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Progressing with a Gender-Blind Attitude

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Individual skills should determine success; we should not distinguish people by gender, said Oksana Afonina at Women in Tech Dublin. In her talk, she explained how she focuses on her own skills and performance, those being the main traits to benefit from career-wise. Change starts with you, she said; there are always opportunities to empower others around you and scale your impact.

Oksana Afonina, director of EMEA growth partnerships at AppLovin, presented "Progressing with a Gender-Blind Attitude" at Women in Tech Dublin 2018. InfoQ is covering this event with Q&As and summaries.

In her talk, Afonina showed how women can implement change which starts from them. Know your strengths and areas for development and get coaching, mentorship, or therapy, is what she suggested. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself and others to get things moving.

You can impact others by being a role model, supporting junior and younger colleagues, and building bridges in the workplace, Afonina said. It also helps to spread ideas across family and friends.

InfoQ interviewed Afonina about applying a gender-blind attitude, building a career in male-dominated environments, how to change things, and empowering women to progress in their careers.

InfoQ: How does a gender-blind attitude look and why is it important?

Oksana Afonina: A gender-blind attitude is the measure of a candidate/worker’s attributes, skills and performance alone, without factoring gender into the judgement process.

Having a gender-blind attitude is extremely important in today’s workforce. There are no job roles that could only be carried out by just one gender; you would never see gender as a prerequisite on a job description, so it makes no sense to have that as a measure of suitability or performance.

This attitude is vital, as gender is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing inequality in the workplace.

InfoQ: What are your experiences of building a career in male-dominated environments?

Afonina: I grew up in Ukraine, which due to the Soviet history had a more long-standing culture of men and women being treated equally in the workplace, therefore I’ve rarely seen any distinction between the two sexes. No matter the field, women have the same capabilities and potential when it comes to education and work - it should be the individual skill that determines success. This is a view that has definitely shaped my experience of being a woman in a male-dominated environment.

Of course, throughout my career I have faced sexism, inequality, and have often been the only woman present at board meetings. However, I refuse to let my gender define my career trajectory. I’ve only ever focused on my own skills and performance – at the end of the day these are the traits that can benefit me career-wise, so they are the only ones I think about.

This is a viewpoint that works well for AppLovin. We only look to hire those with an open mind-set, who think outside of the box and who we feel would be a great addition to the team, regardless of their gender. It’s no coincidence that this has resulted in many female leadership roles.

InfoQ: You stated in your presentation that "change starts with you". Can you elaborate on what you mean with that?

Afonina: It absolutely does, and there are a few key actions and changes in mindset that I am referring to here. Firstly, it’s important that you don’t wait around for society to change; focus on what you can personally do to change your situation and take back control.

Self-improvement is key; you should invest in yourself, your performance and your confidence by seeking training and learning new skills to enhance your career. Don’t hesitate to get help - coaching and/or therapy could provide you with a boost in confidence and create greater self-awareness of your strengths.

It’s also important to remember that job environments do not define you. If you’re in a toxic team, job role, or company, then it’s up to you to take control and leave that situation.

Finally, we have a collective responsibility to empower others at different stages of their career journey. Only by doing this can true diversity become a reality.

InfoQ: How can we empower women to progress in their career?

Afonina: There are many ways that women can be empowered in their career.

More opportunities need to be made available for women to prove themselves in certain roles; equally, representation matters so having greater visibility of these successes will help empower women at all stages of their career journey. Mentorship is extremely important here, whether that’s a manager taking on someone junior under their wing, or females in leadership positions making themselves open to becoming a mentor.

It’s also important to mention that the changing demographics of the workforce can be a great catalyst for empowerment. We have several different generations in the workforce at the same time – all with different skill sets, mindsets, and strengths. In turn we’re having to open ourselves up to take on different points of view in the workplace, which will lead to greater diversity in general.

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