Establishing Clear Boundaries
In the 10+ years I’ve worked in the tech industry, I’ve had to deal with two recurring challenges: boundaries and credibility.
Being ethnic, female, and short, I’ve always played the hard-mode in the video game of life – an education in engineering, a career in software, and hobbies in sports a.k.a. The Boys Club. I’m frequently labeled as a “guy’s kinda gal”, a constant reminder that I always have to be on the lookout for the lines that cannot be crossed while drawing the lines that protect myself.
My job requires me to defend, justify, and persuade on a daily basis, and sometimes I know I need to fake it until I make it, trapping me within Imposter Syndrome. The moments where I break out of that cycle and find my voice again, I am faced with the reality that the credibility I deserve is not within arm’s reach. Each time, it’s my belief and my patience that let me be heard.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Don’t humour the idea that you can be teased easily, enforce the level of respect you deserve.
- Believe strongly in yourself, it shows organically through body language and tone of voice that you are beautiful, intelligent, and worthy.
- Put on a thick skin and develop the patience for the long game, let yourself be heard even if it means repetition with increased volume control.
- Never look down upon the gifts of emotions we have, they are our strength. We cover more grounds in analytical and critical thinking than our male counterparts.
- There is no bitch scale that anyone has the right to measure us on, don’t let anyone let you think otherwise.
Breaking Into The Industry
My background over the past 10 years has been predominantly within the marketing industry. I recently transitioned into the tech world with very little knowledge or experience. I’ve had to devote a lot of time getting to know and understand the new language, culture, and practices. This will not be a world that I become specialized in overnight, this will take months or even years before I can confidently say I have a comprehensive understanding, and that’s okay.
What I Want To Share With Other Women
- Don’t be scared to move outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
- If you have the passion, drive, and dedication to achieve your goals, then anything is possible.
- Connect with someone you respect that can provide guidance and coaching. My most valuable mentors have been powerful women in a Sr. Leadership capacity. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, knowledge, and guidance.
Always Validate Your Assumptions
People tend to make assumptions and jump to conclusions about me. When I was in elementary school, I skipped grades to learn Math. I did so because I was practicing teaching myself at home, but people commented, “She’s good in Math because she’s Asian.” When my friends noticed that I’m the only one heading to UW, they concluded, “You’ll be all alone with no friends.” As a tech consultant working onsite at a client’s office, I was mistaken for being the CIO’s “new cute receptionist“ by the CFO. The man that said that hadn’t realized that in this growing day and age, there are female tech consultants (the CIO went on to tell him, “She’s too expensive to be my receptionist!”).
When I gave birth to my two kids, I decided to park my career and dedicated roughly 3 years to focus on their growth. During that time, the salary gap between my husband and I widened even though we were on similar grounds right after graduation. My father-in-law commented, “He’s supposed to make more money than you.” My mother-in-law tried to comfort me by saying, “Girls can take it easy.” While she has the right intention, I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting to not “take it easy”. I enjoy family life and coming home to my kids brings tremendous joy to my heart, but I also enjoy working. Becoming a mother did not change my passion for technology. I disagree with the older generation’s male vs female family obligation projections wholeheartedly and my husband makes more than I do because I purposely put my career on temporary hiatus. Plus, he’s a great programmer and his company recognizes his value.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Anyone with dedication and discipline can achieve things others might think they can’t.
- Accept yourself for who you are and let that drive you to be special and unique.
- Let people’s misperceptions fuel your growth.
- Don’t feel guilty for wanting to have it all. Family and career can be equally important.
Find Your Tribe
I have always worked in male-dominated environments and have learned to grow a thick skin in order to move forward in my career. Working in the midst of a “boys club” is not easy and can be de-motivating, but it’s something most successful women learn to navigate over time. The key is finding your tribe; the brave, inspiring, smart, and supportive women (and men!) who will not only share your experiences but mentor you and become a part of your journey. Yes, we have to face inequality as a daily reality but we don’t have to put up with it or go through it alone.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
- Find your tribe. Talk to your peers about your experiences. Ask for their guidance and support. Find a mentor. Be curious.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you experience any kind of inequality, sexism or harassment of any kind, say something, or, if you don’t feel safe, tell someone. You’re not alone and you’ll be surprised to find out others have experienced similar situations. Be brave.
- Be patient. This is something I practice on a daily basis. Some days it’s not easy, but practicing patience – especially when the shit hits the fan (and it will) – is a lesson in itself.
- Be a good person. It’s easier than you think. Know that everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, and not everyone realizes they have even made one. Have compassion – for others and yourself.
- It’s all about attitude. Not the nasty or undermining kind, but the kind of attitude that people take notice of and respect.
- Be you. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and ideas!
- Maintain integrity in what you do. Be willing to put in the necessary hard work, have the ability to truly listen, and above all, respect and encourage others around you. If you exude this type of attitude, you can accomplish anything.
- Surround yourself with people that inspire you and that you can learn from – not only in tech but in anything you want to know or learn about.
- Don’t ever sell yourself short and always respect yourself.
- Always be helpful and encouraging to other women around you.
- Remember you are your own “brand”.
On Becoming A Mother
Change is unavoidable. In the tech industry, things change quickly and often, and keeping on top of current trends, best practices, and keeping your skill set sharp takes work. When I knew I would be taking maternity leave, I immediately began to feel overwhelmed about my ability to keep up when I was away and once I returned. I knew that becoming a mom would fundamentally change my life and I anticipated a great deal of tension trying to balance everything.
The thing is, you CAN have it all (if you want). I’m now a “working Mom” in an industry that is predominantly male. I’ve never (ok, RARELY) heard of a man who is worried about being able to “balance” being a Dad and having a career. It’s not even a question. You don’t often hear the term “working Dad.” So why should I take the term “working Mom” to mean anything pejorative or negative? The main reason I had these doubts before I came back is because there’s still a stigma around career vs. family when it comes to women. But many have been able to manage it before, and many more will after me. I’m still trying my hardest and showing up to work everyday with my “business hat” on – which is exactly what is expected of me.
What Helped Me Get Through It
There are three things that have helped me stay on course (oddly enough they also apply to motherhood):
- Be flexible and open to change. Be the type of person who can accept change and roll with it. Seek ways to help yourself or your company adapt, or look ahead and plan for changes before they hit.
- Accept that you don’t know everything, and that it’s ok that you don’t. Ask questions. Ask for help. Ask if there’s a better or different way of doing things. Don’t resign yourself to tunnel vision or think that reaching out shows any sign of weakness. Being obstinate alienates you – being resourceful makes you indispensable.
- Listening and empathy are skills that will never go out of style. No one experiences things the exact same way and some people may struggle with things you find easy (and vice versa). Listen with the intent to understand. And empathize with those who are having challenges. If you are the type of person that can show these qualities, people will seek you out and look to you for help.
Silence The Negative
Everyone deals with Imposter Syndrome now and then – even genius people who seem to have it all. Remind yourself that you’re not a fluke and you worked hard to get to where you are. This wasn’t an accident, it was years in the making.
How To Succeed
- Create a positive environment for yourself. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people that boost you up. Learn how to recognize and tune out toxic people.
- If you can’t find a mentor to physically show you the ropes, take the initiative to create a proxy mentor. Read a lot, watch videos, and follow people that inspire you. Always learn and soak it all in however you can. All of these little things contribute to a better version of you.
- Pay it forward. Don’t forget that someone probably looks up to you as well. Being a mentor for someone else is immensely valuable.
Play An Active Role
Don’t just sit at the table, be a part of the conversation. The best way to learn is to intensely involve yourself in situations that force you to punch above your weight – all while exuding a confidence that signals to your team that you’re well-equipped to deliver.
What I Want To Tell Other Women
It’s not easy to do – especially when you’re, most times, one of the only females in the room and a fraction of everyone’s age. It was hard for me not to feel like I didn’t belong. I overcame imposter syndrome by addressing it early – confiding in other female coworkers with similar experiences who unwaveringly fought past the feeling, and working alongside male counterparts who not only actively called out when I was wrongly doubting myself, but also pushed me towards precisely those kinds of opportunities where I was forced to build confidence, think independently, and join the conversation.
You could say I was at the right place at the right time when I was approached to work at Intersect. I look at it as seizing an opportunity and taking a risk by having the confidence and ability to succeed in such an unknown industry to me. What caught my attention in tech was the fast-moving processes, a unique culture, and the constant opportunity to learn. I am still learning A LOT and loving it!
Being in such a fast-paced environment you never know what’s coming your way. Sometimes you can prepare and expect things to go smoothly, but that’s not always the case. Other times you just have to roll with the punches, be flexible and open to change. Things will usually work out as long as you put the effort in.
What I’d like other women to know:
- Don’t let other powerful women intimidate you. Embrace them and even ask to learn from them.
- Always do you. Speak up for yourself and what you believe in. You shouldn’t act differently to please others, so don’t add that emoji or exclamation mark if you don’t want to.
- Do not let your kindness be mistaken for weakness.
- Seek opportunities for yourself and practice negotiating.