International Women’s Day
When I marched up to the doors of Wooga’s headquarters on March 30, I had a clear plan in mind: attend the International Women’s Day event by the Women Techmakers Berlin, pitch in with organizational tasks, network and leave after about two hours. Alas, the best-laid plans were quickly laid to rest. And that turned about to be a good thing.
Summits like these are organized by Women Techmakers all around the globe throughout March. Events bring the female and diverse community and their allies together to celebrate women’s achievements and to encourage them even further on their journey. They are an earmark for something that should be kept in mind anywhere and everywhere: equality, especially in Germany, is not yet a reality. What I like most about our Women Techmakers program and the groups which represent it is that they do not resort to wishful thinking. Our ambassadors know that, as long as men are left out of the picture and as long as we only scratch the surface, nothing might ever change. Consequently, attendees were a diverse mix of women, men and all kinds of backgrounds.
The get-together promised a wide range of offers. From talks to childcare - there was something for everyone. And indeed, we did see a lot of children there. That fills my heart with joy, as children are surrounded by people who “get” technology from an early age. I know how I felt, growing up with no role model on what it was to be tech-savvy or even -interested.
But I digress.
The other offer was Career Corner, a consulting slash personal care point of contact where anyone can get orientation on their career plans and goals. A member of the organizer group came up to me and asked: “Franziska, will you do Career Corner?” I had helped out at reception shortly before and was in full-on networking mode. What made me say yes right way? For one thing, I have a massive helper syndrome. If you ask me about something I am knowledgeable about, likelihood is high that I will make sure you advance in it, as well. For another, I know the feeling of starting out in my career, unsure about this tech world I had set foot in and how to navigate there. There was no question about not reaching out to others!
So I set out to answer questions, give advice and give a glimpse into my expertise. The first lady came in, looking to transition in her career. While we were talking - and I was extremely engrossed - a line started forming outside. This was a pattern that continued into the late afternoon. You read correctly: I stayed on for four more hours and talked to about ten people, minus a little lunch break. There was an enormous demand and limited “supply”. In the Career Corner team, about two to five people consulted at the same time.
I was touched by what I heard and saw. Young people, experienced people, and women especially - all of them thought they were so close, yet so far away from this seemingly elusive grip on a tech career. I got reports about how previous non-tech experience was undervalued, how the only woman on the team was surrounded by bro culture (often without the team noticing) and how it was difficult to even be taken seriously. What I also saw, and that is encouraging to all of us in the tech community, is that each and every consultee had what it takes.
There was the lady who was as tech-savvy as I ever met a person. I talked to a man who taught himself to code. And finally, I met a young woman who got up and showed that she can thrive in her new career by incorporating elements of the new field in her current work. My job is a simple one. I take what is there and transform it into self-believe and motivation. Some of the credos I gave consultees as orientation:
Self-confidence builds with each and every experience. Chip in when there are interesting projects. Be present and there.
Step out of your comfort zone. Do projects and accept tasks in areas that are not your strong suit. Sometimes the skills we want are not the skills we need.
Talk, talk, talk. People are your currency. Do someone a favor, ask for further references. Analyze who is approachable and could be a good ally.
Ask, ask, ask. There is something that interests you? What’s keeping you from enquiring colleagues about it? You can only learn.
Get a mentor. Straight out ask someone to help you. The worst thing they can do is say no.
Network. This is still not an obvious choice. Grades and good results only get you so far. Make qualitative contacts wherever you can. Go to meetups and talk.
Be visible. Your company limits your options? Build a public profile to show your skillset. Offers won’t be far off.
Through the exchange we had and the feedback I got, I believe that I could make a difference. My own importance or non-importance aside, I know that community sense fuels connectivity. If we manage to connect at least in one moment that will stay with this person forever. And it would not have been possible without the identification we have with the diverse tech community. All of us helpers do this on a voluntary basis because deep-down we genuinely want to help people succeed, be more confident and act as trailblazers wherever they go.
We have to realize that, especially as women, we are never just one. We are many. If I ask for a lower salary the woman after me gets ten percent less. And the woman after her and the one after her and so on… We learn and rise collectively. We empower each other.
That is why initiatives like the Women Techmakers are so vital for our community. They provide the stepping stones for building up a strong network, acquiring new skills and seeing alternatives by providing strong role models. They are me, they are you. My resolution to continue to mentor was reaffirmed that special day. And you can do it, too. Have something, anything to pass on? Reach out to people close to you. Be there when there are questions. Offer a shoulder to lean on when times are bad. And most of all: create opportunities for others. Who knows? The listener might be the future CTO we have all been waiting for.
Franziska Hauck - Regional Lead for Developer Relations for Austria, Germany & Switzerland at Google. Follow her: https://twitter.com/_francied l