#WomenInTechQA – Susan Solomon, Executive Coach for Women In Tech

As part of our Women In Tech Q&A series we recently caught up with Executive Coach for Women In Tech, Susan Solomon.

Susan talks about the importance of having a coach, discusses the biggest challenge for women in the industry, and offers advice on how you can utilise your personal brand.

For the full interview, watch the video below!

W.I.T. Republic (WR): Could you tell us a bit about what inspired you to become a coach for women in tech?

Susan Solomon (SS): I became interested in coaching in 1999 when most people weren’t aware of what it was.

There were no famous coaches or role models, so I came upon coaching quite haphazardly.  One day a trainer who was helping me recover from a broken ankle told me, “I read an article yesterday about something called coaching.  You’d be great at it.”  She said the article was about employers in Silicon Valley that hire 20 somethings to program but these employees are not socially polished and need to learn how to be more sociable so they can be promoted to jobs in which they must communicate with internal and external stakeholders. So, she said, the employers hire coaches to help teach these people how to be more sociable. 

That story actually made me laugh, but it did sound really interesting.  Years before I had moved to the South Bay area below San Francisco to continue my 10-year tech publishing career.  It was a time when  Apple was in one building and I started to witness the explosion of tech companies in the what is now called Silicon Valley.

So I went online and did some research.  I wanted to learn how to be a coach and learned that there were about 10 coaching schools.  I chose a school and enrolled in their 18-month rigorous program.  It focused on personal growth and transformation and, since I had struggled for many years to grow and transform myself because of my family history, I was very motivated by the idea of supporting people as they grew and transformed themselves.   

WR: What are the main benefits to having a coach, like yourself?

SS: I think there are two benefits.

First, there’s what I would call the more “surface” or “apparent” benefits, such as working with a coach to, for example, develop executive presence, manage up, influence people more, become a better leader and so on.

The second benefit is that coaching can provide a totally safe and confidential place where you can say anything without judgement.  A place where somebody is there for you only and has no agenda for themself.  As your coach, I’m not your mother or your father or your boss or your children or other people who have their own agendas and make demands on you.  I’m also not someone who works for your company or for a large, impersonal coaching company and likely does not have your best interests at heart.

The more you trust your coach, the more you can unburden yourself to someone who is totally there for you, who is objective and who encourages you to bounce ideas off her—also the more the coach can help you do such things as reflect on your actions and thinking,  point out possible blind spots, clarify your goals and help you achieve them and truly see who you are and who you want to be.  A coach helps you understand the thoughts, fears, lack of confidence and issues that have been swirling around in your head and that you haven’t been able to stop the swirling on your own.

WR: One of the main ways to encourage more women into a career in tech, is to increase the representation of women in the industry. How can those looking to become role models, enhance their personal brand?

SS: I think my answer to this sort of overlaps with the previous question because your brand should ultimately be who you are. If you want your brand to reflect who you truly are, then you should start with your values—such as quality, thoughtfulness, collaboration, hard work, fact-based, humane and so on.

The best brand, I think, is that you are confident, not arrogant; that you are the go-to person on certain issues; that people trust and believe in you; that when you talk, you speak your truth and people recognize your authenticity; and that you listen—really listen.

As a woman, building a brand can be more difficult than as a man.  To build a brand you need to speak up in a male-dominated industry and in a world where women have been encouraged to be quieter for centuries.  A coach can help you find your voice, build your confidence and walk that fine line between being strong and direct and not being labelled a “bitch”.  A coach can help you build a brand that comes from inside and is your best self.

I think your brand and your self-confidence are very closely linked. There’s a lot of talk about branding and it might be becoming cliché’.  I think it’s more about who you are as a person and how you reflect that in what you do.

WR: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for women in the industry and how can this be overcome?

SS: I think that the biggest challenge women face, and actually men too, is confidence. The lack of it is often the root cause of the problems that people have and the challenges that they face.

Having confidence in yourself opens a world of possibilities. Many people call it “self-confidence.” I like to call it “self-trust”. You trust yourself to say things that will be well received, or that are based on fact, or that you strongly believe in.  This is true confidence.

I think a lot of it just goes back to who you are and how you’re going to approach a problem. If you have a boss, let’s say, who’s obstructing your career growth or isn’t supporting you, what kind of confidence do you need to go to that person and work it out with them or to build a network and get exposure to the higher-level managers who will see your value.  I think it always comes down to confidence.  

WR: Is there anything you think businesses and the wider community should be doing to support women in tech?

SS: What I’m seeing is that companies know that they need to be diverse. The problem is that a lot of times people don’t really want to do what it takes to help nurture that diversity and retain these employees.   

What companies do is they hire women and say, “We have a woman in the team now, so  go and do great things for our company.”   But members of that team might not want an “outsider” or someone who’s not part of the “boy’s club.” Or perhaps they don’t know how to include others.  Generally, they haven’t been trained for inclusive communications and activity or enlightened as to what it’s really like to be a woman in the room.   

Companies will throw things at employees like diversity training, but these same companies are not creating a larger discussion about how men and women work best together.  Instead these companies are focusing their attention on the women and what the women need to do. But it’s going to possibly go nowhere if the men on the other side are also not enlightened as to what they need to do to support women, how they can be allies and how they can support them for high team productivity.

WR: Finally, what are your top tips to those who are looking to navigate a career in this male-dominated industry?

SS: My biggest piece of advice is to be true to yourself. One of the things that I’ve seen, particularly with older clients, is that they start to lose touch with who they are. They’ve had to adjust so much to the company culture, to being in that bubble and to doing things they don’t really want to do. They wake up and they realize that they’ve lost themselves.

If you become aware that you’re stuck or you’re not enjoying your work or feeling unfulfilled, then it’s time to make internal changes, such as developing a mindset that will support you or revamping your career path, or to make external changes, such as your position, your country of residence or even your company.

My heart goes out to each woman who wants to make positive change in her life and fulfil her life’s purpose.  After all, life is not a dress rehearsal.

Susan offers a free introductory coaching session to prospective clients, to find out more, you can reach out to her on:

If you would like to join Susan as part of our Q&A series, get in touch today!

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