By Natasha Engan, SVP of Global Consulting, Deltek
Ten years ago, I took on my first executive role, thanks to the sponsorship of a mentor.
Like many women, I can be hesitant to apply for career opportunities if I don’t know that I have 100% of the required skills and experience. This particular position was a stretch, involving moving from managing 150 people to more than 600 in a different area of the business. But my manager believed in me and encouraged me to challenge myself—and I want to make it possible for more women in technology to do the same.
In my experience as a leader, attracting and retaining talented women is critical not just for maintaining a positive and healthy culture, but for promoting diversity of thought and driving overall team results. Yet, despite women representing more than 50% of college graduates today, significant gender inequality still exists in the workplace.
Recently, we’ve seen women such as Kamala Harris and Carol Tomé break down barriers and shatter glass ceilings – and while these are significant accomplishments, this is just the beginning. Now more than ever, we are seeing roles traditionally dominated by men, occupied by women.
In 2020, the number of women running America’s largest corporations hit a new high, with 37 female CEOs leading the Fortune 500, up from just 24 two years ago. However, according to a recent Forbes article, only seven women run Fortune 100 companies. Of these women, Mary Barra ranks the highest, at #18, who in 2014 become the first female CEO of the $137 billion auto giant General Motors. While this rise in female leadership is progress, there is still plenty of work to be done to boost gender diversity across the board in all industries.
In February 2021, Whitney Wolfe Herd, co-founder and CEO of Bumble, became the youngest woman, at age 31, to lead a female-founded company to its IPO after raising $2.2 billion. With this recent accomplishment, Wolfe Herd joins the small list of 21 women to have ever taken a company public. This too is a notable first, however, it is just another example of where we need to see an increase in female opportunity.
I am proud to be part of an organization that is taking steps to help support issues affecting women in the workplace and in society. We all have a responsibility to help women grow professionally.
Knowing that gender diversity benefits a business, what steps can your company take to recruit and retain greater numbers of qualified, talented women?
Step One: Understand How Female Talent Searches for New Job Opportunities
If you think that women and men look for work in the same way, think again. In my experience, women are more likely to use online job reviews and rely on personal relationships to find employer information and secure new jobs. Women are less likely than men to use mainstream recruiting sites, making female talent more difficult to reach.
I have seen many women (including myself) choose not to apply or interview for a new opportunity because they do not meet 100% of the job requirements. At the same time, men often go after opportunities where they fit 70% of the job description and feel confident that they will figure out the other 30% as they go. Encourage your top female talent to take stretch assignments or apply for growth opportunities that are outside of their comfort zones.
Step Two: Openly Address Work-Life Balance
More than a year into the global pandemic, work-life balance has taken on a new meaning. With companies rethinking how they operate in a post-COVID-19 era and employees re-prioritizing their professional and personal responsibilities, a well-articulated flexibility policy can be a real asset to an employer looking to recruit the best talent. This is a key difference-maker for companies like Deltek that offer employees a healthy work-life balance.
Also critical: encourage female employees and managers to stay engaged and communicate their needs through life-changing events. Personally, it has been a challenge for me to stay in leadership through major life transitions such as having children, managing aging family members, and juggling the responsibilities of a two-parent working family where I own the majority of childcare and household responsibilities.
Step Three: Make Sure Everyone Has Access to Mentors
Women consistently report less access to senior leadership than their male peers. Consider formal programs or informal options to build a mentoring infrastructure at your company. Don’t insist on same-sex matches; if your firm has few senior women, they will be spread too thin and junior women will lose out. Mentors should coach their protégées on how to highlight key accomplishments and ask for a raise.
In my career, I personally benefit from mentors and mentees. My mentors help me navigate challenging employee situations, client issues, internal politics, and hiring decisions. Most notably, as I mentioned earlier, my first executive opportunity occurred when one of my mentors advocated for me with the hiring executive. And when I mentor other women, I often learn new skills, such as how to better leverage social media and communicate more effectively. The role of mentor/mentee benefits both parties involved.
At Deltek, we have a formal mentorship program for employees and we also encourage informal mentoring relationships. Both are effective. Ultimately, success depends on an open, honest relationship and candid two-way communication.
Taking Action: How Women Can Drive Their Careers
But it’s not just up to employers—it’s also up to women in the workplace to seek out opportunities and advance their careers. Here are three ways that women can take action regardless of their companies’ diversity initiatives:
- Leverage technology to better balance personal and professional time.
- Be proactive about seeking out interactions with your company’s leadership. Ask for skip-level meetings. Own your career and don’t be afraid to reach out!
- Seek out male mentors, sponsors and allies and draw them into supporting you and your career.
Ultimately, diverse management ranks are essential to showing that a company takes gender equality seriously. Take some time to consider whether your management team composition reflects your company’s culture and priorities, and what both you and your company can do to create more opportunities for women in the workplace.
Learn more about Deltek’s winning workplace culture and how we are creating a balanced, values-driven workplace powered by collaboration, innovation and authenticity. Read more from the Women@Deltek and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to get the latest on #DeltekProjectNation.
About the Author
As Deltek's Senior Vice President of Global Consulting, Natasha Engan is responsible for leading the company’s services business. A 20+ year veteran of the software and services business, Natasha has a strong background in managing cross-functional, customer-facing teams in a global workforce. Connect with Natasha Engan on LinkedIn.
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