Characteristics of Senior-Ranking Women in IT

Attributes that Help Women Progress in their Technical Careers

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Think you've got what it takes to rise to the top as a woman in information technology?

Here is a list of the top soft skills and attributes you should possess if you're a female who wants to be successful in your technical career of choice. This list has been adapted from the results of a study, titled Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success, which was published by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI).

1. Analytical Skills

Analytical skills include the ability to think logically about an issue and solve a problem. An analytical thinker starts by gathering information and considering various factors that may contribute to the problem. The individual must also be able to design and test a solution to the problem and/or come up with a plan to address or mitigate it.

The ABI study found that close to 78 percent of senior technical women view themselves as analytical, while almost 85 percent of their male colleagues say the same about themselves.

2. Ability to Ask the Right Questions and Willingness to Learn

Inquisitiveness is critical to the process of problem-solving, learning from one's mistakes and advancing. When problem-solving, the individual must dig for answers and set aside preconceived notions before he or she can derive a solution. The individual must also be open and able to absorb new information and apply it to whatever he or she is working on.

Almost 78 percent of senior technical women perceive themselves as questioners, compared to 77 percent of senior technical men who say the same about themselves, the study found.

3. Openness to Risk-Taking

True leadership involves being willing to strive for a goal or pursue a certain path, even if the certainty of success is not 100 percent.

The study found that more than half of senior technical women view themselves as risk-takers, and are equally as likely as senior technical men to perceive themselves as such.

4. Collaborative Skills

High-tech innovation relies on collaboration - the ability to work with others as part of a team in order to achieve a common goal. The collaboration process typically involves building relationships, exchanging information, reaching a consensus on a decision or action, and working with others to resolve a conflict.

Not only is collaboration critical to success, but it can also provide a sense of career satisfaction. Just over 84 percent of senior technical women view themselves as strong collaborators, the study found.

5. Willingness to Work Hard and Put In Long Hours

This is just a reality for pretty much anyone who is immersed in the high-tech culture, which tends to demand increased responsibility and availability of people who want to climb the ladder. Women who have family responsibilities and desire work-life balance may find this requirement to be a barrier to advancement, the study concluded.

Seventy-two percent of senior technical women surveyed said they had to cut back on sleep so they could advance their careers, and close to one-third of respondents said they have delayed having children.

6. Assertiveness

In the high-tech world, people are rewarded for speaking up, promoting themselves, being ambitious and projecting self-confidence. However, since these are traditionally viewed as "male" traits in the North American culture, many women find that they are viewed negatively if they demonstrate assertiveness; on the flip-side, they may be passed over for promotions, ignored, interrupted or viewed as "too quiet" if they are not assertive enough, the study found.

In many ways, high-achieving men and women have similar characteristics. However, the willingness to put in long hours as well as maintaining assertiveness is more difficult for women to adopt given predefined gender roles.