At this point, we all should know some of the main challenges of being a woman in the tech game. Traditionally a man’s world, many smart, ambitious women are still making strides to even the playing field with their male colleagues.
That’s one reason why the organization ARA, or Attract, Retain and Advance women in technology, is expanding its presence in the United States. The Chicago-based org and Harvey Nash hosted an event at Redfin’s Seattle offices that drew about 200 women in tech to get some great career advice, learn more about mentoring and network.
Launched two years ago, ARA has groups in New York, Seattle, Houston and is starting one in Silicon Valley, which will be led by Dana Shaw, president and COO of ICon. More than 1,500 women are involved, and they have matched 220 people in 110 mentoring relationships. “It’s primarily for that niche of enterprise organizations,” ARA co-founder Megan McCann told us. “Especially for women who are maybe two to three years into their jobs and looking for the next step in a larger org.”
If you are interested in equality and diversity in tech — and let’s face it, you should be — the ARA’s guest speakers had some wonderful career advice. Below, choice nuggets of wisdom from some of Seattle’s brightest minds in tech:
Bridget Frey, CTO, Redfin
Talk about what you want early: “Balancing career with family, there is definitely friction with the two bigs…At Redfin, I talked with our CEO about what I needed to make it work. Say what you need and work with your company to find a middle ground that works for you both.”
Tap into online communities: “Twenty years ago, there weren’t many places to share data and connect via social. Now, it’s easier for women engineers to connect the dots.”
Do interview training, on both sides: “Be aware of unconscious bias. It is so easy to fall into and really affects who you bring into the group. We’re finding that when we debriefed after the interview, we were talking a lot about ‘culture fit,’ but what is that exactly? A way to avoid discrediting people is to establish your values and see if the candidates can uphold them.”
Companies need more social events outside happy hours or sports leagues that include everyone: “Time after work is usually spoken for with my family. Companies should find other ways than happy hours to help everyone connect. At Redfin, we have ‘Waffle Wednesdays’ at 9 a.m. so everyone can go.”
On walking into a department full of men: “Don’t let a lack of diversity or perception keep you out of the field. There is so much that is changing. The diversity issue is hard, but it is surmountable.”
Katie Plowman, VP of Veterinary Systems, Trupanion
Don’t be shy about looking for help or a gentle nudge from others: “Having a strong partner, or someone by your side, is huge. Other people have more faith in us than ourselves.”
Don’t like the path you’re on? Change it: “I left a solid career path at Hitachi to join a startup. It was a risk, but it just felt like the right opportunity at the right time. Don’t be afraid to take risks and explore your options. You don’t have to stay at your job if you don’t like it. And don’t be afraid to even change career paths.”
About the “B” word: “It’s about creating a relationship with people you work with and being transparent. I find that I might be considered ‘bossy’ when I’m not explaining things enough and moving too fast. Then again, some days, I just don’t care if they think I’m being bossy.”
On why mentorships matter: “I’ve been mentored for years by people I work with. It allows you to talk about deep problems, and they’ve pulled me with them. Ask questions if you don’t know. Find executives you admire and ask them to mentor you. Even if you don’t have a tech background and are working in tech, you can be inquisitive, know the risks you want to take and be true to your passion.”
Asha Sharma, COO, Porch
On confidence: “Know who you are and embrace that, but also have a self-awareness of what you’re not good at and be committed to fixing that.”
Inspiration vs. perspiration: “Perseverance matters. At Porch, we run into problems every day and we just push through them. Confidence lets you be able to take risks.”
About women being afraid to fail: “I look for people who have failed. The best hires are the ones who’ve failed and are resilient. They know they can do it, and they’re OK with it and ready to go again.”
Find your superpower: “It’s not about what you want to be, it’s about what you’re doing to get there.“
ARA holds events, including panel discussions, round tables and other networking opportunities, throughout the year. Find out more on how to get involved at aramentors.com.