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What's the Point of "Women in Tech" Events?

I am not always a fan of “Women in Tech” events.

Why? Because I usually imagine them as a bunch of women eating fancy cheese and drinking white wine (two things that I actually secretly, or maybe not so secretly, enjoy immensely), complaining about how unfair it is for women in the industry. I often find myself thinking that we should focus on showing our worth instead of griping, and a year ago I would have snarled at the idea of spending my evening at any event like this.

So imagine my surprise to find myself spearheading a Women’s Leadership Circle here at PagerDuty. We had nine women in various leadership positions in tech take part in a panel discussion, give TED-style talks about their epiphany moments in the industry, and debate with the audience about hypothetical hiring quotas. It ended up being a really enjoyable evening.

So how do women-focused career events actually help? For many of the reasons that were brought up at our own event last week:

They boost confidence.  Talking with women who have struggled, but made it, into leadership positions shows that others can do it, too. There were four big confidence boosters that I got from our motivational speakers last night, which never get old:

  • Don’t worry about failing. If something goes wrong, learn from that mistake, build a plan for improving in the future, and most importantly, MOVE ON. Don’t let anxiety and emotions cloud your ability to keep saying, ”Next!”
  • Market yourself. Don’t sell yourself short with statements like, “I’m not very good with this.” Self confidence is not the same as arrogance. Humility as a leader is a great trait, but marry it with confidence in yourself.  Don’t sell yourself short with, “I am not good at this.” Try, “I’ve only done this a little before, but am confident I can learn more and do it well.”
  • Negotiate and ask. Ask for what you feel deserve, not what you think others will only give you.
  • Be deserving. Just like everyone else around you, you’ve worked and studied hard for what you have. You deserve it just as much as anyone. You have to believe it inside of yourself first.

They help us improve ourselves. It’s risky to make assumptions about either gender. But it’s important to recognize certain unconscious behaviors that don’t lend themselves to being seen on equal footing at work. Whether you’re male or female, sometimes the language or behavior you use can give the impression that you lack conviction in the business role you play. For example, don’t apologize too much. (I’m guilty of this myself.) If you overuse “I’m sorry,” you give off a less confident vibe. Instead, apologize once for your mistake, acknowledge how you’ll fix it in the future, and put it behind you. Equally, condition yourself not to apologize when you’ve done nothing other than express a different opinion. Asking for coaching and feedback from supportive people who notice these habits can be an easy way to help you advance who and what you want to be.

They build community. It is amazing to me that from some hours spent having inspiring conversation, so many small things can lead to large change. At the event, one of our speakers, Marla Skibbins, co-founder of BE: Business. Engaged., asked people to commit to one adjustment. She made everyone, men and women, take out their phones and text their commitment to someone who could hold them accountable to this change. I found that very empowering. Each long journey is made of many small steps.

I must admit that I still attend the occasional “Women in Tech” event that makes me think, “Well, this was a waste of time.” But that doesn’t mean that there’s no point to them. To me, the most important takeaway from our event was the encouragement to follow your own path and heart. So I’ll leave you with this message: Find a group that will boost your confidence, help you improve yourself, and support your networking and coaching. Seek out gatherings that lead to your happiness, your success, and maybe your dream job. There are different flavors of “Women in Tech” events and if you try one that’s not your glass of wine or bite of cheese, go out there and find one, or build one that works for you and women like you.

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