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Time to awaken the rogue in every girl

Women often lack the approach in life that goes: “Well, if it doesn’t work out then so what? At least I’ll learn something. Every failure is an important lesson that makes me stronger.” We need girls to believe that this really is the case. Magdalena Dziewguć, Head of Google Cloud (Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia) and member of the Board of Trustees of SWPS University talks to Małgorzata Mierżyńska, journalist of Newsweek Psychologia, about the moment when women are seen to succeed in business, where their strengths lie and how they overcome barriers.


NEWSWEEK PSYCHOLOGIA: The title of one of director Marek Koterski’s films is “Chicks are Just Different”. Is that really the case??

MAGDALENA DZIEWGUĆ: Different to men? Yes. We have different shapes, skills, psychological profiles, different perspectives, and different sets of responsibilities and priorities in life.

Is that a limitation or an opportunity?

In a world of new technologies such diversity is very much sought after nowadays because technology is becoming increasingly more human. Initially, IT specialists focused on optimising various functions in an effort to eliminate system errors. Technology was almost exclusively focused on itself. Users were secondary. In recent years, however, the development of technologies has been guided by human needs. Users define what they should look like, how they should work, and in what way they can be trusted. In that sense, they are closer to humans, easier to use and more accessible. And this is where women’s skills come into play. Since time immemorial, we have been experts in understanding the needs of others. We have identified those needs in our community, our home, our family, and among friends. We spend both time and energy understanding their problems and how to solve them. When we combine all of these skills we get purely engineer-based precision technology, created by developers who are usually men, as well the ability to identify a problem based on empathy, understanding the broader context, identifying various motivations, needs and emotions of the user in order to create cutting-edge projects, innovations, and the most interesting of solutions allowing us to live better, act faster, easier and cheaper.

From what you say, it follows that women really do have different kinds of talents and capacities compared to men. Does that mean that they might not be suitable for certain professions, including those related to modern technologies and IT?

Not at all. I can quite easily name a whole host of talented female programmers but also many men who have had a successful career in communication. So I discount the idea that we are not able to develop in areas that are not perceived as natural. On the other hand, I think that we can be more effective where we already have a certain level of skill which has been shaped by the culture and environment in which we grow up. If two children are brought up together, and the girl is taught to serve others, look after them, communicate with them, and her first toy is a fluffy teddy bear, all the female members of the family spend time in the park or the kitchen, whereas the boy is taught to fight and compete with his peers, his first toy is a computer, and all the male family members spend most of their time stooped over electronic devices, then it’s not biological differences that shape us but rather the environment and culture in which we grow up. Sometimes, therefore, we don’t have to go against the flow. If we have a girl with well-developed social skills who communicates well, and a boy who is analytical and understands the language of maths and new technologies, then why teach the girl programming and the boy sociological structures? Let them build on their strengths, and let us create teams that are symbiotic and that can bring these mutual values to the table and not force them to do something different.

So it’s pointless fighting age-old stereotypes, cultural models of upbringing and the perception of the roles of girls and boys?

It’s hard to impose anything on parents. I myself consciously try to give my children something more than this particular cultural model. I’ve seen research that shows how many mathematically-gifted girls purposely stop being interested in maths around the age of 11 and 12 because this is not well seen in their peer group. Girls at this age are more interested in fashion and music. Later, these gaps in your knowledge are difficult to make up, even if you suddenly remember your old talents before your final exams and you discover maths could be a good career option. That’s why girls badly need our support in managing their personal development and cognitive crises both at school and at home.

One can often find a small girl in many young female managers, and in some CEOs. The frightened young girl wonders if she’ll make it. What if I don’t make it? My advice is for women who are just starting off on their professional career to find a boss who really knows not to strive for perfection at all costs.

Is a woman able to be successful in a masculine environment only when she follows in a man’s footsteps, takes on a male role, a masculine style and masculine patterns of behaviour or is she able to be successful by being herself and building her position on her own terms with her own skills?

I’m convinced that you don’t have to change, but it’s extremely difficult and demanding. In the natural world, if there’s a harsh winter it’s only the strongest animals with the greatest capacity to adapt that survive. It’s the same with women in new tech: you don’t have to become someone else and take on a masculine role to survive, you just need to have two important skills: inner strength and a belief in yourself and not giving up your view of the world, and then you can achieve your goals and improve your capacity to adapt.

Are these two features mutually exclusive?

Despite what some might think, no. On the one hand, you have a strong set of moral values and standards, and on the other the ability to listen, a readiness to adapt, to reach a compromise, being agile and even cunning, which allows you to make decisions and adapt quickly to difficult situations. The classic example of successful women in masculine environments is a woman with an above-average belief in her own inner strength, values and actions, but also flexibility, i.e. the ability to think quickly and agilely and take procedural action. These kind of women do not waste time worrying about things or breaking down a problem into its component parts. They think in terms of having to solve a crisis quickly.

So they’re typically task-oriented, but at the same time they do not actively have a confrontational style and force their arguments on others.

These are women who look for solutions and paths that allow them to go further together despite differences. Some time ago Harvard celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first female student. I had the pleasure of listening to several of these female graduates. They talked about the barriers they had to overcome, how they dealt with all the negativity and reluctance to let women into this masculine environment. They had to face male stereotypes about female weaknesses, but also a lack of support at home and in society. What allowed them to survive and pave the way for the next generation of women were two factors: the feeling that they were on the right path and doing what they truly want, not what is expected of them, as well quickly building relationships and winning allies by way of who they are, how they behave, what they believe in and not by force.

What barriers did you encounter?

There were lots. But if I had to pick the greatest then it would have to be the one that is typical for most women; everything changes when we become mothers. That’s the moment you need to reassess your priorities and make a conscious decision how much time you’ll spend at home and how much you’ll spend at work. The Economist found that in men and women that began their career at the same time, women achieved more by the age of 30 because they are more hardworking, systematic and focused on their work. Men are still partying, taking life and their responsibilities for granted. Women have a “developmental head start” on men up to the age of thirty. Then suddenly, when women decide to start a family, the situation is completely reversed. For men, their careers and families remain at the same level, or their career even becomes more important to them. For women, their families becomes the priority and their careers become less important. Having the choice between a toddler at home or a business trip, training sessions, or evening cocktails, women most often choose their children. Meanwhile, this is where and when new business opportunities and interesting people appear. If women give this up, their careers naturally slow down to the advantage of their male colleagues. It was the same for me. It was extremely difficult for me to reconcile my home and family duties with my work. And this remains the case right up to this day. Time and again I have to make the choice between my daughter ballet lessons or business cocktails. One of the most important barriers in the professional life of women is the need to reconcile these two spheres of life. What’s more, women work more emotionally. They are a great deal more worried about a project’s goals, its effects, whether everyone is equally involved, and everyone’s point of view has been taken into account than men, who on the other hand are more focused on the goal. The costs of achieving the goal are often seen as secondary, in that “no one judges the winners”. Women take into consideration who has lost, and even try and make sure no one loses, or at least to have as many winners as possible. This simply doesn’t function in procedural work as it extends the whole process, and costs more in terms of resources and time.

Are women perceived as less effective because of this?

I think so because in the short term that’s exactly what it looks like. It’s only when you take a long-term view do we appreciate that women are accumulating social capital in this way. This is extremely important because we live in a time when the price of technology is approaching zero, and social capital will really count. The fact that I can make a phone call is not as important as the fact that someone I care about will answer the phone. Women have so much more to ofter in this area. Men are transactional; if they call each other it’s to make a business deal, to do something specific or make a quick decision. Women care about relationships, but that costs money and that’s also the barrier which causes women’s careers to not develop as fast as men’s; they have to work at it longer.

What advice would you give a woman who wants to have a career in a male-dominated industry? How do you get your voice heard when men ignore you at meetings just because you’re the only woman at the table?

This is a situation I often encounter. Once, during an important meeting with a big client, one of the company’s board members said: “They didn’t have any ideas so they sent a woman”. It was clear that my role and qualifications (which got me to the table for the meeting in the first place) clearly didn’t matter to him. Very often I’m the only woman in discussion panels at conferences. It’s common that men mainly talk to each other, ask questions, creating an informal male coalition. My advice to women in this situation is to not pay attention to it, concentrate on what’s being said, listen to the discussion and speak only on topic. The truth will defend itself. I’ve learnt that focusing on solving the problem, coming up with a good idea or working out a compromise means that after some time we forget who said it. It’s not true that men think an idea is worse if it comes from a woman, but what is true is that they need time to hear what a woman is saying and be convinced of her skills. You have to give them a chance.

Women are able to accumulate social capital. This is extremely important because we live in a time when the price of technology is approaching zero, and social capital will really count. The fact that I can make a phone call is not as important as the fact that someone I care about will answer the phone. Women have so much more to ofter in this area than men.

How important is it for women in their careers to receive the support of male bosses and men in general? Should they consciously look for allies in them?

I have to admit I was very lucky with regards to my male bosses; they gave me a lot of space. I could reach much higher, because they looked after me, “securing” my room for action. Men are usually good at building teams, task-based teams. They play football and other team sports from childhood, they play Cowboys and Indians, fight battles and the suchlike. They do various tasks and reach goals as part of these games. It’s the same in their professional life. Men are able to quickly build a team that will achieve something. These teams might not have deep relations within them, and their members might not be too bothered about how other people in the team feel, but they always get the right result. This is a massive advantage. I’ve had many bosses who were able to precisely define my tasks and were able to use my skills to achieve a goal. I think it’s a mutual benefit. But in terms of my own personal development, my female bosses taught me the most. They were holistic in their approach, they focused on the individual, they were able to see all of my potential, to help me work through a problem, and achieve the maximum of possibilities. I’d advise women at the beginning of their career to look for bosses who are a bit older, a little more experienced, women who have gone through the usual crises of reconciling work with family life, who are organised in their heads and know how to not strive for perfection at all costs. Men are not able to give us the kind of support, faith and strength that a female boss can. Let’s just hope they’ll be more of us. Then they’ll be more women developing their careers.

But what can we do ourselves for girls in order to give them equal career opportunities at the outset despite the educational system and the culture we have?

Push them to try different things, create as many failures as possible for them and help them get through them. The problem is that while we’re good at praising girls for their beautiful looks, a beautiful performance or a beautiful drawing, we rarely encourage girls to take risks. Every time they fall off a bicycle, a tree or fence, tear their skirt or hurt their knee, we should be telling them that it’s not the end of the world. If they can handle the class laughing at an idea of theirs and then crying all afternoon because of it, they’ll come out stronger. With the support of parents and teachers, they’ll understand the reason for that particular failure, why it didn’t work out, what they could do differently and what they can do better next time. They’ll then try again. We don’t push girls enough to pick themselves up after failures and try again. Did you apply and not get into university or college? Doesn’t matter. Try again and again, and yet again. In my experience, the greatest deficit that women have is a lack of faith in their own abilities. That little girl still lives in many young female managers, but also some experienced female managers and chairwomen. Those frightened thoughts: “Can I do it? What’ll happen if I don’t make it? Their expectations are too high, I shouldn’t accept that offer”. Women often lack the approach in life that goes: “Well, if it doesn’t work out then so what? At least I’ll learn something. Every failure is an important lesson that also makes me stronger.” We need girls to believe that this really is the case.

And so we return to education. Isn’t education the reason why in every woman, even a successful one, is a little frightened girl, whereas in every successful man is an unruly rogue?

It’s frightening, but it’s the consequence of bringing girls up to be polite, not stand out, in case they tear their tights, or mess up their hair, whereas the boy who tears his trousers is great. We have to wake up the rogue in girls because looking for adventures, trying new things, testing, failing and rising up again gives them strength. Adventurism and looking for adventure, experimenting, trying something that no one has tried before is the key to success.

The article was first published in the Polish edition of "Newsweek Psychologia Extra 1/17”.
The magazine is available here »

magdalena dziewguć

About the Author

Magdalena Dziewguć - head of Google Cloud (Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia). An experience manager. She studied law and psychology, holds the title of Executive MBA (Warsaw School of Economics and GMP Harvard Business School). She has been working for Google since 2014, before which she was VP of Exatel. She is a member of several supervisory boards and the Board of Trustees of SWPS University. From 2000, she helped create the telecommunications services market for business for the Orange and Plus networks. She is the founder of Digital University and LiderSHE in Poland. All her career she has dealt with new technologies and their impact on business processes in organisations. She is an expert in innovation, restructuring and building a culture of commitment and cooperation. She advises investment funds and start-ups in building a commercialisation strategy for new business ideas. She works on projects that support the inclusion of women. She strongly believes that both new technologies and more decisions taken by women will change the world for the better. She is mother to Sonia and Adam.

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