Women in IT share advice on levelling up in a male-dominated Industry

There are about 4000 venture-backed enterprise start-ups in the U.S., and 137 of them were founded by women, according to a recent study by enterprise technology venture capital fund Work-Bench.

Jessica Lin (left), co-founder and general partner at Work-Bench, and Meredith Finn, senior director at Salesforce Ventures, speak at the Navigate Women in Enterprise Technology conference on Feb. 28, 2017 in New York

That was the statistic that framed the Women in Enterprise Technology conference hosted here Wednesday by Work-Bench and Salesforce Ventures, where women gave advice on how to move up the ranks in a male-dominated industry, based on their own personal experiences.

Female business leaders from companies including Bank of America Corp. and Slack Technologies spoke to the audience of 300 about the importance of taking on the hard assignments, crafting a narrative to sell yourself, asking for what you deserve, and believing in your strengths.

Here are some takeaways.

Be an expert in sales. The higher up you go in business, the more your job is sales, says Julia Grace, head of infrastructure engineering at Slack. As an engineering leader at the messaging platform company, she said much of her time is spent selling her capabilities, her team and the company. She constantly sells Slack to prospective job candidates, and she sells the work of her team to executives, she said. It is important to craft a narrative of what you’re selling just as you would craft a sales pitch, she said. “People don’t want a factual list. They want a story, a narrative, something that hooks them in,” said Ms. Grace, who grew her team from 10 to more than 60 since she joined the company in 2015. And, when it comes to marketing your brand, it’s crucial to “own your career narrative,” she said. If you have a strong background in education but you want to rebrand yourself as an expert technologist, make sure that “narrative” is reflected on your resume and on LinkedIn, she said.

Do the hard work. “Volunteer for a tough assignment that no one else wants,” said Rosa Ramos-Kwok, a managing director at Bank of America, where she leads the Consumer and Shared Services Operations Technology organization. In order to get noticed and move up the ranks at her previous job at Morgan Stanley, she took on a tough data analysis assignment that involved presenting to the CIO about auditing issues within the company. “I needed to be seen as someone who could do something more than all the other things I had been doing with infrastructure,” she said. That type of work also gave her a new skill that made her more versatile, which helped her get the next promotion, she said.

Know your strengths. It is important not to lose sight of your own strengths, Ms. Ramos-Kwok said. She encourages women to ask their colleagues for three words that describe them. “Make a list, keep it going,” she said. Some descriptors she has received from other co-workers include: detail-oriented, caring, empathetic, inspirational. “That’s my list. That is how you show up every day. Those strengths, that’s what got you to where you are and that’s also going to help you to where you want to go,” she said.