I recently joined the summer internship program at PagerDuty, and I have already had one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking experiences of my life. Last week, I attended the fifth annual Girls In Tech Catalyst Conference hosted by the Girls In Tech global non-profit, here in San Francisco.
The second I walked into the event space, I knew that it was going to be different from any other professional event I had attended before. Instead of a pool of dark suits cloaking upright postures, offering stiff handshakes, and spewing stock market jargon, I was greeted with an ocean of bright colors, relaxed mingling, and vibrant conversation.
The conference structure consisted of TED Talk format presentations from female executives and veterans within the technology industry. Be it a female founder or an investor, a software engineer or a journalist, a C-level executive or a highschool student, an immigrant or an adoptee, a government official or an activist, these women embodied diversity in all of its forms. I thought I might feel some anxiety or discomfort being surrounded by so much talent and achievement all at once, but instead I felt gratitude for simply being at the right place and at the right time. It was a friendly and inclusive space, devoid of anxiety, competition or intimidation.
PagerDuty’s own CEO, Jennifer Tejada, spoke on the first day about “Grace Under Pressure.” She shared that the journey to becoming an executive is not always the smooth, straightforward victory that it is oftentimes portrayed to be. There are a lot of sacrifices and tradeoffs involved with evolving one’s career. With regard to facing obstacles and hardship, Jennifer shared a piece of advice that her father had passed on to her when she was starting her career: “Don’t let them see you sweat… grace under pressure, kiddo.” She defined grace as “courage coupled with dignity and finesse,” and shared personal anecdotes on how grace allowed her to effectively tackle difficult situations with composure. She concluded by asserting that grace, though considered a typically feminine trait, is the secret weapon in the arsenals of all great leaders.
Jennifer’s talk was a personal highlight of the conference because she addressed a topic that hit home. As an Asian woman, and a Filipino citizen currently residing in the U.S. for school and work, I am hyper aware that life may not always work out in my favor, compared to those of a different gender, race, and nationality. My parents and loved ones had told me this from the beginning, but still they encourage me to fight the odds. They remind me that with hard work, tenacity, compassion, and the hunger to learn, I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. They tell me that as long as I believed in my own worth, my being an international woman of color would not matter.
I am grateful to them for equipping me with the backbone to navigate through discrimination and doubt, but I know there are times when this “fighting” spirit does not serve me well. Although perseverance has helped me excel, sometimes I become the opposite of “graceful” in the times I do not succeed. When faced with a difficult situation, in my head I would rather be perceived as aggressive and impulsive than weak or incapable. In dealing with hardship, I thought people would make negative assumptions about my capabilities if I came across as too feminine, or too foreign. And while I have been working on this personal enhancement for a few years, Jennifer’s talk showed me that I had been going about this the wrong way. Even though being assertive or reacting quickly to obstacles or misfortune may rectify problems, it takes patience, finesse, and reflection to truly move forward and grow. Strength of character does not rest on how hard you push back; rather, it rests on dignity, conviction, and self-assurance. It is what you know, what you believe in, and how much you are willing to put at stake to reach your goal.
There was so much inspiration and empowerment at the conference, inside that purple-lit room, listening to all these womens’ amazing stories. It is one thing for someone to say to you, “you can do it.” It is something else entirely to meet so many accomplished women, who live their lives the way you dream you will live yours: authentically, with both fortitude and grace.
It was more than hearing about the success of female leaders in a male-dominated industry. It was about learning of both the resilience and the strength with which they got there. Yes, these women made mistakes. Yes, these women made sacrifices. But they refused to compromise their aspirations. They did it with both grace and grit, competence and compassion, vision and vulnerability. If that is not awe-inspiring and earth-shattering, then what is?
I know this inspiration will stay with me long after this conference. When I walked into the office this morning, I felt so empowered to see my female colleagues at PagerDuty creating fantastic careers for themselves and others, leading with grace, and championing hard work. And the wonderful thing about a fast growing company is that it is always on the lookout for more people who are hungry to learn and willing to grow. If you want to check out other careers at PagerDuty, simply go to www.pagerduty.com/careers to find your own inspiration.
As both a woman and a non-STEM college student, I came into the summer anxious, not sure if I would find a sense of belonging in the tech industry. But after attending the Girls In Tech Conference, and after a warm welcome to my internship at PagerDuty, I find comfort in saying that I was proven wrong.