Leading teams in a male-dominated sector

future leaders

Clare Young, head of delivery, dxw digital

Leading teams is always a challenge, but for women in a male dominated sector such as technology, additional factors come into play which can make it feel even more difficult.

I hope that my experiences leading technology teams at Comic Relief and dxw, and some of the skills I’ve learned, will be helpful to others taking on similar roles.

Setting the right example

As a female leader I need to be visible, not shy away. I need to set an example through what I do and show that it is normal for a woman to lead in a male dominated environment

I also need to remember that my personal characteristics and professional experience have got me to where I am today and be confident that I have the skills to succeed. I don’t need to change the way I behave, speak or dress to ‘fit in’ when my peers are different to me, as what matters is my ability to do the job, not my outward appearance or the fact I am a woman.

Networking and finding other people to learn from and share ideas with is really important. I found that having a mentor is a great way to feel supported and take time out semi-regularly to reflect on what I am learning or what I am missing. I also meet up regularly with colleagues and peers in similar roles, as often challenges and worries can be similar. Networking will also make those tough days when you feel isolated, or when ‘imposter syndrome’ strikes, a little easier.

It’s worth pointing out that surveys have shown women are often better leaders than men. For example, a survey of more than 7,000 business leaders found that at every level, from supervisor and manager to senior executive, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts.  Women were seen as better leaders in 12 out of 16 different competencies proven to demonstrate leadership effectiveness. So don’t let a lack of role models in your organisation or profession deter you.

Working with the team and individuals

While the performance of a team should be greater than the sum of its parts, it is made up of individuals who all work in different ways. I will always take the time to talk to people individually, as not everyone excels in a group situation, and to ensure that I give praise and acknowledgement to everyone, not just those who are the loudest or most obvious. I also need to ensure that everyone feels comfortable working in the team. So while I aim to include everyone in everything we do, I accept that not everyone will want to participate in all activities. For example, not everyone enjoys team socials or team lunches, or can always attend due to other commitments. It’s important that this is not viewed in a negative way either by me or other team members, but that opportunities remain regular and open for when people can join.

When leading a team, ensure that you find ways to recognise the team as a whole as well as individual contributions. When talking to the group, think carefully about language; for example, don’t use ‘guys’ if you can help it, as even if it’s well-meaning some people can take offence or feel excluded. I like to use ‘folks’ or ‘team’ instead.

Why diversity matters

I take diversity and equality seriously, and as a woman on the leadership team, and a member of my company’s diversity and equality group, I need to champion these issues along with my colleagues.  The reason this matters is simple: diverse teams are better. After all, the users of the products and services we design, build and operate at dxw are diverse, so we can better meet and exceed their expectations with a diverse team.

In my view it’s best to acknowledge a gender imbalance where it exists and take steps to address it. If we skirt round the issue, nothing will change. It can be awkward to address but it’s even more awkward not to have a representative, diverse team in 2018. We should also remember that gender balance is just one way of having representative effective teams, which should also include a mix of ages, backgrounds etc. So I champion diversity in all its forms, and I hope that everyone reading this article will do the same.


About the author

Clare is a specialist in agile delivery. She has a wealth of experience building high performing delivery teams in the public and charity sector. Clare is currently Head of Delivery at dxw, a digital agency working with the public sector. Her previous experience includes leading the digital delivery team at Comic Relief and looking after a large portfolio as head of delivery at the Home Office. Clare is used to working with organisations to help them create the right environment for successful agile delivery as well as coaching individual teams.

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