Deloitte Global predicts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33 percent overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than 2 percentage points from 2019.

That increase, though small, represents notable progress. Moving the needle is difficult, and even aggressive campaigns to recruit, hire, retain, and promote women have been found to work slowly. This progress is a step in the right direction, but going forward, tech companies cannot slow down. In fact, they’ll need to increase their efforts.

Due to my perspective from working at TechPoint and hearing from our member community, I’m optimistic that Indiana tech leaders are prepared to do more to foster more inclusive hiring practices. This perspective was further supported by discussion at the recent “Coffee + Connect” event at Eleven Fifty Academy that was led by Indy Women in Tech (IWiT.)

The discussion was moderated by IWiT’s Ariel Crawley, and included Eleanore “Ellie” Hong, a software engineer at Developertown, and Jennifer Pointer, director of sales at BlindRobot, and me. We outlined a number of local initiatives to shorten the runway to tech careers and listed a number of tips that anyone can use to leverage those opportunities.

(Left to right) Ariel Crawley of IWit, Jessica Stephenson of TechPoint, Jennifer Pointer of BlindRobot and Eleanore “Ellie” Hong of Developertown at Eleven Fifty Academy.

Hong shared her experience of quickly pivoting from a mechanical engineering career into web development thanks to the accessible curriculum at Eleven Fifty Academy. Pointer discussed the importance of seeking mentors as well as being a mentor. I encouraged individuals interested in tech to leverage the incredible Indiana tech investment momentum to make a case for considering jobs in Indiana tech.

I hope event attendees came away with practical advice not just for women, but for any individual ready to accelerate their professional development within the technology sector. TechPoint is laser focused on increasing diversity in the state’s tech ecosystem and we’ll be speaking out often to raise awareness of existing and new pathways and to bring more collaborators into the effort.

Indiana’s tech sector is continuing to grow rapidly and companies are aggressively searching for new Talent, so now is a great time to find yourself in tech. Below are tips  our panel collectively offered to accelerate tech career adoption.

1. Up Your Networking Game to Get and Grow your Tech Career

Tech employers are experiencing new levels of desperation when it comes to finding talent, reporting that it takes far longer now to fill jobs than ever before. The job market in general favors workers, but tech workers are in an even better position as estimates of the unemployment rates for tech workers are about 1.7 percent, compared with roughly 4 percent in the general economy; and for those with expertise in cybersecurity, it’s more like 0.2 percent. Recruiters told the New York Times recently that tech employees are in such high demand that they are tired of being head-hunted.

Gaining the technical skills required for tech roles at institutions like Eleven Fifty Academy is essential, but so are networking skills. Aside from any affinity groups you may join at an employer, get involved with some of the many Indiana tech-affiliated organizations that lift up women. In addition to our event panel partner, consider exploring groups like IWiT, Women in Hi Tech, the Startup Ladies and other groups.

Don’t discount the importance of familiar platforms like LinkedIn. Take every opportunity to showcase your skills and potential contributions. Grow your LinkedIn presence by liking and sharing content in your area of interest, and remember to reciprocate by helping others when making a direct ask for a conversation. Networking is a two-way street!

Be thoughtful about digital communication etiquette. Thank people for their time and insights, as well as make the effort to follow up by sending connection invitations to people you happen to engage with via email, video conference and in person.

2. Remove self-imposed barriers keeping you from a great tech career

While, historically, there have been plenty of barriers to women succeeding in male-dominated careers, there may be other self-imposed barriers we can simply choose to walk around. For example, more women should challenge themselves to apply to more jobs for which they meet many of the requirements, but not all of the requirements. Why not? Men do.

According to a LinkedIn Gender Insights report, women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men. Essentially, female job seekers self-select out of considering themselves a viable candidate for a role more often if they don’t feel they meet 100% of the job requirements. Statistically, men are more likely to apply for the job even if they don’t check all the boxes. Ladies, we’re missing 100% of the shots we don’t take!

Self-imposed barriers show up at the end of the hiring process, too. In my past experience as a recruiter, there was a huge gap between the number of women who would venture an employment offer negotiation relative to the number of men who countered with confidence.

More individuals need to understand that the opportunity cost for an employer to rescind an offer because a candidate high-balled the number is much more painful than for the employer to simply grant a pay/benefit adjustment or say “no, but will you still come to work here?” And in this market, employers must be really competitive with total rewards packages or risk losing top candidates to the many other offers likely waiting for them.

3. Find mentors and allies to advocate for you

Individuals interested in making a career change into tech would be well-served to seek out mentors and allies who can help advocate for their consideration and professional development, as well as guide them on how to succeed in tech jobs.

It’s easier “to be it if you can see it.” Organizations need to nurture mentorship and appoint mentors who more inclusively represent the entire workforce.

At the Coffee + Connect event, there were a number of male allies showing up to support Indy Women in Tech’s efforts to advance career opportunities for women in technology.

Some of the men at the event asked what they could do to be better allies for women, and we acknowledged that showing up to similar events was a great first step. Listening to female voices and engaging in supportive partnerships are two additional examples. Male allies can equip themselves to make a more thoughtful impact through educating themselves with content such as “How Men Can Become Better Allies” (HBR).

4. Balance hard tech skills with soft skills to succeed in tech

It’s important for job seekers to gain STEM skills, earn certifications and/or become familiar with basic tech skills, but don’t forget the soft skills. Honing emotional intelligence skills and improving communication abilities can have an outsized impact on the trajectory of your career in tech. Particularly for career changers, highlighting transferable skills from a previous career when applying and interviewing within a tech company can be refreshing, and a distinguishing factor for job candidates.

With the pandemic’s continued negative impact on mental health wellness due to increased social isolation, and a resulting imperative for employers to curate psychological safety in the workplace, individuals who can artfully balance technical skills with soft skills will be positioned for success.

5. Make time for in-depth learning to grow your tech career

A prevalent theme during the IWiT panel discussion was the critical importance of continuous learning. Having an appetite for knowledge is an essential trait for successful professionals in the tech space due to the rapidly changing nature of technology. As such, finding the right blogs, books and podcasts to consume—and committing time to do so—can elevate your career prospects.

From poring over the latest TechPoint Index article to leaning into vulnerability advice with a Brene Brown podcast, being able to demonstrate that you have an informed opinion about matters in tech will give you traction in your career.

Once you get in the door to your dream tech career, don’t forget that you gain important skills by just being “on the job.” The tight job market may increase your chances of jumping to another opportunity, but you will gain important skills and depth by settling in for a while before you start looking for employment elsewhere.  You’ll also be better prepared for your next promotion. You may even gain the skills, knowledge and connections to launch Indiana’s next groundbreaking tech company.

I’ve seen many individuals early in their tech career “job hop” among organizations after just six to eight months in each role. The tech sector has to some extent enabled that habit by competitively poaching talent rather than investing the effort to train and develop early-in-career talent. But it does have a cost.

The consequence of an organizational insufficiency of training resources (which has been exacerbated by the pandemic) is not producing enough mid-level professionals to mentor new tech career enthusiasts. With fewer mentors we end up with less cohesive teams and fewer entry-level tech pros ascending the next steps in their career. The worst part? It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

I challenge current tech job seekers to leverage this “buyer’s market” by getting the skills you need to join one of our many, and growing, tech companies. Then, commit to investing at least two years with that organization.

You will become more marketable for career advancement either with that organization or another, as you’ll develop knowledge and skills that will contribute to your company’s success.

You’ll also be helping the Indiana tech ecosystem build a deeper bench of talent within our workforce infrastructure.