JENNIFER MARTINO, Technology Communication Lead
It’s lunchtime at the office, and six people are sitting around a table eating and talking about their plans for the weekend. Nothing out of the ordinary, but there is one thing that catches my attention. All six people are men.
If you didn’t already guess: yes, I work in IT.
Over the years, I have come to expect that most technology professionals are male, but the statistics still surprise me. In the technology sector, roughly 25% OF THE WORKFORCE in the U.S. is made up of female employees, a number which has been steadily declining for years. Only 11% OF EXECUTIVE POSITIONS at Silicon Valley companies are held by women. Furthermore, the turnover rate is more than twice as high for women than it is for men in technology jobs.
At Tyson Foods, we recognized this gender disparity within technology professionals and decided to create more personal and professional growth opportunities for women in IT by offering a series of activities focused on Authentic Leadership.
As a woman working in IT at Tyson Foods, I was thrilled to be both a participant and a supporter in this quest to understand what it means to be an Authentic Leader. Because authenticity starts with self-understanding, I, along with 150 female tech team members, took the CLIFTONSTRENGTHS assessment, a tool used to identify individual leadership qualities. What I learned was both inspirational and liberating.
Wait…those are my strengths?
I had, in my possession, a detailed report containing my top five leadership strengths. I did complete my undergrad in less than four years, so the fact that my top strength was “Learner” seemed to hit the mark. While some strengths were obvious to me, others felt a bit…soft. Were my strengths the “right” strengths if I wanted to grow into a leadership role? How did I stack up to other women in IT?
Maybe I’ll just keep that information to myself.
On a Wednesday afternoon, I gathered with my female coworkers to have an initial session on Authentic Leadership led by two female senior IT leaders. We started the discussion by touching on some basic truths that would help us better interpret our Strengths results and put our minds at ease about whether or not we possessed the “best” strengths (spoiler alert: there aren’t any).
First, there are no strengths that are more indicative of possessing leadership capability. I have abilities that come more naturally – and that’s how it should be. This diversity is part of the secret sauce that makes up high-performing teams.
Second, it’s better to play to my strengths than it is to dwell on my weaknesses. Sure, I have skills to master and areas to develop. But it’s also important to do what I do well.
Third, it is possible for my strengths to hinder rather than help if I let them go too far. For example, I am strong in Ideation – the ability to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. While this strength can be awesome when strategizing as a team, it can also act as a barrier to execution if I get stuck on generating new ideas.
And here is where the magic happened…
With this groundwork underfoot, it was time to get real. All of us, with our Strengths results in hand, found that we were in the same boat: we were about to get pretty vulnerable with each other, and there was no room to let our insecurities inhibit the process of diving into who we are as individuals, but also who we are as unique pieces of a team.
I would be the first in the group to share my strengths. Not just verbally, but in writing. And not in just any writing—in bold, bright red marker on the whiteboard for the whole group to see. And one by one, as we bravely took turns sharing our true qualities, I realized the power of this exercise. Not only was I learning about myself and my coworkers, I was practicing being an authentic leader by openly talking about and owning my strengths. Being provided a safe space to practice authenticity—loudly and proudly—is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
This group will continue exploring Authentic Leadership over the next several months through further discussion, activities and guest speakers, and I am 100% on-board. I am grateful to work for an amazing company where the leaders demonstrate their belief that all team members, including women, have the potential to grow into leadership roles. The leaders at Tyson Foods are taking tangible steps to develop females in IT though the exploration of our individual strengths. As a female working in technology, I couldn’t be in a better place.
Published February 21, 2019.