Against all wishes, I recently started watching a show on Netflix called Cable Girls. Dramatically unfolding in the vibrant city of Madrid at the peak of the Roaring 20s, this novela-style web TV show follows the intertwining lives of four contemporary women who meet each other when they begin working as telephone operators at the first national telephone company in Spain. I must admit, I’m not a big TV watcher. My time is precious. As it is with any modern woman’s. So, when I do set time aside for leisure, I rather invest it doing something more productive, like reading a book or going to the gym. However, thanks to one of my mentees who introduced me to the ravishing ideocracies of these revolutionary women fighting for relationships, career growth and equality at the height of a technological breakthrough, you will now find me investing valuable hours “researching” more about Alba, Carlota, Marga, Angeles…you and I.
That’s right. The reason I’m so addicted to this TV drama is because each of these ladies, along with their remarkable individual stories of heartbreak and joy, showcase an uncanny representation of today’s woman in tech. All the things that we are and all the things that we do to succeed, or at the very least survive, as we navigate the daunting uncharted landscapes of the present digital age.
Take Alba, for example. A spirited rebel who left her hometown as a teenager in search of a modern life and city adventure. Due to some unfortunate series of events, she forcefully finds herself taking a job at the telephone company which ultimately leads to a lucrative and powerful career.
Or Carlota, who decides to scandalously leave the comfort of her rich parent’s traditional home to live in a pension just to get the chance to experience having a job as an operator, simply because she likes to work.
Or me, who stumbled into tech because my sister persisted I work with her at Motorola, though for many years I refused because I enjoyed the salty air of boat shows in Miami…but eventually gave in and, well here I am.
On and on the stories go. Fictitious or true, all these tales have one thing in common: trailblazing.
While each of our personal stories, backgrounds, cultures and beliefs may differ from one another’s, when looking at the history of women in tech, the influence and leadership we’ve displayed throughout the ages, and the persistence we’ve shown to patiently forge new paths whether in the 1920s, 1990s or today, it occurs to me that the one thing we’ve collectively been and will continue to be is pioneers.
Merriam Webster defines a pioneer as “a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development.” How fitting it is! We are mothers, sisters, friends, daughters and workers, balancing the increasing demands of each of these roles.
Place us in the technology space and well, another layer of nuance is added to our daily hustle.
Yes, pioneering in the tech world can be downright ugly and harrowing at times. But it can also be extremely rewarding, because it gives us a beautiful sense of purpose. One that our predecessors knew and understood so well, they continued to march along, despite the not-so-glamourous pains and bruises collected along the way. A purpose that we owe them—and future generations—to keep honoring so that eventually the trail gets easier…and the campus pavement slabs smoother.
The modern woman in tech is one that leads the way for many others, because technology companies in general are at the forefront of innovation and change. The way we lead and the core values we display as our organizations spearhead cutting-edge solutions, exemplify and influence behaviors and norms for women in other industries and across many generations around the world. And what we choose to do with this powerful thought leadership tool will undoubtedly shape the future for the young women following after us.
For this reason, I believe it’s extremely important that together we persist on trekking along the still largely untouched path of female representation in tech. I know it’s not easy. Having been in tech for a decade now, I understand just how difficult, and exhausting this task can be. So, I’d like to share with you some “life hacks” that have kept me going over the years in the hopes that you will also thrive in these difficult environments. Because our daughters and their daughters depend on it.
5 Life Hacks for Women in Tech
- Create your own set of values. When I first came to tech, I found there were a good amount of “unsaid” behavioral rules that existed at the workplace and industry, and not many of them favored women. I also found myself following them without questioning, later to realize these made no sense and truly did not serve me or my career well. It was at that point that I began to create my own set of rules—or core personal values—that I placed as my North Star for conducting business. Rules of engagement on social media. Rules of fashionable wear at the office. Rules of inclusion, because inclusion starts with “i”. As pioneers, it is our duty to help open up a new line of thought; and we can only do so, if we decidedly question the old school of thinking and intentionally and actively bring forth new ones. Don’t just conform to someone else’s opinion, especially if it goes against who you are and what you bring to the table. Get curious and ask why established norms exist. You’ll be surprised at how many “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” answers you get and these will become opportunities to suggest changes.
- Tell Imposter Syndrome to shut up. One of the biggest and most essential things I had to do to claim my rightful place in tech and eventually lead in it, was to take some masking tape and place it over Imposter Syndrome’s mouth. I can’t tell you just how many times Imposter Syndrome showed up like a bad habit to viciously remind me how I wasn’t good enough, tall enough, smart enough, quiet enough, loud enough…The truth is, you and I are enough. We got the job because someone saw our background and potential and gave us the chance to demonstrate all that we can do. So instead of wasting valuable energy listening to self-deprecating voices in your head helping you create doubt about who you are, invest that energy on a daily reminder to yourself (and to others!) that you are fabulous and bring extreme value to the table. Yes, we may not know EVERYTHING about the job and continue to learn as we go, but does anyone? Does a new CEO know how to be CEO if he never was one before? The reality is, men and women, young and old, we are all trying to figure it out. But that doesn’t mean we are disqualified for the job. On the contrary, it means we have every opportunity to showcase our biggest potential and prove Imposter Syndrome wrong.
- Brand yourself. I can honestly say that the reason you are reading this article is because I once decided to tell the world who I was. That is also the reason I have my current job, and the one before that. And the one before that. When I made the decision to intentionally and boldly get rid of my societal modesty, and began to unapologetically share my life story with others (stories of accomplishments, failures, learnings and more), this made me human. Relatable. Reachable. It made others aware and curious about who I was, my dreams and hopes. And for that reason, people began to reach out and give me more opportunities to share even more about my stories. Personal branding is one of the most empowering things you can ever do for yourself because no one is going to speak about you or amplify your accomplishments like your brand does. And I mean no one. Not your boss. Not your friend. Not your family member. In today’s digital age, you have the greatest opportunity to tell your story on an amplified platform and reach the masses. I can only imagine how many amazing women in tech are doing amazing work, and we know nothing of it…because they’re not stepping up to the plate to share. Pioneers are also evangelists of the strides they make. Get out there and tell your story. The world needs to know what women in tech are doing!
- Do What Matters. Technology is a beautiful and powerful thing. It is also an ever evolving one. With this comes unique opportunities for women in tech to adapt the female brain advantages of larger white matter and hippocampus and creatively integrate diverse hard and soft skills into innovation. Lately, I’ve seen women engineers build their own fashion line, and actresses join the dev world. I myself have mastered the art of storytelling when having to design stories of digital transformation rooted in empathy. What I’m saying here is, instead of trying to diminish the very attributes that make us women at the core, celebrate them and proudly make them part of your every day deliverables because our different brain capacity is proving to enhance technology—and the world.
- Find your happy place, and visit often. Look, I know being a woman in tech isn’t easy. But think about the pioneers before us, the ones that got us to where we are today. Think about how difficult they had it and what their every day may have looked like. Granted, we are not there yet…but we have certainly come a long way. Nevertheless, the treacherous road ahead is long and we will certainly get tired and frustrated during the journey. Therefore, it’s important you find your source of happiness and go there as often as possible to reenergize yourself. Something a small as your favorite sweet snack or a photo of a place you visited. Take time during the day, especially the bad ones, to bring yourself for a brief moment to a place where you remind yourself of what’s important in life and the purpose that you serve. Then put your trekking shoes back on (in my case, stilettos) and get back on your way.
Whether you just joined the exciting world of technology, like my favorite characters in Cable Girls, or have been in the industry a while like myself, one purpose unites us all as women in tech and that is to carry the female representation torch passed down by leaders from the past who believed we were not only capable, but powerful enough to do so.
See you on the trail!