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Lessons from Gladwell’s David and Goliath applied to the problem of Women in Tech

For the past week now, I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The classic story of David and Goliath is the tale where a shepherd David miraculously beat the giant Goliath. This story is often used as a metaphor for unlikely victory. In this book, Gladwell talks about how David’s victory over Goliath wasn’t a surprise at all. We are often misled to think about advantages in a certain way. What might seem like an advantage in the conventional sense might not be an advantage at all. This book really opened my eyes to this fact and made me think about it with respect to different things we come across in life. One of the more important areas I applied this thought to was in the context of Women in Tech.

Why do we talk about the issue of “Women in Tech” so much and not about “Men in Tech” at all? The answer is obvious. It is because the problem is that there are too few women in technology and also very few women enter STEM fields in the first place. According to Harvard Business Review, more than 50% of women in technology will eventually leave due to unconducive environments. In a way, women are, for the lack of a better word, the underdogs.

We are placed at a position where we have to struggle to be heard in a male-dominated technology world. Enough has been talked about this issue, and I do not intend to detail the problem more than it already has been. What I intend to do is provide examples and lessons I learnt from Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath, and suggest how we could apply them to solve this problem.

Lesson 1: Our weaknesses could become our strengths

It is generally agreed upon that women are more compassionate than men. Compassion is the authentic desire to help others, and be supportive. Some might view a woman’s compassion as a potential hurdle in her own success as she might be concerned more about helping out everyone than about caring solely about winning herself. However, what might be viewed by some as a weakness, could actually be a woman’s strength. This natural gift that women have can be largely beneficial to organizations. As Amy Morin describes in this Forbes article, creating a culture of compassion at the workplace can help improve business greatly.

Lesson 2: Break the rules

As Gladwell explains in his book, many of the world’s oppressed cultures have a lesson about the “trickster hero”, who is a clever, mischievous person or creature, who achieves their motive via trickery. A few examples of these tricksters are Brer Rabbit, Coyotes and the devious Anansi. All of these tales, as historian Lawrence Levine writes, were also stories which taught the art of surviving and even winning in hostile environments. In his book, Malcolm Gladwell states that the lesson of trickster tales is the unexpected freedom that comes from having nothing to lose. The trickster can break rules. As we are still trying to solve the problem of “Women in Tech”, we have no precedent to follow here. There are no rules. We can make our own. Hence, no idea can be wrong, but only path-breaking. We need not fear that our ideas could be unconventional. Any idea is a useful tool to build a more conducive environment for women to thrive and succeed.

Lesson 3: Difficulties could be desirable

Despite recent efforts to bring about gender equality, women still continue to have the harder challenge in balancing work and family lives together. Women are more likely to be faced with family-based career interruptions than men. This difficulty makes women more capable of handling a zillion things at a time. There comes a desirable difficulty. By nature of the lives we lead, women are better at multi-tasking and more natural and handling multiple things in parallel. This is a desirable trait for any job in technology!

Lesson 4: Know your weapons

As Gladwell writes, in the battle between David and Goliath, David, a slinger, fired at Goliath’s exposed forehead and stunned the giant Goliath, after which he cut Goliath’s head off with Goliath’s own sword. Goliath was expecting a hand-to-hand combat, which was his forte, given that he was a skilled heavy-infantryman of formidable size and wearing heavy armor. However, David’s speed and tact surprised Goliath and it is because David played to his strengths that he won the battle.

Women, by nature, have been given certain strengths such as compassion, greater mental strength, higher emotional intelligence which women should use to their advantage. Of course, women are as capable as men in developing necessary technical skills and doing well at a job in technology. However, often, unconducive environments and sheer lack of gender equality causes frustration and imbalance in the work atmosphere. In some cases, it leads women to leave their jobs. In such difficult situations, using these natural strengths might come in handy!

In addition to natural strengths of a woman, every person develops certain skills more than others over the course of life. It could be being great at writing, conversation, programming in a certain language, being a great number-cruncher or anything that one internally is extremely confident about. Use those strengths to work for you. Advertise your skills and share your knowledge with a larger community. Be known for your strengths. Play on your strengths! Know your weapons and keep your tools sharp!

While this might seem as oversimplified to some, as I said before, there are no precedents to follow. All ideas are welcome and useful!

Let me know your thoughts on this! Happy to bounce off ideas!

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