Onward and Upward: 5 Tips to Help Women in Tech Develop an Executive Presence

I never planned for a professional career path. I disliked high school, and I struggled with traditional academia.

Luckily, my mother recognized my keen eye for art and design and realized that my poor academic performance was simply misguided. Disregarding tradition, and in a move considered extremely progressive in our native Pakistan, she placed me in the country’s top coed art school — and from there, the spark was lit. I graduated with honors and already had a flourishing business in my final year of college.

Today, as the head of product design for a global technology company, I’ve seen — and experienced — the challenges that women face when advancing their careers in technology, especially when it comes to establishing their reputations as leaders. Women make up a small percentage of the technology workforce, earning just 20 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in computer science. For the percentage that do break into the field, a tougher challenge remains: staying there. Consider the following:

The long-term effects of these turnover rates can be discouraging. But, I believe that for all women, understanding and personifying five key skills and behaviors can help us establish an executive presence — one that commands respect among our peers, helps us manage up and keeps us motivated to continue the climb. Over the years, employing practices such as working smarter, exuding confidence, showing empathy, mastering strengths and following my gut helped me establish myself as a leader in my area, and I’ve been fortunate to watch several of my female mentors use these traits to succeed at companies like Oracle, Intuit and eBay.

After defying the odds myself, here are my favorite techniques to help give women in tech an advantage.

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