Women Who Tech Are Dangerous — Lauren Hasson

A Portrait Project by John Davidson

Lauren Hasson

Job Title: Founder, DevelopHer

Years in the tech industry: 8 years

On DevelopHer:

Eighteen months ago, I founded DevelopHer to empower women in tech to build their value and teach them how to negotiate for the salaries they’re worth. Since then, DevelopHer has exploded beyond my wildest dreams. In less than a year, Google brought me in to train all their women tech makers on how to negotiate; I was featured in IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine; I had won a major Silicon Valley award for my work in actually bridging the gender wage gap; and I’m currently a Finalist for the United Nations’s WSIS Prize.

But what I’m most proud of is the huge impact I’ve had for women. Through DevelopHer, I’ve impacted thousands of women’s lives, helped women negotiate $25K, $30K, $50K, $65K, and even $80K more in just one negotiation and am really moving the needle for women in tech and equal pay. That’s impact. And I’m just getting started!

On beginnings — family values:

I was fortunate to be raised to believe I could be “anything I wanted to be.” This is something my dad told me over and over again growing up and has evolved into “you can do anything you set your mind to do” today as an adult. That said, I was also raised in an environment where I didn’t know a single woman who worked. So, it would be fair to say I received mixed messages about what I could do (anything!) and what I should do (get an education, but stay home and raise kids).

On the importance of life-partner as ally:

My life-partner-boyfriend showed me another possible path. To this day, I still remember him sitting me down and telling me he didn’t want a housewife. This was a pivotal moment in my life. For the first time, I realized I could pave my own path and could be a strong, independent woman with a career and that it would not only not be frowned upon, it would be valued. To be honest, it took some time for me to come to terms with this as it was contrary to everything I had come to know for my life. I haven’t looked back since, and my partner-boyfriend is truly my partner in life. He’s supported me through the challenges and backlash I’ve faced for my decision to pursue my career over having a family and loves me for it being true to myself.

Rare air — on education, and being ‘the only woman in the room’:

Being the only woman in the room is normal to me. Ever since gradeschool when I was one of only two gals in my high school Computer Science class, to one of only three gals in my Physics classes, I’ve grown accustomed to being very much in the minority. This didn’t change when I got to college either. I attended Duke University where I pursued a triple major in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Economics. I can count on my hand how many female classmates I had in engineering and computer science and I pursued the BS degree in Economics which had very few women as well. To me, this was just a continuation of the norm from high school. I didn’t know any different and it was business as usual for me.

In terms of opportunities, I like to think my academic accomplishments spoke for themselves and my gender didn’t play a role. There were very few triple majors at Duke especially with such a technical combination, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, and won the Best Honors Thesis Prize in Economics. At the same time, I do think that combination of accomplishments, paired with the fact that I’m a woman, have helped me standout from the crowd and make a name for myself.

Lessons on entering the workplace:

I was very naïve when I graduated and had zero inclination that I would one day face challenges specific to my gender. Growing up, I had been “learned” that in order to get ahead you have to do good work, follow the rules, and be nice to people. Never in a million years did I think that one day despite following this “recipe”for success, I would myself be paid less than a male peer. It never even crossed my mind.

Firestarter — on discovering a pay disparity, and the beginnings of DevelopHer:

Six years ago, a male colleague of mine pulled me aside and privately complained to me about how much he was making. I was completely taken aback because not only was he making exactly what I was making — he was several years junior to me, I was training him, and managing his work — but he had been hired at 50% more than me when I was at his level.

At first, I got mad — for about 48 hours. Then, I channeled that anger into action and invested thousands of dollars in learning to negotiate for myself. The result was, in less than two years after that fateful conversation, I tripled my salary and that additional money I was making was a six-figure amount — six figures I make again and again, year after year. As I shared my story with other women in tech, I realized I wasn’t the only woman who struggled with this and I looked around saying “someone should do something about this.” Then I realized that I’m someone and I had figured it out. The rest is history.

A difficult conversation — on calling attention to the pay disparity:

It was terrifiying and the experience is forever burned into my mind. I still remember sitting in the Executive Vice President in charge of compensation’s office like it happened yesterday. I was shaking so hard I was sure I was going to pass out. But I did it — I stood up for myself. It was by far one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had and, looking back, I’m so glad I did it for myself. Now, I not only look back on this critical conversation with admiration for the courage I showed in standing up for myself, but I’ve transformed it into training for thousands of women that is not only empowering and instructional but also so entertaining — I get laughs every time I deliver it!

On hearing the ‘wake-up’ call:

I liken the experience [of discovering that gender-based pay disparity] to being hit in the head with a large wooden paddle. It was a huge wakeup call and absolutely infuriating! But I didn’t let the anger control me. Instead, I channeled that anger into action — positive, forward action to own the change I want in my life and go out and get it. And I did!

But I didn’t just get the change for myself, I turned around and have been pulling all women up with me. I took a dark and difficult experience in my life that could have easily derailed me into a life of self-pity, anger, and resentment and instead transformed it into a movement that has impacted thousands. I like to say life dealt me lemons and I turned around, made the best lemonade out there, and threw a party for everyone to join. That’s just me doing what I do best — transform bad into a force for good!

On the most common challenge women face in pursuit of career advancement:

The most common challenge I see women facing is a mindset challenge. Specifically, women don’t view themselves as assets that they should invest in. Instead, they see ‘spending’ money on their career as an expense. I know what this is like firsthand because I was there myself many years ago.

The key shift that I made was to start thinking like an investor and view myself as an asset. An asset can appreciate in value over time if you invest in it. So by investing in myself, I am growing my value. When I hire a coach or pay for an event, I’m not spending money, I’m investing in my future and my career. Learning new skills builds my value and the more valuable I am, the more earning power I have. It’s as simple as that, but it’s a challenging mindset shift for women to make and that’s where it needs to start.

I also see a lot of women get stuck waiting for someone else to come along and change the situation for them — waiting for an employer to step up and pay them more or someone to come along and advocate for them or a new law to be passed, etc. etc. Yes, one option is to sit around and wait for change to come your way. But what I’ve found to be even more effective is to stop waiting and go out and get the change for yourself. That is empowerment and it’s something that a lot of women are struggling to grasp but it’s possible to breakthrough. And when they do — the results are incredible!

On role-models:

Oprah. She built an empire by staying true to herself, focusing on adding value, and she has changed the world because of it!

Darkness visible — on personal experience informing her commitment to #MeToo and gender equity:

I’ve not only been a woman who was paid significantly less than a male peer, but I’ve also been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and ultimately retaliated against for reporting it. I founded DevelopHer to transform some incredibly dark experiences in my life into hope and a light forward for women in tech around the world.

My hope is that my bad experiences are merely footnotes in my life story and that I’m known for the positive change I’ve led for women in the world and for taking incredibly difficult life experiences and turning them into forces for good for all women.

On what ‘success’ for DevelopHer looks like:

Success for DevelopHer is two-fold: 1) impacting and reaching as many women in tech as possible to empower them and show them what’s possible and 2) building the foundation so that DevelopHer is sustainable and can expand to create even more change in the world for women!

Oh, and awards are nice, too:

Since I founded DevelopHer just 18 months ago, I’ve impacted thousands of women’s lives with a national reach. I won the Women in IT Awards Silicon Valley “Diversity Initiative of the Year Award” in November 2018 and just this month found out that I’m a Finalist for the United Nations’s WSIS Prize for my work with DevelopHer.

It’s incredibly humbling to receive these recognitions because the other nominees are doing amazing work as well, and to know that I have a real seat at the table for women in tech and equal pay drives me to achieve even bolder dreams for women.

On what DevelopHer will look like five years from now:

DevelopHer = Oprah + Lynda.com for women professionals. DevelopHer will be the media platform all women will turn to for professional and personal growth.

Specifically, DevelopHer will be the resource for women and the international benchmark for companies, universities, and organizations who wish to credential their commitment to women. DevelopHer will have an expansive library of online training for women by successful women professionals that is not only accessible to all women, but affordable too. All top universities and organizations that serve collegiate women will be partnered with DevelopHer to prepare their female students to advance their careers and negotiate for the salaries they deserve. Leading corporations will all be partnered with DevelopHer to empower their women and provide hands-on training to their female employees, to build their value and break glass ceilings.

And, DevelopHer will be expanding into developing nations to empower women to build their confidence and know they’re worth. I have a bold vision and I am well on my way to achieving it!

The one book every CEO, Senior Executive and entrepreneur in America should read:

Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony (Tony) Robbins.

*Quotes may have received minor editing for purposes of length and clarity only.

Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: A Portrait Project

The project website, featuring almost forty profiles, may be found at:

https://www.womenwhotecharedangerous.com

I will be presenting the project at SXSW on March 8 2019 (International Women’s Day.

About the project’s title:

Encouraged by the rising tide of women making their voices heard on the subject of gender bias in the tech and corporate world, I’ve embarked on a portrait project that seeks to feature women with a stake in the issue, and hopefully, provide a platform for them to share their experiences and express their views.

The first suggestion of this project came to me via a book on my wife’s bookshelf — Women Who Read Are Dangerous, by Stefan Bollmann. It’s a collection of paintings from throughout the centuries, each focused on a woman reading a book — the very act of which has, at various points in history, been considered ‘subversive.’

Are women who tech dangerous? To those in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere, who seek to perpetrate the hegemony that unquestionably exists in the upper echelons of tech at present, perhaps. One woman I asked referred to the project’s title as being, for her, about ‘the notion that I’m not supposed to be here because I’m a woman — but I am [here]…we are [here], and we’re not leaving.’ Still another women described the idea that women in tech are dangerous as being, ‘in this context, almost patronizing.’ Clearly there are a range of views and experiences to be expressed.

My goal is to put faces to some of these women, to compile a portrait of women at all career levels, to elevate their voices and contribute to the dialogue.

John Davidson