Author’s note: WordPress only provides for one author on a blog post, but truthfully, this article was compiled by not one, but two amazing authors in the SheStarts Marketing posse. Lana Weal & Samara Pepperell
Girls in Tech – an Empowering Catalyst for Change
A misty Melbourne morning in May 2018. 300 founders, entrepreneurs, designers, coders and women in tech filled a hall on the scenic South Wharf waterfront. The first Catalyst conference by the global movement for empowerment of girls and women in Tech “Girls in Tech” kicked off in Australia.
We could start off by telling you how well dressed everyone was, but that’s a given. Or we could follow up by commenting on the delicious food that fuelled us in between each seminar, and throughout, but that would be cheesy. It is Melbourne after all.
Instead we’re focusing on the most inspirational and empowering lessons we took away from the incredible female leaders that took to the stage. They generously shared stories, insights and ideas for the future of diversity, purposefulness and inclusion for women in STEM.
Girls In Tech (GIT) are all about “engagement, education and empowerment of girls and women who are passionate about technology.” GIT has 60+ chapters around the globe and super learning hubs with classroom style learning, hackathons and the very popular Catalyst conference.
Resonating across almost every speech, commentary and conversation throughout the entire event was the power of ‘backing yourself’. This sat concurrently with quite a bit of inspiring personal and career advice and general “chick power”.
Since attending the event, we feel motivated to share the best takeaways, which were:
Back yourself & follow your passion
Be ambitious & be prepared to work smarter
Create great teams & have inspiring role models
Value diversity. Beyond metrics
BACK YOURSELF & FOLLOW YOUR PASSION
Some women have a habit of underselling themselves and their skills. Imposter syndrome (the feeling that you aren’t smart enough, qualified enough or ‘whatever’ enough to be doing what you are) impacts around 70% of all people, regardless of gender, at least once in their lives. Women often feel they need to meet allof the criteria of a job position, while men feel they need to meet just some of the criteria to even apply.
There’s a regularly spoken about pay gap, but there’s also a remarkable confidence gap.
Throughout the first day of Catalyst, inspiring speakers shared lessons and we were glad to be reminded of our worth, and the value of our work that can often be overlooked.
The CEO of RMIT Online, Helen Souness, advocated for self-belief. She said, “We need to learn how to pitch ourselves”. This ability can lead to confidently articulating what you can contribute to a role and/or team. Souness recommended a few other key things that women can do to improve the future, such as; utilising our transferable “soft” skills and focusing on developing our technical skills.
“In a world of selling your time by the hour and the day. You have to pitch it. And say what you can bring of value to the company, by the hour or the day.” Helen Souness, CEO of RMIT Online
Maori language and gaming enthusiast, Zoe Hobson MD of Runawayplay, encouraged us to “follow what you love, not the job title”, reminding us that sometimes we might have to make short term sacrifices for long term gain. But that we’ll be willing to work harder for something we love, and conversely, it probably won’t feel like work!
BE AMBITIOUS & BE PREPARED TO WORK SMARTER
We loved hearing from Xcelerate Advisor and co-founder of Finch. Shahirah Gardiner shared her vision of what success involves. Not one to shy away from hard work, Gardiner made the convincing case that we should challenge ourselves to rethinking the term ‘obsessed’. Gardiner made comparisons between hard workers dedicated to solving problems, to athletes going into training.
“Success and obsession are inseparable”. Shahirah Gardiner, co-founder of FinchApp
Gardiner made the point that talent isn’t as important as your dedication to something. She spoke about the idea of true grit and how to prove to potential employers you’ve got what it takes.
“The greatest indicator of success is not talent, it’s grit”. Shahirah Gardiner, co-founder of FinchApp
Head of Partnerships at Braintree, Christine Rodrigues, also encouraged us to step outside our comfort zone and be gregariously ambitious when defining the things we can and cannot do. Rodrigues explained that although we might not know all of the technical aspects of some jobs, you often don’t need to.
“You don’t need to know how to fly an aeroplane to know how to sell one”. Christine Rodrigues, Head of Parterships at Braintree
CREATE GREAT TEAMS & HAVE INSPIRING ROLE MODELS
When you work well with others who are passionate about the same things, you’ll make quick progress. At Catalyst, we were reminded again and again of the importance of community, having a good team around you, and seeking out admirable role models.
Strategic Design Director for BCG Digital Ventures, Sophie Tobin shared her best tips for creating great teams. Tobin’s ideas for problem solving, and diversifying teams opened our minds to thought provoking solutions.
Tobin said that “problem solving doesn’t happen on insolation – it’s influenced by different people, the team and culture”. To ensure we value diversity in teams, Tobin outlined the top five qualities that leaders and members can embody to help teams work well:
Bring clarity: Understand the goals and objectives as sometimes being a leader is about being a messenger.
Bring your trueself: Allow teams to integrate their own personal style or interests or hobbies. It helps everyone to feel comfortable to bring their best work to the table and creates honest feedback and development.
Bring empathy: Focus on understanding, listening and appreciating others.
Bring humility: Understand all the roles and the people in those roles.
Build safety: How do teams support each other during tough or busy times?
SheStarts and all BlueChilli accelerator programs are dedicated to elevating women in tech, and folks from diverse backgrounds to do amazing work. Dr Kate Cornick, CEO of LaunchVic, fully echoed our vision for the startup community summarising with, “You can’t be what you can’t see”. It’s important to have role models that give you motivation to achieve similar feats or that are carving the path for others to follow and in future lead in their fields.
Dr Cornick encouraged everyone to look outside of comfort zones and speak to people. She shared a fantastic story from one of her early mentors taking her to an intimating networking event, who said: “I don’t want to see you until the end of the night, and I want to see how many business cards you can get”. Although the number of business cards might not be as important as making great connections, we think that speaking to even just one new person at an event can make a huge difference.
VALUE DIVERSITY. BEYOND METRICS
We were encouraged to start conversations and tap into different cohorts of people throughout the event. With Dr Cornick’s advice of “instead of being threatened by opposing opinions, get comfortable having harder conversations. Be open to new points of view”.
Dr Cornick said that being “supportive in hindsight is not the same as being supported upfront”. As they recognise that the state of Victoria encompasses a lot of diversity, LaunchVic aim to create a Victorian ecosystem that is holistically inclusive. Expanding opportunities to ALL cohorts of people.
“Unless we are fully inclusive, we won’t be reaching our full potential as an ecosystem.” Dr Kate Cornick, CEO of LaunchVic
During the panel Not Just Lip Service about how companies have approached diversity and inclusion, the panelists remarked that diversity isn’t just about women, or parents or one part of any minority group.
Director of Communications at Atlassian, Amy Glancey, stated that work-life balance needed to be rebranded as “supporting flexible work helps with diversity”. Susie Sugden of Temple and Webster tagged in with, “It’s not just for parents. Working from home doesn’t mean that you’re slacking”. Claire Bourke,GM of Technology at Australia Post, encouraged us to negotiate when approaching a role change or talking about requirements of a role, “we need to take accountability. Back yourself. All roles should be flexible. Don’t be afraid to negotiate”.
This echoed a sentiment from Monique Morrow, President and co-founder of The Humanized Internet, from earlier in the day regarding men as allies.
“It’s important to note that men have to be a part of the journey. It’s not an ‘or’, it’s an ‘and’, for those mathematicians in the room” – Monique Morrow, President & co-founder of The Humanized Internet
There was so much to take away from the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference. If you’re ever faced with the decision whether or not to attend, we encourage you to head along and be thoroughly inspired.
We’ve only covered day one’s thought provoking moments, Day 2, “the learning day” provided an opportunity to break into smaller groups to learn skills like coding, branding, design and product thinking, and raising capital. A different experience to so many conferences where attendees sit down and listen, while rarely having the opportunity for individual learning.
If a conference isn’t your thing, a Girls in Tech Melbourne chapter can be a great place to meet other like-minded, inspiring and ambitious people in tech. If there’s not a chapter in your region, perhaps you could start your own?
We all have a part to play in the future of supporting, educating and creating more opportunities of work, learning, growth, inspiration and inclusion. Not just for women but for all people with an experience of discrimination, disadvantage and differing experience or privilege in the STEM fields.