Keep an open mind: Try anything that sounds even remotely interesting to you, and say “yes” to new opportunities. This is a good way to expand your skills and figure out what you enjoy doing. Also, welcome opinions and feedback that you disagree with. You can never go wrong with hearing multiple perspectives, and you might just change your stance on something after learning a new point of view.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Abigael Donahue.
Abigael is a UX Content Strategist at Red Hat, a global software company. She was an English major in college, and she uses her writing and communication skills to bring a sense of humanity to the world of technology. As a STEM professional well-versed in a variety of content areas — marketing, technical documentation, e-learning, and UX — her main goal is to encourage young people to pursue the liberal arts as a strong foundation for career growth. To learn more about her work, visit her portfolio.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always had an interest in technology and a passion for writing, which seems like an unusual combination. After graduating with an English degree, I started working in marketing at a civil engineering firm. That’s when I became really interested in the intersection between the arts and the sciences. To explore that more, I took a new role in technical support at HubSpot.
As I gained more software expertise, I started writing for various technology-focused blogs. I eventually became a Technical Writer, which was the first time I was really able to combine my writing and technical skills. I then joined HubSpot’s e-learning team as a Content Editor and later a Content Manager, where I got more exposure to creating, editing, and managing both educational and marketing content across a variety of channels.
I eventually joined Red Hat’s User Experience (UX) Design team as a UX Content Strategist. In my current role, I build and manage content strategies and processes that help make Red Hat’s software easier to discover and use.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
When I first started at Red Hat, I was the only UX Content Strategist on the UX Design team, which consists of over 100 researchers, designers, and developers. What I loved most about being a team of one was being an “investigator” in a way. I got to conduct a lot of research and talk to all different people to figure out what our content needs were and what strategies and growth plans I needed to implement so that we could use content to serve the team, the company, and — above all — the customer.
My most interesting project was creating a UX writing style guide, which is a set of content standards for creating high-quality, consistent content across our product user interfaces. I really enjoyed researching, planning, and then writing all the different parts of the style guide. My favorite part was traveling to various Red Hat offices to deliver training sessions on the guide. It continues to serve as our main UX content resource today, and it has evolved from a (really long) Google Doc to an interactive open source resource with various contributors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As excited as I was to start my career after college, I was also quite nervous, especially before my first day. I had all sorts of fears: Will I learn my job quickly enough? Will I make a good first impression? Will I have a positive impact on the company?
Looking back, I find it funny how afraid I was. Now that I’ve worked at three different companies and in five different positions, I’m used to starting new beginnings, meeting new people, and learning new roles. In college, I didn’t realize how stimulating and multi-faceted the work world could be.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Red Hat’s software is open source, meaning anyone can examine and modify its source code. I see this as built-in transparency and collaboration, which naturally influences our company culture. We share things in the open — ideas, challenges, solutions, and more. At Red Hat, the best ideas are rewarded — not the loudest voices. This concept is referred to as the meritocracy.
This meritocracy was evident from day one, and I experienced the benefits of it right when I started at Red Hat. During my first few weeks, I had opportunities to work on complex projects, interview and hire people, and create new content processes and operations. Nobody cared that I didn’t have a lot of tenure at the company. Instead, they cared about my ideas and talents. The open, supportive culture makes me feel valued at Red Hat to this day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Red Hat is a big place, with thousands of employees. One of my focus areas right now is to get the content teams across departments talking to each other more and collaborating. Even though we may work on very different types of content, our unique skills can help make the content we create, and ultimately the experiences we deliver to users, even stronger.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’d love to see more women in STEM, especially in tech. To make that happen, we need to rethink the groups of people who are traditionally encouraged to go into a technical field after college. There seems to be a lot of effort around coaching, mentoring, and recruiting college students who are studying a STEM field, which is great, but focusing on that one group excludes amazing talent from other areas of study. By extending STEM-related opportunities — such as mentoring, internships, and guest speakers — to a more diverse set of majors, we have a better chance at welcoming all kinds of diversity into STEM, including gender diversity.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
I often hear a lot of good-intentioned people warning women about how hard it is to succeed in STEM when you’re so outnumbered by men: “You won’t feel welcome” or “You won’t ever be accepted.” Those messages repeatedly delivered to women have the potential to paint a scary picture of working in STEM, which isn’t helpful. Both men and women should feel supported and empowered to enter the field, knowing that they have just as good of a shot at success as anyone else.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
Some people claim that women don’t advocate for themselves in terms of salary and career advancement, but that hasn’t been my experience. Taking charge of your own career growth and speaking up for yourself when you’re not paid fairly or treated with respect is something that all professionals, regardless of gender, should get comfortable with. For some people, it comes easily. For others, it’s more of a challenge. In my opinion, it really just depends on the person, not the gender.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Keep an open mind: Try anything that sounds even remotely interesting to you, and say “yes” to new opportunities. This is a good way to expand your skills and figure out what you enjoy doing. Also, welcome opinions and feedback that you disagree with. You can never go wrong with hearing multiple perspectives, and you might just change your stance on something after learning a new point of view.
- Be your own teacher: In tech, you’ll come across things that you don’t know how to do, and you won’t always have someone teaching you. So you need to get used to figuring things out on your own and taking on problems that you don’t immediately know how to solve.
- Support your peers: As you grow in your career, make sure you take the time to help your peers grow, too. A supportive work culture makes everyone more successful, and you’ll have a strong network of people you can turn to as time goes on.
- Listen more than you talk: You’d be surprised how much you learn when you listen to others. It may be tempting to immediately respond to someone you’re talking with or jump into certain discussions, but you might find that you’re able to come to better conclusions after thoroughly hearing a variety of voices.
- Enjoy the ride: When you’re starting your career at square one, you’re going to receive a lot of job rejections (I know I did!). It may be unpleasant in the moment, but things work out if you keep pushing towards your goals. As you get to where you want to be, you’ll look back on how far you came and wish you took the time to enjoy the early days of building your career — the people you worked with, the lessons you learned, and the times you stepped outside of your comfort zone.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Accept people exactly as they are. Of course, you should address any negative behavior, but don’t try to change someone’s essence. If someone is introverted, embrace that and celebrate it as a strength. If someone is extroverted, embrace that and celebrate it as a strength, too. In my experience, diverse personalities make a team stronger, more productive, and more creative.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Know what you don’t know. It’s impossible to be good at everything, especially when you manage a large team. You need to have the confidence to admit when you’re not good at something. Then you can find someone who can do what you can’t, learn from them, and give them a chance to shine.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am so grateful to my family. Growing up, I was taught to have a strong work ethic, take responsibility for my own actions and success, and make good decisions. I feel privileged to have grown up in a household that instilled those values in me, which have helped me become a strong professional and, most importantly, a good person.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m really passionate about animal welfare. I donate to animal rescues, educate myself on current animal rights issues, and buy products from companies that don’t test on animals. I have a human voice, so I feel an obligation to stand up for those who don’t.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Age diversity is so important to the success of companies and people, but I haven’t seen a lot of companies perfect it (after all, it’s no easy feat). Some companies have a lot of experienced people and fewer entry-level folks, while other companies are dominated by Millennials and Gen Z. I find that a balance is ideal. People of different ages have different approaches to work, and we can all learn from each other. Efforts involving recruiting techniques, mentoring opportunities, and training programs could really help companies press forward and diversify their teams. In the future, I’d love to walk into a company and see people of all generations working on the same project and building things together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be kind. People tend to forget that basic life lesson as they get older, and that’s when we need to remember it most.
I’ve been through countless job interviews, as the interviewer and interviewee, and kindness always makes the conversation less stressful and more enjoyable. During work presentations, I feel at ease when people look engaged, ask questions, and tell me that I did a good job. These small gestures of kindness can make all the difference in someone’s confidence and job satisfaction. Life is hard enough, harder for some than others. You can make someone’s day easier by just being nice.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
The people I admire most are everyday heroes who aren’t often in the limelight, like veterans and first responders. Having a meal with one of them would be a huge honor.