Tag Archives: Proactivity

On Women in Technology (and Other Male-Dominated Fields)


Last month Ramesh and I attended the “SQL Day Poland” conference in the beautiful city of Wroclaw. The conference also organized a “Women in Technology Panel” where I was invited to participate. The discussion was quite lively, touching many topics from work environment down to education and upbringing. I liked that the women almost exclusively shared from their personal experience and did not give theoretical lectures on the topic.

After our return the subject still remained very much in my mind and I was trying to distill one major female issue from the past 10 years I have worked in the IT field.

What was most prominent in my observation of male and female colleagues was the manner in which they would pursue the advancement of their respective careers. I have seen men shamelessly ask for training, promotions and bonuses, while women on the other hand, would think twice or thrice as to whether such demands had merit and would choose an ideal time to approach their managers if at all.

Twenty or thirty years ago it was still possible to work exclusively for one company life-long. People had plenty of time to make a name for themselves. Plenty of time to ponder when to ask for training, a raise in salary or promotion.
Nowadays people stay in one job for two or three years and then move on. Either within the same company if it is big enough (Microsoft, IBM, SAP…) or they move to a different employer altogether. The time to get the most out of our current employment is much shorter now than it used to be in the past, especially in the IT field.
This general acceleration forces us to pursue our goals more aggressively. The term commonly used is “proactivity”, to proactively shape our career and future.

Why is there such a gap in proactivity between men and women?

1. Women often lack awareness of the necessity for proactive behavior, especially when they were brought up conservatively.

2. The fear of rejection: Women (and shy men) might fear rejection. I can share from personal experience that a less attached attitude to the outcome of any proactive step will work to your advantage. Our careers never depend solely on one person. So, if we approach someone with a request and it is denied, we have only lost one option out of many. We can approach others or change our surroundings thereby allowing us access to a new path to reach our goal.

3. The concern of what others might think if we suddenly become proactive. That’s one of my favorite topics. A good friend of mine once said: “Worried about what others might think about you? Relax and don’t flatter yourself! Others are far more concerned about their unpaid bills and constantly nagging partners, about their children’s education and their own retirement plan. How much time do you think is left to think about YOU?” Well, usually not much (unless they’ve got a secret crush).

Joking aside, if I may sum it up: You can gain far more by “shamelessly” approaching people with your requests than you could lose. Looking back, I can say that 75% of my requests were fulfilled. Wherever I hesitated and waited for the other person to approach me the outcome was pretty much the opposite. With passive behavior I was only successful about 25% of the time.

Why not be proactive more frequently? It is fun to come out of one’s shell and make oneself heard! (If you are not quite sure how it feels to make yourself heard I’ll give you a few Flamenco lessons ;o)

Good luck to all of us!