The technology industry continues to suffer from low rates of participation and advancement for women and people of color, according to recent research. Despite low representation, there are still ways that these groups can make their mark in the field of technology.
Here are 7 strategies that can help you move past the digital ceiling:
1. Be an expert. There is no substitute for substantive knowledge, so in planning to move past the digital ceiling, start with the development of subject matter expertise. The basis for such expertise is knowledge, experience, and research. Thus, it is essential that you: i) determine whether your experience realistically qualifies you as an expert—if not, be prepared to get the right experience, ii) read significant publications in your field, iii) research your subject thoroughly, iv) dialogue with conversation partners about issues in your industry, and v) publish your theories, and the results of your research or findings (see #2, below).
Being an expert doesn't require a Ph.D in a particular discipline (though it helps), but it does require taking your subject seriously and giving it superficial treatment. Build a library or wiki (like Voodoo Pad) to organize your information and resources.
2. Publish, blog or tweet with value. It's not enough to have good ideas; you need tangible work product. Publish something people can read and redistribute that showcases the value of your insights and information. Are you really into news in your industry? Share your latest findings on Twitter by posting links, and be sure to use a link service, like bit.ly, to track them. If you need ideas for good Twitter headlines, click here.
Do you have something to say? Two cents burning a hole in your pocket? Say it on your blog, submit articles to relevant online publications, or even pitch an op-ed to a local, industry or national periodical. For help with op-eds (of which more than 80% are written by men), check out The Op-Ed Project.
3. Develop your personal brand. Developing a good personal brand involves understanding your value proposition, namely, the value you can add to a company, organization, conference, or event. Once you've determined your value proposition, the next step is to figure out what distinguishes you from your competition. For help with personal branding basics, check out any of these resources: The Brand Called You, my recent presentation You Inc: Personal Branding for Professional Success, Dan Schwabel's blog, or A Brand You World.
Armed with answers to these initial questions, you will need to develop an identity, including a logo, website, business cards, stationery, social media presence, and marketing materials that reflect your value proposition. If this sounds like an involved process, it is. But it's necessary if you want to increase your promotability. There's also another incentive: if you don't develop your own brand, someone else will create it for you.
4. Forget friendship; build alliances. It's time to quit thinking of relationships in terms of friendships; alliances are frequently of greater value in the workplace. You don't have to love your allies, nor do you need to share the exact same interests. What you do need is to share common goals. Find people (preferably not competitors) who share your professional goals and leverage those relationships for your benefit.
Think of it this way: similarly situated allies are often great brainstorming partners about business challenges and may be able to provide useful insights based on their experience. Also, because there is a lack of emotional involvement, it can be easier to give feedback to them, and to receive it. Further, it is sometimes easier to attend industry or networking events with allies rather than with those who may require more of your attention (leaving less for the event). One final note: it's probably best to avoid allies that could be perceived to compete with your significant other.
5. Don't be afraid of the "free". I don't subscribe to the school of thought which believes that everything should or will be free (like Chris Anderson), but as you develop your expertise, you are likely to be invited to speak for free at meetings, conferences, and other events. Don't lose heart, because while such groups may not have budgets, they can help you build your reputational equity through testimonials. Follow up and get a testimonial in writing, then use it to market yourself as a speaker.
The same goes for sharing information. If you have a great presentation or paper, consider making it available on the Internet for free using Slideshare or Scribd for the benefit of others, if it isn't proprietary to your business. It's a great way to boost your credibility as an expert.
6. Socialize smart. Develop a strategic plan in advance of important events. Identify who you'd like to connect with in advance, among speakers and attendees in a particular discipline (e.g., marketing, engineering, HR). This doesn't mean to only interact with those who fit your objective, it's just a way to make sure that while you're enjoying meeting lots of different people, you also connect with some of the people that you need to meet. Go with a plan and you might be surprised to find that you're accomplishing more business at social events than you realized.
7. Help others. If this step sounds hokey to you, chances are you are missing out on a critical component of professional reputation, something I'll refer to as "goodwill." In investment terminology, "goodwill" is the intangible part of a company's value that exceeds its book value. Things like intellectual property, customer loyalty, ideas, and reputation are included in this category—things that are difficult to measure. Not only does helping others feel good, it's a good way to generate positive discussion and feedback about you and your organization. An intangible reward, yes, but one which has value.
The "digital ceiling" really does exist, but it doesn't need to be a barrier to the professional advancement and visibility of women and people of color in the tech world. Focusing on value-added strategies, increasing visibility, and building reputational equity is a good place to start the process of moving beyond that ceiling.