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International Women’s Day 2020: Reflecting on Careers in Tech

By Lindsay Lelivelt 03.09.20

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. To celebrate the intelligent women that help keep Silverline going strong, we asked for their advice and reflections on learning from the past, staying focused on present successes, and paving the way for future generations of women leaders.

What is one thing you would tell your younger self about being a woman in the workforce? a woman in tech?

Jiordan Castle, Brand and Communications Manager: I would say, Choose your battles. There will always be bullish behavior to contend with, or struggles of being seen as a bit less than as a young woman, particularly in tech… but there are also a million opportunities for growth, mentorship, and camaraderie if you seek them out. Even if you’re inclined to take things personally, put every encounter in the perspective of the larger business and your role at hand. Your job is to help the business thrive, while also bettering yourself and those you serve (i.e., managers, direct reports, counterparts, clients, and partners) personally and professionally… Keep those things side by side in your mind as best you can and you’ll get where you need to go.

Chelsea A. Peterson, Project Coordinator: Just go for it. Whatever it is. Do the thing! All of them! I spent so much time convincing myself I wasn’t worthy of X, Y, and Z, and now I absolutely know I could have done all of them and then some! Don’t hold yourself back. Alongside that, surround yourself with cheerleaders. People who tell you that you CAN do anything are the best people. Anyone else is not worth your time.

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Illustration by Libby Vander Ploeg


Ann Armbrust, Client Services Manager: Learn to trust your voice in the room. You’re unique and were hired to do a job based on your experience and perspective. Trust that unique part of yourself to drive the change you believe in! I think that goes for being a woman in the workforce and in technology. 

Kate Collins, Senior People Director: I wish I had known that being a woman made a difference. I was so surprised the first few times I was treated differently or left out at work. When you are starting in your career, it can be hard to navigate what is expected and acceptable because of your place in an organization versus because of your gender. I didn’t think anything of seemingly little things early in my career. They could easily be written off as oversights or explained by my being junior. But as things started to add up, and I started to gain more experience, it became clear that some people were treating me differently because I am a woman. After I became aware of it, it took even more time for me to gain the courage to stand up for myself in moments when I am treated differently.

I think girls today are lucky that we are talking more honestly about what it means to be a woman to the world, including at work. It gives them an opportunity to learn how great it is to be a girl, and to understand how their experiences are different than boys. It also gives boys an opportunity to learn.

What piece of advice do you have for the next generations of women and girls with an interest in STEM careers?

Kathleen Ferrie, VP of Marketing: Do your research. Make sure you join a company that has the same values as you do. For me, I need a mostly remote role so that I can see my children more each day and not waste my time commuting. What I love about tech is that these companies realize to keep and attract the best talent they need to let employees work as they want to work. List out your needs and negotiate during the interview process! Do not settle, know your worth, and make sure you don’t take less than you deserve. 

Jiordan: Know your worth. Advocate for yourself, but always be respectful of those “above” you in the ranks, and of those who have more experience than you do. There’s a lot to learn, but you can’t learn it if you think you’re already at a certain level. Humility and determination mean a great deal at work. Let your voice be heard, and ask for help if you need help from those you can trust to support you within the organization.

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Illustration by Libby Vander Ploeg

Rachel Brean, Financial Services Account Executive: Ask more questions! Usually if you ask someone to break something down for you or explain something you can logically understand even what may seem like an incredibly complex topic!

Ann: Not to be corny but always be learning! Start broad, but make sure if something grabs your attention and makes you feel passionate you work to specialize in those areas! The talent pool is vast as it pertains to technology, and growth in future roles as you progress in your career are going to come as a result of specialization in an industry, in a technology or both in my opinion. If you get bored, no one wins including you, so keep learning!

 

What do you hope future generations will experience as they enter the workforce?

Jiordan: I would love to see it become easier for marginalized people to break into the workforce. It’s our job to look more closely, to widen our nets, and nurture talent from underrepresented groups. It’s on us to do that work, and I hope to see more of it happening!

Rachel: More leadership opportunities and seats in the C-suite. 

Illustration by Libby Vander Ploeg

Ann: My hope is that future generations are able work for companies that genuinely care about the employee experience. I think that HR and People Services is really starting to be valued for what it can be — at least for companies forward-thinking enough to prioritize it. The churn and burn culture is awful to experience, and my hope is that by supporting employees throughout their journey, everyone wins — the company, the employee and clients who are being serviced by happy, fulfilled folks who want to do a great job. 

Also for the love of all things holy I sure hope they have paid maternity/paternity leave for all. It very much may be the great equalizer for men and women in the workplace, is vitally important to the health of the mother, and allows for an equal tone to be set at home in terms of the unpaid labor of raising children and managing a home. 

Kathleen: To add on to what Ann said: women are waiting longer in life to have children so that they have more time to focus on their careers. But whether you want to have a child early or later in your career, there is never going to be a perfect time to have a child. I have three daughters, I can say that 🙂 My hope is that future generations of women can all work for companies that provide working mothers support and transition back into the workforce and a fully paid maternity leave so that they don’t have to stress over when to have a child. 

Illustration by Libby Vander Ploeg

 

What are you still trying to learn as you continue on your career path?

Jiordan: Above all, I always want to be a more empathetic leader and a thoughtful, quick independent contributor. It’s important to me, and to those on my team, that I’m able to do both.

Rachel: Making time for learning- it’s always a delicate balance between getting my job done versus setting time aside to learn new things about my industry, Salesforce, or keep up with the latest and greatest in technology news. 

Kathleen: To always challenge myself. As you settle in your career — you’ll find what works and what doesn’t. And while that experience enables you to be a good leader, you can’t rely on past experience alone. Tech is always changing so you need to constantly challenge yourself to think of things in new ways, and stay up to date with the market. 

 

Who are your heroes?

Jiordan: Professionally, my mother is my hero. She has worked radically different jobs at the highest levels for many years… and she’s never slowed down. Ever. Her work ethic and her compassion are both inspiring to me (and daunting!). And then of course, you know, Oprah… Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Kimberly Bryant (of the organization Black Girls Code)… too many women to name, all of whom work tirelessly at all levels to accomplish different things for the greater good.

Ann: I try to live an attitude of gratitude kind of life and see the heroes around me on a daily basis. Luckily, there are SO MANY at Silverline I can point to! Closest to my heart right now are my bosses Deanna Hughes and Melissa Nelson. I’ve worked mostly for men in my past lives who were wonderful and supportive – wouldn’t be here without them. However, I’ve found my experience working on this team has been incredibly different in the best ways. They are SO smart, impactful, well-respected and have a way of making you want to rise in your level that is so in line with our core values. I think it’s a special team they’ve built here, and I’m grateful to be a part of it!

Rachel: Ginni Rometty, Frida Kahlo, and Greta Thunberg.

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Illustration by Libby Vander Ploeg

 

What books, blogs, podcasts, etc. do you recommend for inspiration and information on being a woman/being a working woman today?

Jiordan: In terms of books, I think Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley and Radical Candor are good choices. This is a slightly stranger suggestion, but I think every working woman should have a hobby that’s unique to them that makes them feel powerful. For me, it’s (fairly regular…) strength training, writing, and cooking. It sounds obvious, but forcing time for yourself and creating a practice that’s entirely your own… it’s a meaningful thing.

Rachel: For a book, Wolfpack by Abby Wambach, for a podcast: Skimm’d From The Couch.

Chelsea: One of my best friends gave me Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) and Back in Black: Cathie Black on Leadership and Survival as a college graduation present. I didn’t read it until about a year ago. I wish I’d read it when she’d given it to me! Also, while I didn’t love Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk on the subject, I did really enjoy the book Lean In. I remember being on the train in Chicago and openly crying when I read about imposter syndrome. It was in that moment that I realized I wasn’t alone – in fact, I was one of MILLIONS of women (and others) that feel the exact same way.

Kate: I loved Powerful by Patty McCord. It’s not exactly a book about being a woman in the workforce today. It’s about being a leader who thoughtfully creates a work environment that is supportive and engaging for all people. Written from the experience of a strong female leader, the concepts focused on creating a company culture that fosters a balance in the value placed on strengths traditionally associated with gender. It’s about creating a place that is respectful to people as people. It’s not a kind of leadership that can only be provided by a woman, and the book showed the power of an emotionally intelligent, human-focused leader.
As a new mom, I found The Fifth Trimester indispensable in navigating my return to work. Based on data submitted by thousands of working moms around the country, the book is full of personal accounts and helpful tips around preparing for and returning to work. Reading on the subway to and from work in my first weeks back at the office, I learned some practical new things and found comfort in the stories of women who had navigated this tricky time, too. Plus, it made me feel incredibly lucky to work at an organization that was so supportive.

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