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Being younger and more female than your direct reports by Emily Rigby

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We are so thrilled to have Emily Rigby as Keynote Speaker at our Women in Tech event this September! Emily has a really great journey to share, here is a sneak peak into her story. Make sure to sign up to our event to hear more. 

'Being younger and more female than your direct reports' Emily Rigby

'I joined the working world a fresh faced 21 year old, 3 years of a Computer Science degree behind me, ready to take on my first programming job in the big city. I was lucky enough to join a team with two levels of management who knew their business. 2 weeks into my joining the team, the senior manager booked our skip level catch up and asked me, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Are you a people or a tech leader?” As I recall, I looked at him with some bemusement and reminded him that I didn’t really know what I was doing in my current job, but if I had to pick it would be people leadership.

Fast forward, through the 3 years where my managers noticed the leader in me and found opportunities to hone my enthusiasm for a job that I don’t yet fully understand, to a day in November when my current boss pulled me aside and said that he was switching teams and wanted me to take over. I went home, in something of a daze, to think about what this meant for me. I was a huge fan of my current team and I knew the product inside out, both from a technical and a business perspective. However, I was at least a year younger than all of the other team members, up to more than 20 years younger, and almost all of them had more programming experience than me, plus they were an overwhelming majority of men.

I got on really well with my team, I had all of them on Facebook and had shared drunken revelry and personal trauma to create firm friends. I knew a few of them also had ambition to become leaders, would I be able to lead such a team?

In fact my team actually all agreed that I should take over from our current boss and were ready to listen to me as I navigated the waters of leadership. I attempted to be as honest as possible to show them that, though I didn’t have all the answers, I really did have their best interests at heart and would work hard to try and get them the space and support they needed to do their best work. I was lost a lot of the time at the beginning, unsure of what my responsibilities were and burying myself with too many concerns before I got the balance right. The first round of 1–2–1s were awkward and stilted as I tried to shift friendship to management, slowly distancing myself from my peers.

Here’s what you might not realise about management before you sign up, it can get pretty lonely. The stereotype of people my age are still trying to do as little work as possible, or having one too many on a work night, while I felt the mantle of responsibility land on me and my work calendar. I didn’t have any peers of a similar age or gender; I didn’t, and still don’t, know anyone or see anyone I could relate to or aspire to be. I found myself not sure who I was meant to turn to when I had a funny story to share or wanted to moan about some colleague.

To be clear, I love my job. As I grew into a more mature manager, I found it immensely satisfying that I had real impact on the work of my team members. I could help them sort out issues, get them interesting work to do, prevent things from upsetting the rhythm of delivery and have a growing say about the direction of the product. I could start to have impact outside the team, and take things I had seen work well and implement them in new areas. This more than outweighs the challenges moving into management gave me, and means I would not hesitate to recommend this job to someone else.

Five things I learned about making my younger, female self become a more effective manager:

Firstly, telling someone to do something directly is more likely to make them disagree than entering a dialogue about what the solution could be. You can get anyone, no matter how set in their ways, to point out how wrong you are and then at least the conversation is started and you can begin to put your real point across.

Secondly, it’s ok to ask for help, it’s also ok to ask for help as a way of delegation. Don’t try to take it all on at once, adding problems to solve a bit at a time will be a lot more effective in the long run.

You don’t have to stop being friends with people when you start to manage them. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Though it might feel more ‘manager-y’ to hide the less mature parts of you, it also prevents you from being authentic and therefore more powerfully honest.

Bring people along the journey with you, it’s important to vent out any frustrations and celebrate successes. Peers, old colleagues, friends, family, I have needed them all at different times and they have helped me stay sane through the ups and downs.

Lastly, don’t forget to speak up. More often than not when I walk into a meeting, I am the only woman. Occasionally something comes up in conversation and I have to admit I don’t know what is being talked about because I wasn’t born. These things work against you to make you feel like you don’t belong. But you do belong and you have an opportunity to use your perspective to make things better. Don’t waste it.

I have by no means finished my journey. I continue to be in the minority of female leaders, I continue to be younger than some majority of my reports, I continue to have less technical experience in some cases. But I’m no less of an effective manager, and I don’t need years to make my voice heard.'

This article was written by Emily Rigby and posted originally on Medium