Lean In and McKinsey recently published a report that confirmed what we already knew. Some of those findings include that women are better leaders, stronger people managers, and care more about diversity, equity and inclusion. It feels both infuriating and validating to read on paper what many of us have been sharing out loud for years — the fact that women of color face a wider range of “othering” microaggressions that undermine them professionally.
After working in tech for over two decades, I often get asked how I was able to put up with all the inequalities and make it to the C-suite. My answer is as clear as water: If I don’t do it, who will do it? As a female, Latina and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I knew that my journey required a ton of grit and the understanding that it was my responsibility to honor the women who came before me and open the door to the ones coming behind me. It is time for us all to create an environment in which there are no longer questions or doubts on the ability of women to flourish in this industry, especially women of color.
The tech industry is not going to change overnight, and we need to be strategic and realistic at the same time. The workplace is not the way it should be, so how can we navigate this world while keeping our authenticity and rise to the top? Here is what worked for me:
Build A Support System That Includes Mentors
I cannot stress how important it is for women of color to find a suitable mentor (or mentors). I am a CIO and have three mentors at this moment. The best mentor would be someone you already admire and share a common connection with. If you put yourself out there and share your skills, then the right people will take notice.
Finding a mentor happens organically, and if you feel the need to ask someone to be your mentor, this may not be the right person for you. Focus your attention instead on getting to know them and building a good relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
Never Stop Learning
I am obsessed with knowledge, and I don’t recommend it. Instead, make learning a personal commitment you are making with yourself. Technology is constantly changing, and you can become irrelevant over a weekend.
I have joined many industry and social groups on Slack and LinkedIn to help me stay up to date with new trends. I also listen to various podcasts while I am walking my dog or commuting to work (whenever I do). Additionally, I also rely on my younger employees to share knowledge and upcoming changes to the systems/applications we use. You will never know everything, but you can invest a few hours a week in learning something new or sharing your wisdom with others, which always teaches me something new about myself.
Negotiate Your Salary
As a woman of color who grew up in a Hispanic household, I can tell you that money was not something we were allowed to talk about. It took years of unlearning and a coach to help me see how important it is for me to stand up for myself and demand the right compensation. You need to believe that you deserve every penny and push back when you need to. While we wait for the Paycheck Fairness Act to pass, I want you to know the market value to create your strategy in advance and talk to people already doing the work you will do.
Learn To Self-Promote
Self-advocacy is extremely important in several areas of your life, not only the workplace. It is important to share your accomplishments and keep an eye out for opportunities that showcase your potential. It will be impossible for you to be recognized for the fantastic work you do each day if you are invisible. Be comfortable flaunting your achievements during meetings and on social media, share your articles or publications, promote any interviews or projects completed and let the world know about your volunteering work. I add all of my volunteering and mentoring to LinkedIn, and I have a document where I write every single accomplishment for the past 10 years or so.
Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable And Speak Up
I can tell you that both courage and confidence are muscles that need to be flexed to grow. It takes practice, repetition, and a positive attitude to sit with fear. The first time you share an idea in a meeting, it will feel scary for sure, but each time you speak up, you will grow your confidence. Your voice is powerful, and you can use it to empower others and influence those around you.
One of the things that helped me become a CIO was saying yes before I felt ready. I still do it today because I know I will give it my best and not be afraid of failing. Treat each failure as a learning experience and know that each door closing is redirection and not the end of the road.
Here is our reality today: The McKinsey report explains that “Women of color continue to lose ground at every step in the pipeline — between the entry-level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75%. Women of color account for only 4% of C-suite, a number that hasn’t moved much in last three years.”
In the end, companies must understand that actions speak louder than words, and we all know that the fight for gender bias is long but not impossible. I wasted many years trying to fit in, and I am now incredibly proud and confident to stand out. All I ask of you is that when you make it to the C-Suite, you remember to turn around and bring other women to the table.
This article originally appeared on Forbes and has been republished with permission