10 principles of resilience for women in tech

We need everyone at the table, in the lab, at the conference and in the boardroom.
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Diversity team meeting

WOCinTech Chat. Modified by Opensource.com. CC BY-SA 4.0

Being a woman in tech is pretty damn cool. For every headline about what Silicon Valley thinks of women, there are tens of thousands of women building, innovating, and managing technology teams around the world. Women are helping build the future despite the hurdles they face, and the community of women and allies growing to support each other is stronger than ever. From BetterAllies to organizations like Girls Who Code and communities like the one I met recently at Red Hat Summit, there are more efforts than ever before to create an inclusive community for women in tech.

But the tech industry has not always been this welcoming, nor is the experience for women always aligned with the aspiration. And so we're feeling the pain. Women in technology roles have dropped from its peak in 1991 at 36% to 25% today, according to a report by NCWIT. Harvard Business Review estimates that more than half of the women in tech will eventually leave due to hostile work conditions. Meanwhile, Ernst & Young recently shared a study and found that merely 11% of high school girls are planning to pursue STEM careers.

We have much work to do, lest we build a future that is less inclusive than the one we live in today. We need everyone at the table, in the lab, at the conference, and in the boardroom.

I've been interviewing both women and men for more than a year now about their experiences in tech, all as part of The Chasing Grace Project, a documentary series about women in tech. The purpose of the series is to help recruit and retain female talent for the tech industry and to give women a platform to be seen, heard, and acknowledged for their experiences. We believe that compelling story can begin to transform culture.

What Chasing Grace taught me

What I've learned is that no matter the dismal numbers, women want to keep building and they collectively possess a resilience unmatched by anything I've ever seen. And this is inspiring me. I've found a power, a strength, and a beauty in every story I've heard that is the result of resilience. I recently shared with the attendees at the Red Hat Summit Women’s Leadership Luncheon the top 10 principles of resilience I've heard from throughout my interviews so far. I hope that by sharing them here the ideas and concepts can support and inspire you, too.

1. Practice optimism

When taken too far, optimism can give you blind spots. But a healthy dose of optimism allows you to see the best in people and situations and that positive energy comes back to you 100-fold. I haven’t met a woman yet as part of this project who isn’t an optimist.

2. Build mental toughness

I haven’t met a woman yet as part of this project who isn’t an optimist.
When I recently asked a 32-year-old tech CEO, who is also a single mom of three young girls, what being a CEO required she said mental toughness. It really summed up what I’d heard in other words from other women, but it connected with me on another level when she proceeded to tell me how caring for her daughter—who was born with a hole in heart—prepared her for what she would encounter as a tech CEO. Being mentally tough to her means fighting for what you love, persisting like a badass, and building your EQ as well as your IQ.

3. Recognize your power

Most of the women I’ve interviewed don’t know their own power and so they give it away unknowingly. Too many women have told me that they willingly took on the housekeeping roles on their teams—picking up coffee, donuts, office supplies, and making the team dinner reservations. Usually the only woman on their teams, this put them in a position to be seen as less valuable than their male peers who didn’t readily volunteer for such tasks. All of us, men and women, have innate powers. Identify and know what your powers are and understand how to use them for good. You have so much more power than you realize. Know it, recognize it, use it strategically, and don’t give it away. It’s yours.

4. Know your strength

Not sure whether you can confront your boss about why you haven’t been promoted? You can. You don’t know your strength until you exercise it. Then, you’re unstoppable. Test your strength by pushing your fear aside and see what happens.

5. Celebrate vulnerability

Every single successful women I've interviewed isn't afraid to be vulnerable. She finds her strength in acknowledging where she is vulnerable and she looks to connect with others in that same place. Exposing, sharing, and celebrating each other’s vulnerabilities allows us to tap into something far greater than simply asserting strength; it actually builds strength—mental and emotional muscle. One women with whom we’ve talked shared how starting her own tech company made her feel like she was letting her husband down. She shared with us the details of that conversation with her husband. Honest conversations that share our doubts and our aspirations is what makes women uniquely suited to lead in many cases. Allow yourself to be seen and heard. It’s where we grow and learn.

6. Build community

If it doesn't exist, build it.
Building community seems like a no-brainer in the world of open source, right? But take a moment to think about how many minorities in tech, especially those outside the collaborative open source community, don’t always feel like part of the community. Many women in tech, for example, have told me they feel alone. Reach out and ask questions or answer questions in community forums, at meetups, and in IRC and Slack. When you see a woman alone at an event, consider engaging with her and inviting her into a conversation. Start a meetup group in your company or community for women in tech. I've been so pleased with the number of companies that host these groups. If it doesn't exists, build it.

7. Celebrate victories

One of my favorite Facebook groups is TechLadies because of its recurring hashtag #YEPIDIDTHAT. It allows women to share their victories in a supportive community. No matter how big or small, don't let a victory go unrecognized. When you recognize your wins, you own them. They become a part of you and you build on top of each one.

8. Be curious

Being curious in the tech community often means asking questions: How does that work? What language is that written in? How can I make this do that? When I've managed teams over the years, my best employees have always been those who ask a lot of questions, those who are genuinely curious about things. But in this context, I mean be curious when your gut tells you something doesn't seem right. The energy in the meeting was off. Did he/she just say what I think he said? Ask questions. Investigate. Communicate openly and clearly. It's the only way change happens.

9. Harness courage

One women told me a story about a meeting in which the women in the room kept being dismissed and talked over. During the debrief roundtable portion of the meeting, she called it out and asked if others noticed it, too. Being a 20-year tech veteran, she'd witnessed and experienced this many times but she had never summoned the courage to speak up about it. She told me she was incredibly nervous and was texting other women in the room to see if they agreed it should be addressed. She didn't want to be a "troublemaker." But this kind of courage results in an increased understanding by everyone in that room and can translate into other meetings, companies, and across the industry.

10. Share your story

When people connect to compelling story, they begin to change behaviors.
Share your experience with a friend, a group, a community, or an industry. Be empowered by the experience of sharing your experience. Stories change culture. When people connect to compelling story, they begin to change behaviors. When people act, companies and industries begin to transform.

If you would like to support The Chasing Grace Project, email Jennifer Cloer to learn more about how to get involved: jennifer@wickedflicksproductions.com

Jennifer Cloer
Jennifer’s career has been dedicated to telling the stories that have defined a generation of technology developers, from Linux creator Linus Torvalds to the men and women who started Creative Commons and Google’s first I/O Conference.

1 Comment

Very nice!

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