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What Is Holding You Back?

This text is the last installment in our blog series on technology and gender equality. The series has featured guest posts from leaders in technology, such as Nina Kopolafrom Business Finland, Ilkka Niemelä and Marja Niemi from Aalto University and Malin Frithiofsson from Women in Tech Gothenburg to name a few. In this last installment, Director of Voyage Solutions Services at Wärtsilä, Anne Träskbäck reflects on her experiences of gender equality in the tech world.

During my career, I have encountered occasions where I was told by colleagues that “If you were a man, you would have claimed your space in situation —[xx]” or “If you were a man, you would already have had that career advancement — [xx]”. Whilst there are many forces beyond one person’s control when it comes to equality, there are things we can all consider, and it has made me reflect all the more on my own behaviour, and wonder what is holding me back.

When observing myself and women in the workplace, I have noticed certain habits – especially when career opportunities are at hand. Habits that we could change for the better, by recognising their affects. The good thing with habits is that those are within our own control, those are things we can change by starting to practise and repeat new, more desirable habits. And by recognising what the habits are that is holding you back from reaching your full potential, and by working on them, you can also improve equality at work. What do I mean by that?

In the tech world, I have noticed many women who do not claim their achievements. Men are typically more assertive, putting themselves and their achievements on the map, whilst women tend more to think that “The work should speak for itself. People should notice it, when I do an excellent job”. Unfortunately this way of thinking and habit may negatively impact how you are recognised and rewarded.

Having said that, I also see this depends on how perceptive your manager is, their capabilities to understand the differences in people and to know how the diverse team members contribute. Generally during my career in Wärtsilä, I have been fortunate and had very good managers, where I have felt that I have been equally recognised and rewarded, as my male colleagues.

In male-oriented environments, some women have also encountered unfortunate experiences (most of you probably come to think of such occasions). Because of these experiences, we might start holding back, whether it means apologising for our actions or belittling who we are, or becoming more silent in meetings and not taking our well-deserved space. In turn, these experiences start forming new behaviours, and those behaviours gradually become our new habits, and there we are – with a habit that will be holding us back from our true potential.

When it comes to diminishing remarks at the workplace, many women choose to either ignore these or laugh them away. What I have learned over the years is that when we encounter such experiences – be it ourselves or see it happening to others, we should speak our voice and show it is not acceptable. Not because we cannot handle it (because we definitely can), but because we owe it to the others.

Something else I often observe is our strive to be ‘perfect’, and it manifests itself in various situations. One of Wärtsilä’s executives once shared an example with me, that if there is an open vacancy and a woman thinks that she fulfils only nine of the ten requirements, she might not apply; whilst a man, even if he self-scores less than half of the requirements, he would still apply. So let’s not sell our talent short. If you see an opportunity that interests you, go for it, and if you are not sure you can do it, you will learn how to do it later.

Many women may also seem as ‘tough cookies’ at work, whilst beneath the surface we are dealing with a variety of hardships. The strive to be perfect namely shows when it comes to asking for help. We may not want to be a ‘burden’ to others, so we try to figure out solutions to problems by ourselves, which in turn may result negatively on desired output or even your health.

If you recognise yourself in the above, it might also be you give yourself an unreasonably hard time when things go wrong – you may take failures seriously and dwell on mistakes unnecessarily. This was the case for me earlier, until one of my managers once asked “What is the worst thing that can happen?” and when you stop and think about it, everything falls in perspective. This simple question has turned out very useful in many different kind of situations, as it provides strength and courage to navigate unchartered waters.

I have learned plenty from my managers, so when I mentor graduating students or others, I always advise them to “choose your manager”. Your manager can have a fundamental importance and influence on your career, thru the way they challenge you and help you grow, recognise your potential and create opportunities in which you can shine, allow learning from mistakes and having your back when you need it, and the way they create an environment where equality is promoted, and you feel welcome and safe.

As you advance in your career, your role is likely to become all the more independent and the interactions with your manager different – yet, to me it is important to work for a person and a leadership team, which actively drives diversity and inclusivity at the workplace.

Bringing namely more women to tech requires strong support from top management throughout the organisation. It has to be a conscious choice and something that is on the recruiting managers mind, when having two equally good candidates, to actually choose for diversity. It is easier to go with what feels more comfortable and to select the profile you have always done. In tech companies we still often value technical competence higher than for example people leadership skills. This is one of the things companies can do better – diversity should not only be pretty words on a homepage, but seen in real actions.

When I started my career back in 2003 at Wärtsilä, women worked mainly in the ‘traditional’ support areas such as human resources or finance. Today, 17% of our workforce consist of women. We have had various global and local initiatives along the years to promote awareness about diversity, and nowadays also more women are attending leadership courses and are promoted as managers in the business lines. In Finland, Wärtsilä also supports organisations like Women in Tech and Inklusiiv to enable their good work around equality and inclusion. Wärtsilä also plays an active role in events that aim to share knowledge on the matter, while promoting the importance of diversity for larger audiences.

The opportunities are awaiting, so what is potentially holding you back?

Believe in yourself, claim your seat at the table, and embrace your future. And whilst doing so, remember to pull up a chair for others too. Even the strongest of us need support, so if there isn’t a support network in your company – create one, and remember to mentor and coach other women too.

Thank you to all bold women for being an inspiration, and to the bold men who encourage diversity and walk the talk.

Anne Träskbäck
Director, Voyage Solutions Services

The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the National Council of Women of Finland.

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