Finding meaning through vulnerability and honesty in storytelling with the womxn of Substantial
Confession: I have a love/hate relationship with conferences. I leap at any opportunity to grow my knowledge and genuinely enjoy meeting new people but let’s be real: conferences can be pretty draining.
Last week, I participated in the Women in Tech Regatta with a group of female colleagues, spanning development, design and leadership. The Regatta connects and celebrates the womxn in Seattle’s tech industry, promoting community and workplace diversity via 40 different sessions held across the city. After a packed week of education and networking, I was surprised to find that instead of wanting to barricade myself in blissful Netflix solitude when it was all over, I was inspired and energized by the experience.
Having come up in the tech industry, I am used to operating in male-dominated spaces. I was the first (and for a time, the only) female employee at Substantial. There is ongoing work needed to foster greater diversity, equity and inclusion within the studio, but I am incredibly proud today to be part of a diverse leadership team that includes a balanced gender dynamic led by a talented female CEO.
Still, as a leader relatively early on in my career, it’s not uncommon to find myself in meetings and board rooms where I am one of few womxn represented. When I mentioned to a chatty Lyft driver that I was on my way to attend a conference for womxn in tech, he chuckled and said, “So there will be ten of you there?” [Face-palm].
The industry may be working hard to close the gender gap, but there’s still a long way to go and womxn remain woefully underrepresented in technical and leadership roles. In 2018, only 25% of computing jobs were held by womxn and in Silicon Valley, womxn made up a mere 11% of executive roles. Attending the Women in Tech Regatta presented a rare opportunity in my professional life where I could be surrounded entirely by womxn in technology. Yes, please!
The conference itself was a catalyst for connecting mentors, peers, and leaders looking for their next gig. I sat in on panels and networked like crazy but the true highlight was getting to spend time with my female colleagues and gain renewed appreciation for the womxn I work with.
Carey, Substantial’s aforementioned CEO, spoke on a panel about leading from every chair. Carey is an enviable public speaker. She’s funny and opinionated and speaks from the heart. Since stepping into her role as CEO, there are times when her abilities seem almost superhuman. Yet, I was struck by how candid she was about her own challenges and struggles in front of a room of 100+ strangers. She opened up about her journey to becoming CEO, urging the room to ask themselves, “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?” when considering a new challenge or pursuing a new role.
Having a CEO like Carey to represent the studio was a definite highlight, yet the womxn who inspired me the most that week was our development intern. Charlotte learned to code while incarcerated and throughout her internship at Substantial, has worked relentlessly towards her goal of becoming a woman in tech despite the numerous setbacks that come with her unique background.
During a breakout session at the conference, the question was posed: How are you a leader? Present in our group were impressive professionals whose accolades included publicly calling out a CEO following a widely-publicized layoff and founding an admirable non-profit. When it was Charlotte’s turn to speak, she said, “I am a leader in my own life. I want to change the face of incarceration and pave the way for the womxn who come after me.” When I looked around the circle at other people in our group, I saw smiles and expressions of warmth and encouragement. It took courage to share her story and I wanted to leap up from my chair and hug Charlotte on the spot.
During the rest of the week, Charlotte met her personal goal of telling her story to 10 new people and even gained a mentor. She gave her time to represent Substantial at the main event of the week and our all-female team rallied to support her. Our newest colleague taught her how to talk about Substantial’s work and one of our developers swooped Charlotte off to be a networking buddy. Both of these individuals come from non-traditional backgrounds themselves and it was humbling to see them pay it forward.
The experience at the Regatta left us with a deepened sense of connection and appreciation for my colleagues at Substantial and a reinvigorated commitment to growing the tech community to include womxn from all walks of life.