I attended a networking event last night in San Francisco at Dropbox. Guest panelists were Telle Whitney, CEO of Anita Borg Institute (ABI), Elizabeth Ames, Senior VP and Marketing at ABI, Aditya Agarwal, Vice President of Engineering at Dropbox and Jody Mahoney Senior VP and Business Development at ABI. These are all incredible advocates for women in technology and they answered some very insightful questions and gave very sage advice.
My favorite quote was from Telle Whitney, “It’s not who you know, it’s not what you know, it’s who knows what you know.” If I can explain that in my own words, when it comes time to getting advancement and opportunities you need to make sure that those in leadership know your skill set. Whether you are a student looking for opportunities or in a job looking for a promotion or a big project, make sure you advocate yourself! This is particularly true in my own journey, my mentors and champions knew my interests, knew my skills and often asked me to take leadership in different roles.
What made me a fan of Aditya, the VP of Engineering at Dropbox, was that one of the first things he said regarding women taking roles in technology, “This is the morally right thing to do. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to work in the place they want to.” I love that these executives throughout the whole night used such direct and succinct language to advocate women in tech.
A question that was posed to the panel was, “How does your advice change for women of color in tech versus just women in tech?” Elizabeth Ames jumped right in and shared that women of color experience a double whammy. And Telle Whitney responded that it is important for women of color, and people of color, to have mentors and networks with people who look like them too. It is important to have someone to look up to. And I second that, not everyone wants to be the ‘first’ person of their race in a field and they get deterred by that. Creating visibility of other people of tech, letting other potential students know that barriers have already been broken, and a trail has been blazed, gives hope and fosters courage.
There was another question about how to get the lucrative, and sought after positions. Jody Mahoney replied with, “Know your value.” Know what skills or experiences you bring to the conversation and bring it with you to the table. She also mentioned that you may have ideas and not get to say them before someone else does, you may want that leadership position and not get it, but sometimes being on the team is just as effective. If you have a unique perspective no one can take that away from you, and you contributions will still make a big impact.
I loved something else that Aditya said, “1 or 2 very determined people can change the conversation.” In a small company or a big company, at a school or a club, it is not hard to start changing the conversation. Elizabeth Ames mentioned, “You need leaders who see [diversity] as a business case. High executives who see it as essential.” My question for us all is, as leaders are we making sure that this is true in our own organizations?
The last point I want to touch on from this amazing panel is what can we do right now to encourage women in tech. Aditya said if we could recruit one girl that we know is interested in computer science, and actually convince them to go to college for the degree, that would be a good change. Elizabeth said to be aware of the people interactions around you. If you see someone who is quiet in meetings take the time to speak with them personally to hear their ideas and even encourage them to speak up in meetings. Or if you see someone being talked over or overlooked be an advocate for them.
Yes! Let’s be aware, advocate for ourselves and others, recruit more women into STEM and share what we want to do and what we can do! I throughly enjoyed my visit to Dropbox and I can’t wait to learn more!