Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with some extraordinary professionals in tech – both men and women. And I felt that at the same levels of capability and all things being equal, women tended to underestimate themselves more than men. And therefore, reached out lesser for what seemed to be challenging opportunities. I also happened to come across a number of studies that seemed to resonate.
A Hewlett Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. Dunning and Ehrlinger conducted a fascinating study about one’s actual scientific ability and one’s own perception about it. Women scored, on an average 7.5 out 10 on a science quiz but thought that they had scored 5.8. Men, on an average scored 7.9 but guessed that they got 7.1 questions right. Quite interesting, isn’t it? The gap between actual capability and perception of capability is much higher in women.
I loved the image below that appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Atlantic. (Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/). It so beautifully captures the essence of this gap!
The more I thought about it and observed women at work in the technology industry, a few interesting observations came to my mind. Women have intrinsic strengths in certain aspects of technology-related competencies and I thought it might be useful to highlight them. Very important: we are not talking in terms of only women having these skills or being better than men – the only takeaway is to discover one’s own strengths.
There may be many more such skills and I invite you to keep looking for them in yourself!
Attention to detail: While much is made of the swashbuckling developer who can type perfect code at one go, reality is that most of code development and maintenance is to do with rigor and great attention to detail. Women, for most part, are extraordinary in it – go on, find your examples of where you have done it as second nature! Whether it is detailed planning for a group trip or not missing out on any essentials during a visit to a grocer, chances are that most women are able to hold details well in their mind.
Ability to synthesize and connect the dots: It’s quite a skill to be able to join the dots and find a bigger picture or canvas from the small view – whether it is business strategy or technology blueprint.
A retired British naval officer named Gilbert Roberts set out to solve a very crucial problem during World War II: German U-Boats were taking out British ships, including supply ships, at an alarming rate, more than 1,200 in 1940 alone. And they were losing very few U-Boats.
He set up a team of young women (called Wrens during the war) with good math and tactical skills to devise a strategy to stop the U-Boats. They created a battleship type game on the floor with wooden models of ships using battle reports, detection systems, board game simulations and help from Turing’s famed Enigma machine. The findings from their games went on to help the British navy adapt a different approach to U-Boats – which helped in getting an upper hand during the war. Roberts mentioned in his notes, the brilliance of these women in tactical thinking and ability to come up with so many permutations and combinations.
On a lighter note: the ability to infer the family’s doings from a chance remark, an odd look … women tend to be quite amazing!
Innovative thinking: Finding creative workarounds in constrained scenarios is something that I believe women naturally excel at. Whether it is repurposing something that is no longer useful or making something beautiful out of nothing, the ability to be resourceful and find unconventional solutions is a great asset.
Resilience: Technology roles need resilience – whether in RnD or in manufacturing or in IT, day to day hurdles and disappointments are common. I have had the privilege of working with women from different backgrounds – most of whom demonstrated extraordinary resilience and ability to spring back from a failure. And no, a few tears in a tough situation do not signal weakness. I like to think of it as release mechanism – a healthy way to dissipate a potentially damaging emotion.
What are the other tech skills that you think women are naturally good at?
Posted By: Smitha Murthy