This past week, I had the opportunity to listen and engage with thought leaders, mentors and mentees at a Women in Tech event at D.C.’s General Assembly. Upon walking into the suite, I was immediately in awe of the aesthetically-pleasing office, where chalkboard walls lined the entire space with inspirational quotes, presidents of the past and present and D.C. scenery.
As the women gathered into one of the several classrooms, we were introduced to the panel by moderator Sibyl Edwards of D.C. Web Women. The panel included a wide representation of women with diverse backgrounds: Yuri (Yuriko) Horvath of 1776, Rosario Robinson of the Anita Borg Institute and Amy Wilson of Booz Allen Hamilton. The event was filled with women of different backgrounds and cultures (and even one very brave man!), as we settled in for a chance to understand how women can make themselves marketable in the male-dominated world of technology.
Just as I expected, the women were intelligent, knowledgeable, funny and focused on advancing women in the technology sector. Looking back, the event spotlighted a few main takeaways: the reiteration that women are constantly playing catch-up and holding themselves back from success, how collaboration is pivotal and how the D.C. area can be the catalyst for creating a female-dominated technology space.
One of the most interesting topics discussed was around “imposter syndrome,” or the feeling of inadequacy at work and questioning your abilities in a role. This crippling syndrome can describe women who have unattainably high standards for themselves, causing self-doubt, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. Panelists described how being surrounded by coders and techies might cause these feelings if you lack the same level of hard skills, but reminded the audience not to forget about soft skills like empathy and communication, which can be equally valuable.
Sitting there in the classroom, I began to feel something I’ve only recently been exposed to in my career – camaraderie. Women who were all too eager to be mentors and mentees, something that has been lacking in my past positions due to competition and single-mindedness. To make a difference, young women like myself need female role models and mentors at a young age who can instill the confidence necessary to succeed.
With the event wrapping up, one attendee asked how she can find more women to hire for her company. It’s difficult enough with female employees filling fewer than 25% of STEM jobs and only 5% starting their own companies. While the statistics are everywhere and the media is covering them, there needs to be a catalyst of change. Silicon Valley will always be dominated by men, so instead of changing the game, women must re-strategize.
According to a recent study published by SmartAsset, Washington, D.C. is ranked number one as the best city for women in tech. They speculate that this may be due to the hiring policies of the government, but the opportunities are not just with the government. The number of tech accelerators and start-ups continues to grow throughout D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. This combination of public-private partnerships, top colleges for cybersecurity and the drive to succeed can make D.C. the “Silicon Valley of the East Coast.” Sure, that’s down the line, but if women continue to network and encourage one another, we can take over one of the fastest-growing job fields.
Yuri said it best: “Your knowledge should look like a ‘T’ – light knowledge around a broad set of topics or skills, and a deep dive on one thing.” This was followed by Amy’s assertion that both empathy and inclusivity are necessary to succeed in a male-dominated career field: “I don’t have the answer; WE have the answer.” Rosario followed up with her own statement that communication, listening and collaboration allow women to understand that “there is no one answer to a solution or problem for putting out a good product.”
As a woman-owned company, Merritt Group knows the power and potential of women in technology firsthand. In fact, our CEO, Alisa Valudes-Whyte, was recently named a finalist for DC Inno’s 50 on Fire awards, recognizing top innovators and influencers in D.C. So here’s to the women, and here’s to creating a technology industry driven by a diverse set of leaders!