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Early this year, we promoted three of our Squad Leads to lead our technical operation as heads of three tribes – Tribal Chiefs. All three are women.
Omnia Ali, Rania Hytham, and Walaa Elyamany each manage tribes of 80-100 engineers, from Squad Leads, Technical Leads, and Scrum Masters to Product Owners and Architects working side-by-side with some of the most talented engineering teams in the world.
Our veteran Squad Leads (folks who have successfully led Integrant teams for many years) not only accepted but celebrated the announcement. Not only have we done an excellent job hiring people who reflect our values, but we also invested time coaching and mentoring leaders in our organization to support the success of both men and women, fostering mutual respect between everyone.
Our three Chiefs made a big impact in just a few months – implementing ideas and solutions they have been dreaming of and, at the same time, producing better ideas based on an even deeper understanding of our people, customers, and business.
On this Women in Engineering Day 2023, one can imagine how proud I am of our entire technical leadership team. And yes, I am, but I would also like to share the unexpected observations made during this transition. These observations enabled deeper self-reflection and an opportunity to be a better leader.
We are familiar with the concept of generational or intergenerational trauma in families. It starts when a group experiences a traumatic event or series of events. The result is physical and psychological symptoms that are inherited and passed down from generation to generation.
Are women leaders a group experiencing and passing down trauma within a corporate setting?
As a female leader, I realized I am not only exhibiting but also modeling qualities and behavioral patterns identified yes, in all leaders, but more prevalently in women. As I pass the torch to Omnia, Rania, and Walaa, I am conscious of both the misguided counsel I have provided and the mistakes I have made in leading by example.
My Chief Coach, Val Ries, recommended a book called How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by leadership Expert Sally Helgesen and bestselling leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith to our group. In the book, common patterns observed in women are discussed. Here are a few examples from the study and ones I identify with most:
1. Women struggle to claim their own accomplishments. Instead, we expect others to notice and reward our contributions.
2. Women are more likely to sacrifice their careers for their jobs – we are so focused on doing a great job day-to-day, we inadvertently sacrifice opportunities and investments for the future. We can serve our companies, teams, customers, while at the same time creating opportunities to grow, learn, and advance our careers.
3. Women are more likely to fall into the perfection trap which leads to an inability to delegate and increases likelihood of burn out. Society promotes a habit of perfectionism in women which impacts how we communicate and represent ourselves. Perfectionism hinders us from speaking with confidence and authority.
4. There are many ways in which we undermine our authority by minimizing ourselves. Examples include our body language from the way we sit, stand, greet, speak, and take up space in meetings to the way we communicate including tone, language choice, and back to first point in this list – taking credit for our work and contributions.
While we can identify these patterns across genders, How Women Rise covers twelve distinct and very much related behaviors more often exhibited by women than men. I found myself in all of them:
I work too many hours with a reluctance to delegate, do not accept enough recognition, and certainly do not reward myself enough.
I know more than I give myself credit for.
I undermine my own authority when I make myself smaller due to a misunderstood definition of loyalty and service to others.
I am my own worst critic.
Here is an example of how I passed the trauma to the next generation of Integrant leaders and our newly appointed Chiefs:
People management is not my strongest area. I am better at problem solving and delivery. It is an area in which I received a lot of criticism, both fair and unfair.
One of the Chiefs came to me with a people management issue – she felt a member of her team was not a good fit for Integrant. They lacked both skills and cultural fit. I see a lot of similarities between her management style and mine. She is strong in delivery, moves quickly, makes fast decisions, and is a talented problem solver. Many people have a challenging time keeping up with her.
Instead of asking more questions, hearing her concerns, and coaching her to trust gut instinct and experience, I asked her to minimize herself. I asked her to work harder at earning their trust (disease to please), give more space (minimize herself), but at the same time back them up to make sure the client was not adversely impacted (perfection trap).
I did this because, in my career, I was given feedback about being too harsh, expecting too much from others, and softening my communication. Some of it, yes, was extremely helpful. I had areas to improve. But, in some situations, I was unknowingly judged and criticized for traits unbecoming of a woman.
My road was harder than it needed to be. I was leading our Chiefs down this same treacherous road when there was a smoother path to follow.
How do we break this cycle? How do we help the next generation of women leaders unlearn the actions and inactions hindering us from being the best version of ourselves at work and at home?
Start a book club and learn together. Spend an hour on each area in How Women Rise and create a safe space to have an open discussion. Include everyone in this discussion – not just women in your organization. Men will also identify with the habits and hearing from everyone will help them lead and manage women and all members of their teams more effectively.
Open a conversation about our lived experiences and how we coped
Notice any embedded patterns, attitudes, or narratives that we continue to portray
Talk through these areas with trusted friends, colleagues, and mentors
I learned so much by being a Chief member and from Val Ries. Our Training Director, Mina Amgad, is facilitating a series today specific to leaders and leadership coaching. Consider corporate therapy or executive coaching for yourself and your leaders.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I always remind myself and those closest to me to be kind to ourselves. If we cultivate a sense of empathy and compassion for women, all leaders both men and women, and the struggles they endured, we are better equipped to support one another and grow together.
We can pave the way for women leaders by recognizing the patterns, learning from mistakes, openly discussing solutions, holding one another accountable, and leading by example. We can recreate a new narrative to embody and believe about women, leadership, ourselves, and the world.
Happy Women in Engineering Day to every woman working in STEM. You deserve to be recognized, rewarded, and celebrated.
Integrant’s Vision is to transform the software development lifecycle through predictable results.