My New Year’s resolution is to write my first blog post and after attending the European Women in Technology event several weeks ago, I’m feeling inspired — so here it goes!
Usually when I go to a tech event, or anywhere related to the tech industry, there are not a lot of women. I have gotten used to it pretty quickly though, and I don’t pay much attention to it.
At European Women in Technology, there were so many different women! I expected this to feel a bit weird, but in fact it was the opposite and I was pleasantly surprised to immediately feel right at home!
Yeah we know, diversity is awesome
I was prepared for the same old story — diversity is awesome, women have great inner strengths but the industry is unfair at times, etc.
Fortunately, my expectations were not the reality.
Sure, the speakers were talking about their challenges as women in tech — but not in a depressing way, instead their words were uplifting and empowering. They all spoke in a “I’m a kick-ass person” kind of way. That made me feel inspired and hopeful for my future.
In the simplest terms possible, I’ll share the common theme — “The sooner we stop complaining about it, the better we can prepare.”
And in the vein of New Year’s resolutions, this is how I will prepare myself this year:
- Educate my peers about my challenges and women’s challenges
- Find a great mentor with whom I can have a two-way relationship
- Start building a support system
- Ask for help more often
Hopefully this post will educate some peers — and so it appears I’m already off to a great start :)
Few women in tech, even less in leadership
The number of women in tech is small, but the number of women in tech leadership roles is even smaller. In fact, most of us have never even had a woman as a manager. That means the person responsible for evaluating our work, likely doesn’t think like we do.
85% of women at C levels have been told they are too aggressive. The high-powered speakers at this conference shared similar stories about trying to change their behaviors to “blend in”.
So how do we deal with this?
It’s not easy and it takes a lot of courage to embrace a difference.
For starters, communication is a good way to find allies or explain to other people the struggles we face everyday. A lot more people than we think are willing to have an honest talk about it and put themselves into our shoes.
Right after the conference, many of my male coworkers asked me questions about it. I didn’t know their point of view on the subject of diversity and I was afraid it would lead to an awkward conversation. But I still tried to talk about what happened at the event as best as I could. In the end, we ended up having a deep and meaningful conversation about it. Everyone I talked to mentioned the challenges they faced in their day to day work and learned about their own biases, including me.
You can also cherry-pick the feedback you are given. Find what’s useful for you, but don’t change your whole personality around it. What can work for your friends, coworkers or manager won’t necessarily work for you.
A lot of successful leaders ended up nurturing what was identified as a weakness and it became their biggest force. They are now powerful assets to their companies.
It’s ok to put your personal life first
A lot of women are stressed about their work-life balance, and it’s not surprising. There is a lot of unspoken pressure around our “biological clocks.” I don’t think most men even realize how much we are thinking about these aspects in relation to our career decisions — planning our dreams, personal projects, and when to get pregnant. I’m not even supposed to be worried about all of these right now, but it’s still crossing my mind.
At the conference, the whole baby thing really seemed to be one of the bigger concerns — multiple women were asking the speakers how to choose the right time to have a baby.
“ If you plan it will never happen, just do it and ask questions later!” said Francesca Hampton
Keeping on the theme of empowerment, some speakers went on to explain that in fact, having to be prepared for the unexpected and dealing with the hand we’re dealt allows us women to develop a unique and powerful set of skills that make us great leaders.
No one knows your strengths better than you
Often when we talk about diversity and women in tech we talk about imposter syndrome. The basic concept here is, that in certain environments you doubt your accomplishments and have a constant worry that others will soon realize that you do not belong.
Like many women (and men), I have definitely felt this. I had a lot of meetings where I restrained myself from saying what I was thinking out loud for fear of not being “competent enough” on the subject. It’s not a great feeling.
On the bright side, women tend to talk about it more, and that helps! It’s so comforting to know we’re not alone, and we begin to feel reassured and comfortable, and a little less like imposters.
On the other side, we have to be careful not to fall into the same pattern just because we know other people are experiencing it. At some point we have to stop talking and do something about it.
Once you realize that you are feeling this, you can fight it. No one knows your strengths better than you. No one else can ask for that promotion or that raise better than you.
Start by something small, and before you know it, you won’t feel it so often.
New decade, new mindset
Right now, I might be choosing to keep my imposter syndrome a bit, but I think recognizing it is the first step. As we move into 2020, I want to continue to grow, to challenge myself and to help other women in the process.
And maybe one day, in the not too distant future, I myself will be the one up on stage sharing these words of wisdom.
In the meantime, I hope I was able to share a glimpse of how simple initiatives like this can have a big impact on people like me.
My coworker Maurine has also shared her own learnings from the event if you want to read more about it.
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