Part of the reason I joined the tech space and SingleStone was so that I could wear a baseball hat and t-shirt every day and learn cool things from really smart people. I’m happy to share that it’s so much more than that. I get to work alongside women at our company and all over town who inspire me with their incredible passion, commitment, and perseverance.
We recently linked up with our friend Rob Reynolds and his class at VCU for a panel discussion, Women in Technology: A Conversation with Local Leaders. New and familiar faces joined at our office and virtually to hear from four local women leaders who are shaping the tech space: Melanie, Shannon, Dana, and Kay. They shared experiences, lessons learned, challenges they’ve faced, and examined what it takes to pursue a career in tech as a woman. I was fortunate to moderate this fantastic conversation. I know how meaningful the insights we received during this event are, so I wanted to jot some down and pass them along.
Why is it important for more women to join the tech industry?
“We need diverse perspectives because our customers are diverse. I don't think it's just about gender, it's about ethnicity, age, etc. We need different perspectives to come up with the best answer and have people challenge each other. My team is diverse, and we do this all the time. We get into it with each other like, ‘well, have you thought about this perspective?’ One great example is deciding what we are going to do about returning to work. It is top of mind for everyone. Do we want people to be in the office? Do we not? People have different perspectives based on their experiences, family life, education, and background. And you don't get a good answer unless you challenge it from all those angles.” Melanie Murphy, AVP, Technology Business Management at CarMax
“I walk into a lot of meetings and virtual calls with IT folks, mostly groups of men, and think, why am I the only female on this call? That's a problem. Whether you're a programmer, BA, or a leader in a tech organization, we as women bring a unique perspective. We listen, collaborate, seek to build relationships, work to understand what's happening underneath the problem, and what's being asked from a technical standpoint. Organizations will build better technologies and go further if more voices are represented in the conversation.” Shannon Reynolds, VP, Strategic Initiatives at Verus Underwriting Managers
“We are facing the next industrial revolution with tech, like the process improvements we saw in the manufacturing movement. We see self-service and digital experiences show up in just about everything we do, right? You can take your phone and unlock your hotel room without ever having to talk to the front desk. My grandmother can order her groceries and have them delivered and doesn't have to do anything but track them. The world is changing, industries are changing, and there will be fewer experiences without some interaction with technology. These new opportunities should be available to everyone.” Dana Genheimer, SVP, Strategic Operations and Technology
“I’m a mom. I have two kids and I'm fortunate to work for a great boss at a great company. And I think it's because there are enough women represented there to care about how it is to be a woman in the workplace, how to care for people with similar struggles, how to care for people that have aging parents, etc. We must have that representation in leadership in the workspace.” Kay Sarathy, SVP, Insurance Applications
How to overcome challenges
Speak up. Find your inner voice and know it's okay to stand out, step up, and share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Seek out people and spaces who give you permission to mess up every once in a while. If you don't know the answer, become even more confident in your ability to express that and transition towards finding the solution.
You belong. Imposter syndrome is real and affects a lot of women. Understand you do belong and if someone doesn't think you’re qualified, that's more about them than it is about you. Think: I've worked hard to get to this place, I should enjoy the experience and keep moving forward because I have something to contribute.
Find your tribe. Surround yourself with women and male allies who you can go to and say, I'm having this really hard time with this one thing… and they'll speak up for you when you're not there. Find those people, hold them close, and support them as well.
Words of wisdom
Don't limit yourself. You can start down a particular career path and pivot and still be successful. Your skills are extensible to a great many things. If there's something out there that speaks to you in terms of your career, go for it. You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take. So why not?
Life is not a spreadsheet. You can jot down everything you want to accomplish, but those inputs change over time, and you need to look for other opportunities along the way. There's not a single opportunity that you won't learn something from. So, even if it’s not in your top five, it can be better for you in the long run.
If you don’t ask, the answer is no. If you want to try something new, raise your hand and show interest, or else no one knows you’re looking for something different.
Tips on leadership
- Take care of your team, lead with empathy, and recognize that people have responsibilities at work and at home.
- Lead by example and set the tone for the culture you’re creating.
- If you’re the only one with the answer, then you’re not leading because nobody’s with you.
- Say what you’ll do and do what you say. This is how you build trust.
Please join us next time
This was the first of three conversations. The next panel, “Cloud Computing and the Future of Technical Engineering & Architecture,” will be on Wednesday, April 13 from 7 - 8 PM EST. We’d love you to join us at the SingleStone office or virtually. Reach out if you’re interested and we’ll send you all the details.