Change the Conversation

As women founders today — we’re not only creating something from nothing — like all Founders are tasked with. We’re also as a collective — creating a new conversation. A conversation on what an engineer looks like, what a founder looks like, and what an investor looks like.

This makes the work we have to do multi-faceted — for a woman, a person of color, or one who is both, like I am myself…there’s extra external and internal “stuff” to work through.

There are also potential advantages if we choose to see them as such.

When trying to enter or engage a space where you’ve been historically excluded — there is a tendency or maybe an unspoken expectation to assimilate. To prove yourself worthy by being more like..

Assimilate: cause (something) to resemble; liken

The issue with this, for anyone and specifically as women, is we don’t get to tap into OUR magic sauce. Our natural inclination, the varied perspective, and what moves from within us.

There is something very powerful and magnetic about being a woman — specifically a woman who knows who she is — from the inside out.

With and without the accolades. Before, during, and after success or failure. This has to be said because, we operate in the space where there are certain notches on your belt, schools, companies, majors, exits, titles held, that say, “You are worthy.” While there is definitely some merit that goes with achievement it is also a tool to systematically exclude.

These notches say, you have passed the test. You may be different…but similar enough because of said qualifier.

I get it, I used to be into the notches, the credibility until my mid-twenties. And then I realized that credibility and notches were driving my life more than my desire.

Then I subconsciously started hiding my notches — I didn’t want to be validated by them. It wasn’t until recently when hired to give a talk for Intel, where I was told the fact that I was a Berkeley engineer was a major part of their choice to move forward.

I was partially relieved that I had gotten to a place where my engineering degree could be a catalyst in giving leadership talks. (Earlier in my career couldn’t see past, wanting to put me in technical position.) At the same time my heart was sad — because my time at Berkeley was one of the most isolating times of my life.

It was the time where I felt the least understood, valued, or even like what I had to say mattered.

Why is it that the time it my life where I felt completely dismissed is one of the biggest notches on my belt of street cred in this startup world?

Therein lies the answer — this same think — is tech’s largest liability. Diversity and inclusion aren’t ‘popular’ right now just because it’s “the right thing to do”. It’s the necessary thing to do…

Having made these initiatives a priority we must also be willing to be open to what it looks like. Otherwise, how will we experience the true benefits of diversity — innovation, a better society, and improved quality of life that technology aims to bring forth?

I invite us to have a new conversation about what works in the tech space, what it takes to be a successful founder, and the background required. It’s risky..but to not do so just may be even riskier. Especially since the way the rules are currently defined excludes more than half of the population.

If we win, when we do…everyone wins.

To quote one of the tech world’s beloveds.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” ~ Mark Zuckerberg

Let’s take some transformative action and move beyond rhetoric and more of the same.