Want to make a bigger impact as a woman working in technology? Try what Tami Reller once did — talk louder.
The tip was one of several shared by five accomplished women Tuesday night at a packed Seattle event hosted by ARA (Attract, Retain, Advance), a national organization that supports women in technology created by London-based recruiting company Harvey Nash.
Reller, who recently left her post as executive vice president at Microsoft, joined Zillow CMO Amy Bohutinsky, Popforms CEO Kate Matsudaira and OfficeSpace.com CEO Susie Algard on a panel that addressed some tricky topics in the women-in-tech debate.
Dawn Lepore of Lepore Northwest Partners preceded the panel with a ten-minute talk about her path to CEO.
And oh yeah. I moderated.
Women in tech is a never-ending conversation. It swirls around a set of anxieties shared by many in our underrepresented gender — anxieties we’re not sure we understand.
The panel zeroed in on four:
- Do I need to act like a man to be a successful woman in tech?
- How do I know I’m good enough to sit at the table?
- Can I be a mom and have a kick-ass tech career?
- How do I get the right support?
The questions released some stories. How Kate pretended to like fantasy football so she could get to know her male colleagues. How Susie wields a strong intuition to address personnel problems before they burst. How Tami, once pegged as too nice, put on an aggressive act to turn a useless meeting around in seconds. How Amy feared that she was failing every day at some aspect of family or work until she learned instead to honor the successes. How I once gave a number $5,000 lower that what I’d repeatedly rehearsed during a salary negotiation. How Kate battled feelings of inadequacy when she joined, early in her career, a board with the likes of Google’s CIO.
“You need people around you who believe in you,” Dawn told the crowd of more than 300 women. It was only after Howard Schultz told her over dinner that it was time she become a CEO, she told us, that she let herself admit that she wanted that, and began the search that led her to Seattle to head up Drugstore.com.
“It’s hard to admit your ambition,” Dawn said. “It makes you vulnerable.”
Some stories didn’t need to be spoken. Can you be a mom and have a kick-ass career? All together, the four panelists and myself have given birth to nine kids, with another two on the way.
My second child is due in October. Kate’s first — she wrote a refreshingly candid blog post about how her early pregnancy affected her work — is just two weeks from term. I heard Kate gasp and clutch her belly while we listened to Dawn speak before the panel. The baby had given her a good hard kick.
“I’ve been to a truckload of great women’s events but FIRST time 2 successful pregnant women on panel!” tweeted attendee and blogger Ruchika Tulshyan, “which speaks more than any time successful women discuss being a mum and career women.”
Only women were allowed to register for the event, which I’ll admit I’m queasy about. I’ve questioned exclusion at these events in the past, but I can’t argue the fact that women say things around each other that they wouldn’t as comfortably say around men, and that the value of those conversations can inform a more inclusive one.
During the Q&A, a woman admitted that she’d had a harder time working with male managers than female managers, and that she worried her male managers seemed more turned off by her expressions of ambition.
At that point, another woman claimed that strong women at her company were leaving because male managers did not know how to manage them.
Then came another burst of candor from a woman in the audience. How can we build a spirit of communal joy around each other’s success, she asked, so we don’t feel like a female colleague who earns a promotion has somehow taken the whole “woman pot”?
That came back to one of the bigger themes of the night. More than ever, Amy said at one point, women in technology work need to support each other. Encourage each other. Be each other’s cheerleaders, boosters and sponsors. Pipeline problems aren’t solved at the top, Dawn reminded the crowd, but at the bottom.
And as much as these conversations unearth about areas where women tend to struggle — “We need to be better takers,” Reller said — there’s more to be said, Susie pointed out, about where we tend to excel.
The event took place at the Lively Lounge in SODO. ARA, which rose out of a Chicago networking group started by cofounders Leslie Vickrey, Jane Hamner and Megan McCann, plans to host its next Seattle get-together this summer.
Update: I corrected an earlier version of this article. Harvey Nash is based in London, not Chicago.