Updated: Sep 22, 2020
In May, I spoke at the Executive Women Forum’s Annual Symposium on Capitol Hill. As I was preparing my remarks, I decided to focus on something I think that women forget (or maybe don't know): cyber started as a career for women. No joke. Men didn’t want to be behind the scenes cracking codes, they wanted to be out on the front lines. So, during World War II, it was women (thousands of them) who were cracking the codes. It was even a woman who wrote the code that makes missiles undetectable.
So, why does the technology field feel so male-dominated now? And, what do women have to add that sets us apart?
I’m on vacation now at a beautiful resort, located at a lake in the mountains of North Carolina, miles and miles from ‘civilization.’ And, as I’ve been looking at the beautiful scenery, my mind comes back to Leading Ladies. This company is my passion. The community we’re building together is my passion.
One of the staff members at this resort is a young girl who’s starting college next year. She told me she wants to go work for Microsoft and be a "techie." So, of course, I shared what I do and she’s been asking me new questions every day.
This got me thinking about women in technology and what kind of advice I’d offer. What have I learned, or what do I know, about success that I can share that would be really meaningful to any woman in this field -- or really -- any field?
Prior to joining the tech field in 2004 as the executive assistant to a former naval officer, I worked with professional engineers in the construction industry. I’ve been in male-dominated industries my entire professional career. I learned quickly that I couldn’t be ‘one of the guys’ if I wanted to succeed. Why? Well, it was pretty simple for me: I’m not a guy. If I tried to be like one, I would never be as good at it as the actual guys. So why bother?
I had a little list in my mind on who I wasn’t going to be.
The Not To Be List
I wasn’t going to be ‘one of the guys.’
I wasn’t going to be the one to come to for crappy, sexist jokes.
Tell me a joke once and I’ll make it abundantly clear that I don’t think “jokes” about rape are funny. Neither are the gross stories from your frat days in college, bruh. You’re barkin’ up the wrong tree.
I wasn’t going to be the one to pretend to give a wit about fantasy football or March Madness. Again: sorry, bruh.
I wasn’t going to be the one to try to break into their ‘boys club’ happy hours or poker nights, or any of that.
Being the equal opportunity person that I am, I’m simply going to have a better happy hour or party, maybe at the same time as yours, maybe not. Whenever it is, you’re invited.
I wasn’t going to be the one who got pissed when her boss asked him to go get him coffee.
When he said, “I’ll buy, you fly,” my response was, “Okay, but I’m getting the most expensive latte on the menu.” He laughed and said, “I want my change.” I saluted him and happily got my coffee. I knew he wasn’t asking me because I was a woman. He was asking me because he trusted me to get his coffee and wanted to buy me some. Thanks, boss.
I also decided who I was going to be.
The To Be List
I was going to be the ‘Or’ girl.
All the guys in the room are going to offer their guy solutions. I decided to be the one to have the unique perspective. “Yeah, you can do that -- again -- orrrrrrrr you could try this and it might turn out like this.”
I was going to be heard.
Not in a -- excuse me -- ‘bitchy way, but rather in a, “Hang on one second. I have an idea that I’d like to share, as well,” kind of way.
I was going to be the one who asks the harder questions.
And if I don’t understand the answer, I’m the one who says things like, “I didn’t understand that answer. Will you explain it again, but this time, use different words?” This, for me, is an incredibly successful tactic because I get to hear the same thing twice, with two different explanations, so I end up learning it twice as well and that means I can explain it to someone else pretty darned well, even if I’m ‘the new girl.’
I was, am, will always be the creative one.
My former boss used to say that about me like it was a small thing… like she was cheering on a toddler learning to walk. “Oh, isn’t she precious. She’s the creative one.” But guess what? ‘The Creative One’ gets the big problems because she’s the one who’s going to figure out a creative response. After all, in those bigger problems or situations, the ‘same ol’’ resolutions haven’t worked. “Now we need a creative solution.” Enter ‘The creative one’… aka: me.
I’d always be the communicative one.
Here’s the thing about a lot of these guys -- and I’m not trying to be stereotypical -- they don’t actually want to communicate. They just want to fix the bridge, firewall, or breach. They don’t want to talk about why, what happened, or how to explain the intricacies to customers. So, I am happy to be the one to do that. This has always served me well because I get to learn enough of the technical ‘stuff' to be helpful and fill a pressing need.
My lady-friends: These male-dominated industries don’t need more boys or men. They need you to be uniquely you. You can figure out who you don’t want to be. That's a good start. But, really focus on who you do want to be. Focus hard. Aim. And then go for it. Companies need your unique talents.
They need what only you can offer. And you get to figure out what that is.
Don’t be one of the boys. Be you. And be so amazingly you, that you shine brightly wherever you go.
(Minutes before my speech on Capitol Hill. >>>>>>)