The reality is, as a female executive, you will be among a small number of women leading in any space—especially in the tech industry. In fact, only 10% of executive roles in tech are held by women. As the CFO of Ultimate Software, Felicia Alvaro occupies a space very few women have been able to enter (only 11% of CFOs across industries are women). It is an intimidating position to be in, and imposter syndrome might feel the strongest then, but it is also a position of power and a place where you can open doors for other women.
Start strong from the get-go
It's not enough to just be good at your job; your relationships will help you move up the ranks at work. Build good relationships with leaders from the very beginning, regardless of their role and gender. At company meetings, social hours or offsite events, engage with as many people as possible (without ever forcing it of course). You may think you don't have anything to discuss with the CEO, but you'd be surprised to find out you have common interests. From initiatives happening at the company to causes you both care about, there is plenty to talk about. A good place to start is to congratulate them on a recent achievement. For example, did he or she write a book or give a talk that you felt moved by? There's an easy conversation starter! Get creative.
Command a seat at the table
In an ideal world, women wouldn’t have to play darts, drink beer or learn how to golf just to be part of the workplace culture. But unfortunately, it's expected at certain companies. In previous roles, Felicia had to push past the uncomfortable feeling to take part of male-dominated activities where she was the only or one of few women, "I got ahead by pushing my way into the 'boys’ club' and commanding a seat at the table." She believes this is the first step towards promoting an inclusive workplace environment and empowering other women to follow your footsteps. "Showing up is a victory in itself; you have to take up space and use your voice so your perspective is taken into account," says Felicia. "Be confident in your abilities and don’t fear being a catalyst for change."
Find a mentor and be a mentor to others
Felicia attributes much of her success to having mentors, "My biggest piece of advice for women is that your mentor doesn’t have to be another woman." While women can have a better understanding of your experience, one the most career-changing relationships Felicia's had has been with a former male colleague who saw her talent and became a mentor to her. "His confidence in me, combined with my own drive to excel, helped me, at the very onset of my career, strive for goals that others might have shied away from." When it comes to finding a mentor, look for people who inspire you, people who would challenge you in a constructive way. Be sure to also carve out time to help others thrive in their careers.