Before I begin, let me be clear on one thing: I am not a feminist. I’m fairly unsympathetic to the notion of women being unable to pursue their dreams in whatever capacity they choose simply because they’re women. I often roll my eyes at campaigns that cast women in a negative light alongside men – such as this anti-sexism spot by Pantene which recently made waves across the Internet — because it further perpetuates the stereotype that women ought to be considered an oppressed minority in the workplace. Totally understand there’s a world for that and that’s cool, just not my thing. Love what you do, own it, make goals for yourself and devote every waking second of your being to achieve them. Gender isn’t a deciding factor in one’s ability to get shit done.
Today I had the pleasure of sitting down over a ribs and pancakes brunch with Denise Jacobs (founder of Rawk The Web), who in one fell swoop changed my perception of supporting women in technology in 15 minutes of conversation. Denise is a passionate slave to ideas, and travels the world to share her thoughts on finding your bliss with creativity. She told me about a workshop she recently lead, mentoring women who are interested in becoming public speakers. Often feeling like I’m on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to defending my gender, I asked her thoughts on the uprising of female-focused Meetups and sessions encouraging women to enter creative and technology fields traditionally oversaturated with men.
What she said completely changed my mental model about supporting women in technology (paraphrasing, but here’s the gist);
“It’s not about negativity. It’s about showing up. It’s about letting these women see themselves in you. It’s about exposing them to situations they never even considered for themselves.
It’s like Kid President. Have you seen this? Until we had a black president, African-American children didn’t even know this was a possibility for them. The door wasn’t there. Now this kid, a black kid, knows he can be president one day because he sees himself in Obama. This is what we do for other women. We show them doors.”
Up until this point, I had always felt like a fraud when anyone would sing my praises for being an influential woman in technology. Huh? Perhaps I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never faced any persecution in my career because of gender. Roadblocks and pitfalls yes, but none to do with my being a girl. But now I get it. I’ve always correlated the girl-in-tech initiatives with the negative stereotypes, and was never persuaded that girls needed help to stand out against men. I’ve always been neutral about the whole thing; it never bothered me, but I never got involved either. Today I learned I’ve been thinking about this all wrong, and it’s not about oppression; it’s about showing these women the options available to them through a connection with other capable women, and letting these girls see a reflection of themselves in us. Much like how a bird would never know it could fly without seeing another do the same.
During the course of brunch I did some introspection and remembered the first time I felt that “I can do it” connection via influence of another woman. Before I worked for Adobe I flew down to Adobe MAX (our biggest creativity conference) and was watching the keynote session. The speakers were primarily men, each who were masters of their field and spoke with authority and confidence. Following this line of influential speakers was Deepa Subramaniam, this tiny, elegant woman who killed her 15 minutes with the best of them. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. Someday I want to be her.” It had less to do with her being a girl in a sea of men, and more to do with because she was a girl I could see myself in her, as a bird flying higher than I thought could be possible for myself. This experience opened up mental doors I didn’t even know were there. Honoured to say I spoke on the same stage, in the same spotlight, about a year later proudly showing off my work as Deepa did before me. Maybe if I’m lucky I was able to pay it forward to someone else.
I feel fortunate to have learned this separation of negativity and inspiration. The same concept is true for men inspiring men, successful students inspiring classmates, entrepreneurs inspiring startups and any other class seeing success in another member of that class. It’s powerful stuff. Maybe we should all take a moment and realize that there’s things we do that others can find inspiring, and help nurture the birds who don’t yet know they can fly.
243,552 total views, 108 views todayPosted on February 24, 2014 by Sarah · 12 comments