How valuable are you?

March 2009

Women shaking handsMaggie Berry, director of the website women in technology, explains how women in IT can succeed through the downturn. It's no secret that women are the minority in the IT world. Despite making up around half of the UK workforce, less than 20 per cent of the country's technical roles are occupied by women.

On top of that, the industry is failing to retain the female talent it does have, as many take maternity leave and do not return in fear of being behind in technical developments and because of a lack of confidence and available opportunities.

In recent research conducted by womenintechnology.co.uk, around a third of respondents said they were put off taking a career break because of the pace of change and 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality of employers.

In this current market where job cuts are rife, it is more important than ever that female technologists remain a strong and integral part of the country’s IT machinery. Having more women in IT not only provides more female role models to encourage other women into the sector, but it can actually increase productivity.

Research by McKinsey found that those European organisations with a high proportion of women in senior positions had a stronger financial performance. So, as a woman in IT, how can you ensure that your position is safe and make yourself an indispensable asset in these difficult times?

In a downturn, everyone will be assessed with extra scrutiny so remaining visible as someone who makes a valuable contribution is key. Remember the golden rules - arrive in plenty of time, meet or beat deadlines, present yourself well and remain professional. You want to catch the boss's eye but not for the wrong reasons. Ensure you are organised and think about how to best prioritise your workload in this market.

It’s important to prove your dedication to both your individual role and to the wider organisation so offer to take on more work or responsibility to help out, put in more hours and look out for new projects that you can take part in. In the same way, use your initiative to identify any problems or challenges your company faces and come up with solutions for them.

Can you save money? Can you think of a more efficient way of working? All of these things will demonstrate that you are a valuable member of the team and also provide you with an opportunity to expand your skill set and experience.

Miranda Kennett from coaching consultancy First Class Coach says that taking control when people are often feeling despondent is important. 'When things go bad, people tend to go into a victim mode, which is very low-energy. So, if you can be somebody who is still coming up with ideas and trying to find ways forward, that helps.'

She also adds that taking a long-term, strategic view when everyone else is only considering the short-term, will not only help your own personal development, but differentiate you from your colleagues too. 'If you demonstrate that you are very competent, it may plant the idea that you could replace your boss, who's paid more than you.'

That said it's just as important to demonstrate that you are a strong team player as well as a hard working individual. Your own success will be irrelevant if the rest of your team's performance is weak, and a strong, productive team is essential for businesses that want to emerge from the downturn successfully.

Furthermore, it's not enough to just take action in all these areas - make sure you keep a note of all your achievements and how you have contributed to the success of your team, a project and / or the company as a whole. When it comes to appraisal or promotion time, you will then have evidence of your effort and ability, which you can bring to your boss's attention.

When it comes to your skill set, think about where your strengths and weaknesses lie and then consider how you can not only play to your strengths but turn your weaknesses into positive traits. For example if you are quite forgetful and need lists to remember your tasks, use this to your advantage and say that you are organised and an efficient worker.

Similarly, relate your strengths to solid skills - if you're sociable, talk about being a good networker and team player who can liaise well with all staff, customers and clients. Also think about ways in which you can develop your skills and improve the way you work.

womenintechnology.co.uk is just one organisation that offers free networking events, training courses and seminars to help women in IT with their career development - there are a wide range of courses available out there to suit your needs.

Finally, try and stay positive and upbeat. It's relatively easy to do, yet a confident attitude can really boost morale, which can do wonders for a team when times are challenging. By making an extra effort in all these areas, not only will you prove yourself to be an indispensable member of the team, you will emerge from the downturn successfully, equipped to progress your career to the next level.

www.womenintechnology.co.uk