As Oracle marked Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day this past March, I thought about how male managers like me can contribute to the success of our female coworkers, not just in March, but every day of the year.
When my older sister Allison and I were kids, we grew up surrounded by strong, accomplished women. Our late mother, Christine, had a master’s degree from Cal and our stepmom, Jane, a lawyer and jurisprudence expert, retired as the district attorney for the city of Boulder, Colorado. They both told us we could accomplish anything we set our sights on, as long as we pursued our goals with purpose.
My sister inherited the hard-work gene in our family, and never got less than an A all the way from high school through her Ph.D. studies. She is now a high-performance computing engineer at Intel. I never did as well at academics in high school, but I was able to reach my career goals, with a lot of help from insightful female mentors.
In my first job out of high school, for example, I worked as a manager trainee at a Champs retail sports store. My boss was the trainer of store managers for the entire region, and she was just a badass. She was always "on," with a positive, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude, and she taught me to do everything possible to help customers. I have been blind to gender when it comes to professional abilities in the workplace given my upbringing; but having her as my first boss was an influential experience for me, for my career trajectory, and for my goal to uplift women in the workplace.
Through my technology career, I’ve had more women as bosses than men. They say that people choose their bosses as often as bosses choose their employees, but I’ve never sat in a psychologist’s office long enough to figure out why I choose women managers. At least subconsciously, I know I align with strong, smart leaders who happen to be women because of my upbringing. When I worked at Salesforce the last time, all my bosses in the chain above me were women, all the way up to Stephanie Buscemi, who was then the global chief marketing officer and now is the CMO of Confluent. Today at Oracle, my boss's boss is Safra Catz and she was recently acknowledged as #2 on The Top 100 Women CEOs Of 2021 list.
Clearly, there is room at the top in IT for talented women. But what can we all do to open the doors for our female colleagues? Here are five ways we can serve as allies to the women we work with.
As a male leader, it's your responsibility to increase your awareness of women’s experiences and gender inequities in the workplace. This HBR article is a great read on how men can build awareness. Realize who isn’t being paid equally, who keeps getting interrupted, or whom may be missing from a meeting—and take action to change it.
When it’s time to interview candidates for open positions on your team, it’s easy to go on autopilot and talk to whoever is referred to you, which in most fields can be a largely male-dominated pool. Insist with your recruiters and your hiring managers that you have balanced representation in the candidates you are considering.
As your team comes together, be proactive in seeking out everyone’s voice in meetings. Be on the lookout for subtle signals that suggest someone may have something to say but is hesitating—and bring them into the discussion. In my experience, if you do that a couple of times, everyone will know that every voice matters.
My daughter, Allison, named after my sister and now a 15-year-old high school sophomore, is confident in her own abilities. Her parents treat her the same as they treat her brothers, and we let her know she should pursue any career path of interest if she works hard to achieve it.
If you can be a mentor to a young woman, listen deeply, and focus on how your experience could be applied in their circumstances. Unless you are a woman, you can’t know all the answers—that's not your job. Your job is to be a trusted advisor that is highly aware of the challenges she may face, and help her navigate those challenges.
I’ve followed my own advice on this one and volunteered myself as a mentor through the nonprofit group Women in Revenue, as well as our own internal group, Oracle Women’s Leadership. Most recently, we held a webinar celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month where female leaders shared career advice on the power of finding your voice, investing in your networks, and more. It’s a great conversation for anyone to listen to.
As a marketing leader, sometimes I get offered the chance to give a keynote address or a talk in front of a large audience (virtual or in-person). A few years ago, I started suggesting women on our team who could take my spot. Pushback was often “title” or “level”—to which I always said, “What matters is they are able to deliver, and she can as well as anyone.”
Don’t let someone's current title restrict their opportunity. Focus instead on their area of expertise and command of the subject matter. In time, others will follow your lead, creating space for women to excel. It’s a great experience for the speaker and has the extra advantage of demonstrating to your team and the audience that your company takes equality and diversity seriously.
People sometimes ask me whether I am hurting my own advancement by working on behalf of the women on my team. I’ve never been held back in my career by advocating for women. I win when they win.
We are a team and equal partners. That’s the way it should be.