CEO Susie Algard speaks to the crowd at ARA Seattle's inaugural event Tuesday alongside Zillow CMO Amy Bohutinsky, Popforms CEO Kate Matsudaira, former Microsoft marketing chief Tami Reller and moderator and GeekWire columnist Mónica Guzmán. (Photo: Brian Thom for Harvey Nash) CEO Susie Algard speaks to the crowd at ARA Seattle’s inaugural event Tuesday alongside Zillow CMO Amy Bohutinsky, Popforms CEO Kate Matsudaira, former Microsoft marketing chief Tami Reller and moderator and GeekWire columnist Mónica Guzmán. (Photo: Brian Thom for Harvey Nash)

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 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.

(Photo: Brian Thom for Harvey Nash)
(Photo: Brian Thom for Harvey Nash)

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

“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.

Dawn Lepore (right) joined the panel for Q&A. (Photo: Brian Thom for Harvey Nash)
Dawn Lepore (right) joined the panel for Q&A. (Photo: Brian Thom for Harvey Nash)

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.

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  • Amy Bohutinsky

    This was a terrific panel, and a super fun event. Inspiring that we have such amazing female talent in the NW. Looking forward to more ARA events in the future!

    • Monica Guzman

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Amy. I loved the insights from you and the rest of the panel. Particularly your point about not feeling like you’re failing just because you’ve got a lot to juggle. The social expectations of motherhood are heavy, but there are ways to lighten the load.

  • Molly Kane

    Thank you to everyone who came and participated! What a fun and inspiring night! There is clearly a big want, need and desire for female mentorship and I am so excited that ARA Seattle has kicked this off and look out for lots in the near future! Thank you to the panelists for delivering such valuable insight and real talk…it was so refreshing! If you were unable to make it check out the twitter feed and you will get inspired just based on the quotes and take-aways! Monica-you killed it as emcee and moderator! Yeah for ARASeattle! #ARASeattle

  • margaretbartley

    I’ve been to several of these women-in-STEM events and I always wonder why there are so few engineers, coders, programmers, inventors on these panels.

    Is it because most the work being done by workers in Seattle is suport and/or management, or is it because the organzers are afraid it will turn off potential attendees, or is it because they are mostly looking to hire women for support and management, and not as hard-core techies?

    • Monica Guzman

      Panelist Kate Matsudaira started her career in software development and coding and has some great stories to share about it.

      • margaretbartley

        I call 1 out of 5 to be “few”.

    • balls187

      (Don’t have hard data to back the following statement)

      I think this is common with many panels, not just ones geared towards women. They typically are dominated by non-technologists who work in the tech industry.

      You’ll have to go to the very specialized conferences to see panels that are primarily “hard-core techies.”

      Most of us would rather be doing tech, instead of talking about it.

  • Guest

    Great advice – one other hint – don’t work with those firms who have senior execs who are are stuck in another generation (at a dinner in December with his brand new entire team present – CEO who wanted me to work with them said, “in his experience most professional women just want to be dominated in bed”

    Guess what he didn’t get our business

  • Sherry Reynolds

    Great advice from the panel – One other hint – don’t waste your time working with men who think women are eye candy for the marketing dept or “cheerleaders” for the firm. There are plenty of places who treat you as full members of the team

  • Chanmix

    Congratulations on a great event and thanks for the article. I agree that the registration to such events should not be gender limiting (although a ratio must be maintained) as it would be beneficial to have more like minded males attend and be advocates of this positive change.

  • Leah McKelvey

    I’m sad I missed the event live – but excited that

  • Jo

    Want to make a bigger impact as a woman in technology? Then wear a skirt so short we can almost see your mimi.
    Thats what i take from it!

    And possibly sit with your knees apart doing suggestive ‘things’ with the mic like the woman in red is.

  • Shanika Weerasundara

    Great content and great panel. Fabulous issues. The fact that we can have our own old girl’s network itself is so powerful.

    I wish if the men were included or allowed to attend. This conversation is not complete as unless we get men into it. I see this all the time, women wanting to hide behind other women – for comfort or fear – not sure which one.

    In my career, I found men (especially male CEOs) readily saw my leadership traits and invited me to their advisory boards or inner circle than women of the same level. They admired what I brought to their mix and my ability to bring smart women into their teams because I constantly grew my network of women and promoted them.

    One day when I visited a CTO Meetup on the east side, a woman CTO who greeted me opened the conversation saying “you are not a technical person so this may not be the correct forum for you; perhaps you should attend a more business type forum”. I humbly said, that’s OK, I’m here to listen to you all – the experts and at the corner. After the presentation, when I added deep technical questions on licensing, IP, and technical issues that they should focus on, she asked me how I knew all these things. (Men never made a fuss about my presence.) I had to say, I’m a tech lawyer; I was in the ship rooms of a F100 tech company for 5 years guiding engineers through the SDLC and I advice tech companies every day on many issues.

    At times, I feel, un-evolved women are the worst enemies of women, not men. I love this panel for not showing those traits and being supportive of other women. Thanks for keeping this conversation alive.

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