Ask the person on the street what are the top criteria for entering and succeeding in today's fast-paced high technology workplace. The overwhelming answer would be technical expertise and results. But in a study released today by Catalyst, executives in the high-tech industry actually report that taking risks, gaining a broad base of knowledge in the industry, and not being afraid of uncharted waters were equally important to their career development. Equally surprising, thirteen of the thirty executives interviewed rose to the top by skillfully navigating unconventional career paths.
In a new study, Leadership Careers in High Tech: Wired for Success, Catalyst interviewed 30 of the tech industry's next generation of leaders based in 10 of the most influential companies in the high tech world today. The answers from these women and men were insightful and surprising as they outlined varying paths and strategies for a winning career.
"By evaluating the career paths of these high-tech all stars, Catalyst is providing a guide for both professionals and the companies they work for on how to achieve success and how to retain successful professionals in a competitive marketplace," said Sheila Wellington, Catalyst President.
"Many said the industry is just changing too fast for there to be a single traditional set of steps to success," said Wellington. "In fact, there is not even a necessary starting point, but rather several critical steps to advancement."
Although a results-driven industry, success in the high tech world is not all about personal ability. Participants say that the unique culture plays a large part in their success. Key elements of this culture include an open and fluid work environment, emphasis on performance and results, and the ability to work with smart, challenging and entertaining colleagues.
Although many believe that the high tech world is a strict meritocracy, the majority of the study participants - especially women -- say that the higher you go in the tech world, the more important it is to get to know the key power players.
"Echoing what Catalyst has found in studies of the financial services and legal professions, young professionals in high tech need the skills to get results coupled with the ability to network with the right senior managers in the company," said Wellington. "In the 21st Century work place, it is not enough to do the job well. In order to succeed, you have to blow your own horn or get some else to do it for you."
While there were differences in paths to the top of the ladder, Catalyst found a few tips for women and men working in high tech:
- There is no one route to the top. Though there are some critical steps to success, there's not a required starting point.
- A technical degree is not necessary to make it to the top.
- Social networks are critical to career advancement and mobility.
- Mentors are vital to career advancement, especially for women in the industry.
- The industry is a meritocracy for some, but not for all. Perceptions vary about whether the industry is a true meritocracy. Most men report the industry is a meritocracy while most women find that as you climb the ladder 'who you know' is more important.
- Work/life balance is important to men and women in the industry and most feel they are not sacrificing their personal lives for their professions.
"Over the years Catalyst has become expert in looking at ways to build a successful career and then helping young professionals chart a strong road to the top based on our research," said Wellington. "If tech companies use the responses given by these movers and shakers as a guide to understanding the workforce, employers may well find a gold mine of talent that they are not even aware exists right under their roof."
Some of the notable insights and recommendations to high tech employers include:
- Consider moving talented non-technical employees into key organizational positions. By recognizing talent early, companies can build employee skills, knowledge and loyalty within your corporate structure.
- Identify ways to allow employees to get diverse experience within the company rather than focusing on a single area of expertise.
- Encourage networking between different business groups.
- Allow employees to use their entrepreneurial spirit within the company.
Companies participating in this study included; AOL Time Warner, Autodesk, Inc, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Moai Technologies, Nortel Networks, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, TiVo, and Yahoo!
This study was sponsored by America Online, Inc., Cisco Systems, Inc., Dell, Intel, Morrison & Foerster and Texas Instruments.
About Catalyst: Catalyst is a nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business and the professions, with offices in New York, California and Toronto. The leading source of information on women in business for the past four decades, Catalyst has the knowledge and tools that help employers and women maximize their potential. Our solutions-oriented approach-through research, Advisory Services, Corporate Board Placement, and the Catalyst Award-has earned the confidence of global business leaders. For additional information or to obtain a copy of this report, please visit our web site at www.catalystwomen.org or call 212-514-7600.