology industry.

Sandberg, talking to the BBC, advised women: “If you’re thinking about doing something: ask yourself what you would do, if you weren’t afraid, and then do it.”

The response has been strong. “I feel very passionate about women needing to be assertive and be the masters of their own destiny,” Amy Coutu, IT director at industrial computing firm Logic Supply, tells Forbes. “I am of the mindset that we need to be the agents of change, and not wait and hope.”

Her colleagues Erika Austin and Bonnie Reese, e-commerce and product managers at the company, note respectively that success can be sparked by passion for the industry as well as seeing other women in senior roles, but that lingering stereotypes hinder women when they push for career advancement.

Kelly Ricker, senior VP of events and education at industry association CompTIA, supports Sandberg’s assertion that women must make their own great success.

“Better roles and opportunities do not present themselves to passive observers, regardless of their sex,” she says. “Those who actively pursue improved circumstances and advancement are typically rewarded for their efforts.”

Carol Stott, international product manager at newsletter app Mailify, adds that with “some men” happy with the way things are, it is a simple fact that “women will have to push harder”. But she warns that women, too, might be so accustomed to the current status quo, that “we don’t realize things should change”.

Offering A New Perspective And Working Manner

There are many clear benefits of having a more balanced workforce and executive board. Those benefits are not just for the female staff, but for the companies’ success as a whole and for their customers.

Coutu highlights the “more personable approach to relationship building, negotiating and communication” that many women tend to bring to the table, as well as natural skills in supporting a team and understanding work/life balance.

In addition, women often focus on solving customer needs rather than only “the technology itself”, she says, “resulting in more solutions that customers will be happy with”.

Many of those interviewed for this article suggested that women are particularly strong at putting themselves in the place of the customer.

Stott at Mailify adds that women tend to “bring a more global view to projects”, taking ownership of the overall picture and interacting with wide groups of stakeholders and skills. By building greater circles of contacts, this can only be good for the business, she says. “I think the human touch can make or break it.”

But she warns that some women in business must learn to exercise their capacity to say no when they see a task as unreasonable. “We are perhaps more humble and happy to pitch in,” she says. “But we need to learn to draw the line!”

Others feel that it is the very focus and drive of many women in business that offers the greatest benefit. “I’m not going to say that women are better at relationships or more nurturing, because I don’t buy that,” says Reese. Getting into the technology industry is “not an easy path” and the fact that women have pursued this career “is a pretty legitimate indicator of both their capability and willingness to work through challenges”./>/>

The Future

Austin says that while a role should always be filled by the right person “regardless of gender”, by training more women to code and fulfill other technology skill sets, “we can hopefully keep up with the high demand in the industry”. Initiatives such as Girl Develop It help young women around the world to learn to code.

Aside from rising within the ranks of a business, many women are launching their own successful companies. “As entrepreneurship continues to grow in today’s culture, I believe we will see more and more women finding that their idea is based in technology and requires them to develop technical skills in order to realize it,” Reese adds.

A recent CompTIA report revealed that some of the skills women in the US technology industry are most keen to develop include programming, cyber security and cloud computing. The organisation has launched an initiative called Dream IT, in which it is encouraging successful IT professionals to join forces to bring more women into the technology workforce.

Challenges remain. Coutu notes that while many companies are trying to change and diversify, the industry still has “a long way to go”.

Large numbers of women in technology companies end up in marketing and sales roles, instead of technical posts, Ricker says. Roles such as engineers, programmers and developers “just aren’t top of mind” for a lot of young women entering the workforce, but education is changing and offering more support.

Much of the potential for change depends on companies being “less rigid” in recruitment, Stott adds, and looking at the transferrable work/life skills that each candidate offers, whether male or female.

She also calls for women not to “settle for a job rather than reaching for something better”, especially if they have taken on other responsibilities such as becoming a parent. “I think some of the people who can have the biggest impact on the technology industry are parents and teachers,” she explains, “and they offer the same opportunities to boys and girls in their education and upbringing.”

Sandberg at Facebook argues passionately that women must make their own business success happen, in spite of the many obstacles. The comments have certainly prompted a strong response. Do you agree with her? Please comment below.

More on Forbes:

Women In Technology: A Brightening Outlook

Facebook, Oculus, And Businesses’ Thirst For Virtual Reality


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