By DeVry University
In her 20 years of working in tech, Blanca Leon-Carter has mastered the art of navigating roles she often sees dominated by men. As a current Salesforce Consultant for Slalom, she holds a rewarding position that supports major outcomes for the company—but her path to success did not unfold without hard work and lessons learned.
Looking for career tips to navigate your own progress? Whether you’re just getting started or you’re a seasoned professional, here are six tips Leon-Carter has learned—and recommends for growth—as a woman in tech.
The Benefits of Women in Technology
Without fail, Leon-Carter understands the power and innovation women can bring to technology. After graduating from DeVry’s Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems and Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) programs, she advanced her tech career at a non-profit organization for nearly two decades. She took on roles spanning from Network Administrator and Database Manager to Director of Operations and IT.
Throughout each phase of her career, Leon-Carter continued to deliver results, strengthen her skills and explore opportunities to work with other women. As VP of Community Engagement with Rad Women, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in technical roles, Leon-Carter constantly witnesses the value their diverse perspectives and skills can bring to various industries.
“I think you experience a different force of nature when you work with women in technology,” Leon-Carter says—and experts would agree. In a study by the London Business School of more than 100 teams at 21 companies, it was noted “that the key levers and drivers for innovative processes are positively influenced by having a 50:50 proportions of men and women in teams.” A study from the National Center for Women and Information Technology also found that teams comprising of both women and men produce IT patents that are cited 26–42% more often than the norm for similar types of patents, underscoring the valuable benefits of equal gender representation in technology and business.
Career Advice for Women in Technology
1. Network with other women in technology
Given her work with Rad Women, it’s no surprise that one of the first career tips Leon-Carter recommends for women starts with sensible networking. Meeting other women in roles outside of your current one can broaden your perspective and help you find the right opportunities, Leon-Carter explains.
That’s precisely what happened when she started taking her first course with Rad Women. At that time, Leon-Carter was ready for a career change but wasn’t sure if she should leave the non-profit where she had worked for years. But within a week of starting the course, she felt completely inspired by the women she met—and was poised to make a change.
“I was blown away,” she says. “We duked it out with our code, we learned so much, we uplifted each other and kept each other motivated. By the end of the course, I knew I needed to be around more women like this.”
During this same class, Leon-Carter connected with a Rad Women instructor from Brazil who exposed her to new ideas about alternate career paths. Motivated by the support she discovered, little time passed before Leon-Carter decided to take a leap of faith and left her job at the non-profit to develop her Salesforce expertise—and her bold efforts paid off. She earned three Salesforce certifications in just 18 months—a mighty feat that marked one of the key steps Leon-Carter took to attract the Slalom position she has today.
To build a network for similar support, she encourages women to join organizations such as Rad Women, the National Center for Women and Information Technology and other reputable organizations that support diverse professionals and women in technology.
2. Seek a manager who is a coach
It may seem counterintuitive but “your boss should not be your best friend,” Leon- Carter says. “Instead, your supervisor should double as a coach or mentor. Yes, they’re your supervisor, but they should always be listening for clues to know the kind of work you’re interested in, the work you don’t like to do and the kind of challenges you’re encountering.”
Why? Because a coach can offer the guidance you need to properly solve problems at work without limiting your potential: “You want a boss who allows you to have the autonomy to speak up when you need extra help, but the wisdom to still let you take ownership of your own work,” Leon-Carter says. “For instance, you should be able to say, ‘I worked on this project and I’ve hit a roadblock. Can you help me figure out what makes the most sense for next steps?’ or ‘I had this project I was working on with a consultant, but it didn’t work out. Can we talk through what to do next?’”
This isn’t to be confused with “giving up” or “not taking initiative” in your work, Leon-Carter clarifies. Instead, she encourages women in technology to foster a relationship with their manager that supports them showcasing their skills through hard work while maintaining a relationship that still feels “open” and supportive enough to simply say “I need a little bit of guidance here” when necessary.
3. Take on new challenges
Similar to working in an environment where her voice is heard, Leon-Carter also enjoys working among people who support her taking on new challenges and projects, especially if they relate to her interest in technology.
“When people talk about challenges at work and you pitch an idea, and you’re able to express that idea or solution and your team is interested in what you’re saying and gives you the space to take on the challenge, that’s a sign you’re in the right place,” Leon-Carter says.
If you have a solution for a company problem, she encourages women in technology to find the resources to execute the idea, even if that means directly asking for them. “Your boss should support you by giving you the resources you need,” she adds. “Whether that means helping you address the challenge directly on your own or by working with other organizations and consultants to get it done. When they value you and know you produce really good work, they should look out for you. That’s the kind of leadership you want.”
4. Receive credit for your ideas and worth
As she gained more experience in her career, Leon-Carter has learned the kind of emotional and mental climate to look for in a workplace. Through her own experience, she says the most supportive work environments ensure that women in technology are not simply seen—but also heard.
“You have to bring your full self to work,” she says. “No matter where you work, you should feel like your voice is valued. Whatever your ethnicity, background or gender, you should be able to feel like you have a voice and what you bring to the table is seen.”
Either through her own experiences or stories from colleagues, she has heard of the dreaded situation where a woman has pitched a brilliant idea for a project that no one supported until a male coworker regurgitates the same idea in a meeting months later.
“That’s a major red flag,” Leon-Carter says. In these instances, she encourages women to use assertive communication skills to confidently—yet calmly—speak up about their ideas. She also suggests checking in with your manager and coach for support.
“Ultimately, your boss should have your back,” she said. In the event that they don’t, she suggests taking time to reflect on your long-terms career goals and use the experience to assess whether the company is still a good fit. “You deserve to be where you are valued,” she says.
5. Seek work-growth balance
You’ve likely heard of “work-life balance" but how often do you consider “work-growth balance” in a company? Leon-Carter advises women in technology to weigh this aspect of a job or internship search when pursuing new opportunities.
“You’ll know you’ve found the right company if you’re in a position where you can already contribute the skillset and experience that you have, but you’re not limited in a way where you can’t learn anymore,” Leon-Carter says.
Her rationale for this approach is simple yet strategic: “You always want to keep yourself in a position where you can learn and grow,” Leon-Carter says. “If there’s room for you to take on other projects and positions within a company, that’s great because it’s yet another way that you can demonstrate your value to your organization as you continue to challenge yourself professionally.”