For the past 20 years, women have held fewer than 25 percent of jobs in tech. Yet we make up half the workforce. That was the opening statement that kicked off the sixth annual Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference in San Francisco last week.
The event is hosted by Girls in Tech, a global nonprofit founded in 2007 to help women advance their careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
While the statistic is disheartening, the tone of the two-day conference focused on female empowerment, entrepreneurship, engagement and education was anything but.
With engaging and inspirational talks by female (and a couple of male) leaders from companies including NASA, Pixar, Eventbrite, Stitch Fix, Netflix, Okta, Amazon, Slack, Birchbox and Nutanix, the Catalyst Conference fostered a sense of community. It was a much needed and welcoming space for attendees to network, learn and grow.
Here are six lessons we walked away with:
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
No path to success is linear. While it’s easy to be envious of high-powered C-suite executives, it’s important to remember that more than likely, their road to success was crooked and unpaved, with plenty of obstacles along the way.
The speakers at the Catalyst Conference proved that being bold can pay off in dividends. Women often don’t speak up during meetings until we believe we are experts, and don’t apply for jobs we aren’t 100 percent qualified for (so we think) — but those are mistakes.
Curiosity sparks innovation, so don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, and embrace the challenge. You never know where risk-taking might lead you – it could be the C-suite.
2. Be your most authentic self.
Being authentic is incredibly valuable in business, as uniqueness brings diversity to teams and organizations. We are all remarkable in our own ways, so know it’s okay to be imperfect. Understand that there is power in living your truth. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Self-compassion increases motivation, and that’s a win-win for you and your team.
3. Success = Passion.
In business, using your head isn’t enough. To be successful, you also need a passion for your work. Ask yourself, “Am I soulfully connected to what I am doing?” If the answer is no, find out how you can incorporate more of your passions. Lean into the things you love and seek out the opportunities that give you goosebumps.
Passion is contagious! When you have it, you will naturally inspire and motivate others.
4. You only get what you work for.
For some speakers at Catalyst, the odds of becoming a successful woman in tech were stacked against them from the beginning. They were born into some of the world’s poorest countries, fled their homes as refugees, didn’t speak a word of English, were single mothers, or lacked role models growing up. They overcame those obstacles through perseverance and grit, and charted their own paths.
When it comes to success, individual strengths may set you apart, but hard work is what will get you ahead. If you get knocked down, get back up. Be the person who raises her hand to solve the big, scary problem.
You’ll be rewarded for your ability to demonstrate value during adversity because dedication and ownership is leadership.
5. Giving back is essential.
In addition to providing a sense of purpose, community service diversifies your network, increases cognitive abilities and helps build new skills. It can help uncover new passions and open doors to opportunities you may not otherwise have access to during your day job.
But giving back goes beyond donating time and money to non-profit organizations and causes you care about. It’s also about being available as a mentor to help others succeed. (At Offleash, we prioritize both with OffleashCARES and our mentoring program.)
6. Diversity matters.
At a conference with “Girls” in the title, you would think the conversation around diversity would be focused on gender equality in the workplace.
While the topic certainly came up at Catalyst, the emphasis was more on the importance of diversity in thought. Diverse teams can solve harder problems, build better products and deliver better results. If there’s one thing all companies should understand about diversity, it’s that it’s not about filling a quota. It’s just good business.
The Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference left us feeling energized and confident that the future truly is female. As Beyonce says: “Who run the world? Girls!”