Recently I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Women in Tech Summit Roadshow in Raleigh entitled: “Staying a Women in Tech” that brought a fresh take to what can often be a tired trope. The original idea for this panel, created by Erin Mullaney, is that — as women in tech — each of us has a singular moment that is both the exact point in time that we want to leave the industry, but vow to remain. I, along with my WITS co-founder Gloria Bell, loved this approach because it’s not the usual ‘why tech is toxic for women” discussion.
Erin and I were joined on the panel by Dana Calder and Julia Elman, and our discussion at the Summit centered around what made each panelist want to stay and how they changed their circumstances to enable that. Hearing thee positive takes on what could have been extremely negative experiences enlightened and inspired me to think about my own history in the field. The conversation on the stage led me — and I suspect many in the audience — to reflect on the many times when I have almost left a career I am passionate about, then decided to remain. We also discussed company culture, the leadership team and how it affects managers, how a company handles conflict, how to approach the interview process, and how to build a support network outside of work.
In what turned out to be one of the most stimulating and counterintuitive panels I have had the privilege to be a part of, I came away with a few lessons that I think might be valuable to other women in tech that are either experiencing or that will experience their own inflection moment:
- Distinguish between career, company and job: .. The standard “I’m unhappy with my job” complaint is often a hot take reaction that doesn’t demand a resolution. Instead, the panel pointed out that you must ask yourself if it’s the career, the company or the job causing your issue. For example: if you love technology and your company, but dislike what you do everyday — then you seek another open position with the company. Be honest with yourself and create the clarity that will help identify a path forward.
- Give yourself a reason to remain: The motivation for staying in a particular career, company or job was different for each person on the panel: money, work-life balance, holding the ‘door open” for the person behind you, loving to code, and others. For me, I love how the industry is always changing — being part of a dynamic environment is very important to me. Plus, it helped that my company was near to my home and offered flexibility as I raised my kids. Whatever the reason, identify it to provide yourself a reminder and rallying point for remaining through the tough times.
- Conflict and microaggression resolution: Two of the panelists described positive working environments where they felt comfortable enough to pull a co-worker aside after a meeting to discuss tough issues. Both women said their managers supported this type of resolution and fostered a culture where it was encouraged. Do your part to help build this culture by operating within it respectfully.
- Ensure a company culture match: If you do move to a new company, take the time to understand the culture of the company to ensure a match your values and personality. Many women make assumptions about a tech company’s culture based on stereotypes, or assume the stereotypes tech culture holds about them. But as our panelists pointed out — what if you like ping pong and kegs? Or maybe you don’t need a family friendly environment. Be honest with yourself, then find the culture that fits.
- Choose co-workers with care: Before you take a new position, learn more about your coworkers. These are people you will be working with everyday — respect and chemistry are critical. It’s hard to learn about people in a pressure filled interview. Panelists recommended that you ask to go to lunch with members of your team or tag along for an after work function to see them outside of the office.
- Build a network of women: Almost every person on the panel and in the audience said they worked with a disproportionate amount of men. It is critical then to build a network of trusted women to validate your opinions, to tell you when you are wrong, to be your cheering section, and to continually refresh your work network.
At the end of the discussion, I — along with almost every woman in the audience — was inspired by the words and stories of these panelists. I captured the spirit of them here with the hope that they are useful for you and so that you may share them with others. I truly believe that if you are passionate about working in technology, then you will find your own reason to remain.
Tracey Welson-Rossman is the CMO of Chariot Solutions and Founder of TechGirlz. She is also the co-founder of the Women in Tech Summit and Philly Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise Conference.