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Seeking Out The Unexpected: How To Identify Future Female Tech Leaders

Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly Partner Bloomberg, and published on September 14, 2018. Go to Bloomberg's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Jaime Chan is a manager on the Engineering Technical Operations team in Bloomberg's New York office.

Like many software developers at Bloomberg, I went to school for computer science and mostly learned about "for" loops and "if" statements. Communication was never an area of focus for me. When I first started, right out of college, I communicated in grunts. The stereotypical developer in a hoodie was really me. Over the next couple of years, I gained some more agency, and, in the process, a better understanding of who I was and the culture I wanted to be a part of.

Flash forward more than a decade, and I'm now a manager on the Internal Applications team at Bloomberg. I work with an amazing group, creating solutions that help our employees provide great customer service to our hundreds of thousands of clients. I'm also involved in corporate diversity programs — particularly for women in tech at Bloomberg. I found my voice, and grew my career through participation in our company culture.

Looking back, I often wonder how I got to where I am today. When did I become so involved? And could what helped me grow in my career, help other fellow technologists grow in theirs?

Here are some lessons I've learned, both from being a leader and benefiting from the leaders who have helped me.

Challenge standard definitions of "leadership"

At Bloomberg, we talk about different leadership qualities and how to bring them out. And it's important to remember that the ways in which these traits show themselves can vary widely for different employees.

For example, by definition, tenacity and persistence can be considered great leadership skills. But one of the things I realized in leading women on my team (and as a woman in technology myself) was the difference in how these qualities are expressed – and how it doesn't necessarily have a bearing on a man or woman's performance leading a team.

A woman who might be less likely to follow up on her own behalf could still be tenacious when it came to vying for budget for her team. I've stopped equating tenacity — or any other one "leadership" quality — with the ability to thrive in a role. I've had to challenge what my standard definition of leadership competency was.

And I've started telling women, who may be reluctant to follow up: "If you get feedback, don't be hard on yourself. The feedback is meant to help you grow." As a female leader, it's important to identify leadership potential, and find ways to provide productive feedback to help people grow in their roles.

Ask what people need

One of the things that kept me from getting personally involved with corporate D&I early in my career was feeling that the conversations didn't specifically apply to me. I didn't perceive it that way, at least. Sure, I was a woman, and a woman in technology, but conversation about diversity can start to sound generic if the employees it's supposed to benefit don't find the conversation personally relevant.

In my group, I've made a point to speak with women, in a candid setting of ten people, to get their thoughts, ask for their feedback, and try to understand their needs. What's on their mind? What things are in their heads that we want to start getting out? What problems are women tired of discussing as "women's issues" just because research pointed to it? What issues are strictly women's issues that don't get talked about, whose taboos should be questioned?

Speak with different groups on your team, so that you're not making assumptions. Be receptive to the nuances of diversity issues. Even if it's one-on-one, solicit that input, and be open to hearing feedback. The best way to understand the nuances of diversity issues and how they play out on your team is simply to ask. And keep asking. People will tell you what their priorities are when you foster the environment – and if you ask.

Be judicious with growth opportunities

The tipping point in my early career — when I really found my voice — was the moment someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, here's a new challenge: to rethink how ADSK (Bloomberg's communications analytics desk) is going to work." It was the first time I had to make a choice: Do I leave my old team? Do I take on this big project? Needing to make a career altering decision doesn't give you much choice but to find your voice fast, and trust it.

Leaders may not think of stretch assignments as an inclusion tactic, but the work you delegate implicitly says: "You are depended upon for this project."

While corporate D&I channels are hugely important for building community and holding the business accountable for delivering on inclusion goals, it's also up to employees to seek out those opportunities to grow. One thing I recommend to my team members –- both men and women – is to find their "Board of Directors," as I call them. This is the network you can rely on to remind you of your greatness and push you forward.

Employees need to advocate for their own advancement, but leaders play a big role in the development of a diverse and inclusive team. It's up to us to notice what we can do to support diversity outside of formal channels. I've had to learn how to meet employees where they are — like where I was when I started. Managers have many tools at their disposal to complement the formal channels of engagement in companies. Give them new projects. Look for unconventional leadership traits. Solicit their ideas. Your team's "grunter" of today may be an important voice of your organization's future.

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