Mentorship, Sponsorship, and Friendship

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It’s been 6 months since my last post and boy has it been eventful. Many in our community already know this but I was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer on April 15th. The last few months have been focused on recovering from surgery and beginning the long chemo journey that will ultimately help me heal. I could go on about the challenges and lessons over the last few months but that’s not what this blog is about. I have another blog for that. :)

Recovery has afforded me a lot of time and what’s been on my mind lately has been mentorship and the value of creating an amazing support network. I wanted to share some of our journey as founders from my perspective because it’s led to some amazing opportunities and lifelong friendship.

Sarah, Elena, and I first met about 10 years ago working for a Seattle based data center broker. It all started when it was just Sarah and I and working back to back from the wheelhouse of our boss’s houseboat where we would dodge duck boats and seaplanes in between conference calls. We both held separate roles but it was the start of an over decade long friendship. Fast forward a few years and Elena joined us fresh out of one of her first post-college jobs and this too was the start of a long friendship.

I was the first to move on from the broker and ended up landing at Microsoft. I was randomly contacted by a recruiter and jumped at the opportunity to travel the world sourcing data center space for what is now Microsoft Azure’s global network. Within a few months there it became clear that this wasn’t a one person job so my boss gave me the green light to put my feelers out there and find someone to join the team. At the time I wasn’t sure who to reach out to so I reached out to my good friend Donna who was my confidant who encouraged me to make the leap to join Microsoft. She suggested I reach out to Elena. Elena and I hadn’t worked for very long at our previous company so we met for coffee and talked about what she wanted to do. Then introductions to the team happened, they of course loved her and within a month we were sharing an office and spending most of the day working hard and cracking each other up.

Within a year the time came again for more growth and more help. Sarah had been with the broker for over 8 years and was ready to move on to something new. This wasn’t a hard sell considering both Elena and I were now travelling the globe and growing our network so she came on board. We also met Suzie at Microsoft when she was working at Equinix. I will never forget the day when we were both working on the Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute initiative. At the time neither team could agree to terms and Suzie pulled me aside and said, “we’re two smart women, let’s put our heads together and figure this out,” and figure it out we did. It was then that Suzie went from my sales rep to my business partner and friend and the rest is history.

For most of my young working life I thought a mentor relationship was one where I would meet with someone much older than me who would give me the keys to professional success. I think for years this mindset held me back and prevented me from really seeing who my mentors are. Over the years that Elena, Sarah, Suzie and I have known each other we’ve supported each other through relationships, international moves, career changes and the common thread is that we’ve been each other’s sounding board and biggest cheerleaders. This didn’t happen overnight but was an organic and gradual process that has blossomed to where we are today in our lives. Does that mean I don’t believe in the traditional mentorship model? No. It means that mentors manifest in ways that you sometimes don’t always see.

Harvard Business Review published a research report back in February titled, Men and Women Need Different Kind of Networks to Succeed. The title is pretty self explanatory but one section particularly resonated with me because it spoke to my own personal experience with my network. It said,

“…women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.”

All four of us have gone down separate paths in our careers but we have been there throughout to support each other with introductions, candid advice, words of encouragement, and friendship. As our network grew and as WTF has blossomed into the awesome community that it is today we’ve maintained this mindset and these principles as we’ve sought to share our experience with others. Women do need other women and we’ve been fortunate through our network to help other women take risks, open up new doors, and even find new career opportunities. This more than anything fuels us because our own experience has been so unique and special.

While I have consciously decided to take personal time to myself to heal I am optimistic about what the future holds and to jumping back in the game when the time is right. For now I cherish my Friday morning conference calls with the WTF squad and look forward to every opportunity to connect with the women who have been the best mentors in my life.

-Brynn

For more weekend reading material check out the HBR Article: https://hbr.org/2019/02/research-men-and-women-need-different-kinds-of-networks-to-succeed

Spotlight: Meet Rebecca from RETN

On February 18th, we hosted our WTF event at NANOG 75 in San Francisco which had one of our highest turnouts in the history of WTF events! Close to 80 women showed up for networking and listening in on a panel discussion around diversity & inclusion.

We were also fortunate to have Rebecca Stanic join us and share some words with our attendees. Rebecca works in peering for RETN (which we learned can be pronounced as “reh-tin” or spelled out by letter: R-E-T-N) and is a board member for France-IX. It was enlightening and refreshing to hear her thoughts on the importance of having female representation on boards and what her experience has been with the NANOG community. In true WTF fashion, Rebecca is able to cut through the BS and tell it like it is without coming off as preaching, oftentimes sharing opinions that we all have but can’t articulate. We’re very grateful and excited to be able to share some of Rebecca’s opinions as well as really sound advice for moving closer to closing the gender gap in our industry.

Continue reading below for our Q&A with Rebecca:

Rebecca Stanic

Rebecca Stanic

You were recently 1 of 2 women appointed as a board member for France-IX. Big congrats! How has that experience been thus far and why do you think it’s important to have female representation on boards?

I think—or I would hope—the answer to “why is it important to have female representation on a board” is obvious. Quite simply, boards should represent the community that they serve and also be a representation of our society.

What is perhaps less obvious is the multitude of advantages of having women on a board, both to the company and to the membership that they serve and also to other women in tech. If we just had boards made up of the same demographics—for example white males in their 50s—then they’d possibly not be providing and implementing the most creative solutions to challenges faced.

However, I don’t really like to make a gender distinction. I think what is needed is a mix of talent and experiences. Women bring skills that an all-male board quite possibly can’t. My campaign for election focused on the areas in which I believed I could bring a new point of view.

  1. Firstly, I work for a Carrier and the board was primarily Content-provider heavy.

  2. Secondly, with the exception of our President, the entire board is French and I am not French, so I had something to add there. While Peering may be regional, business needs to be global.

  3. Thirdly and finally, I was the only person with a commercial background as opposed to a technical background. This is a skill set that I personally believe is incredibly important when growing your IX and attracting new members from new regions.

Honestly, I think I was less focused on my gender being the diversity play that I was potentially bringing to the board. Of course, it was glaringly obvious; France-IX had not had a woman on the board previously and they wanted to change that. They did this by approaching several women in the community and asking them if they would consider running. So, yes, undoubtedly, the issue of gender diversity was a topic and I most definitely reached out to women I know in the industry and asked them for their support. But I’d like to think that Florence [Lavroff] and I won on more than gender. Otherwise, we’re really not solving anything.

In terms of the advantages to other women, some were more obvious to me than others. What I found the most surprising was finding out that other women had turned down the opportunity because they were worried they wouldn’t be elected. It’s not that I thought I would definitely be elected to the board but I thought, “at least it’s an experience.” I do wonder if as many men that were approached would say no, or if they’d have more confidence, more courage, more certainty. If that is the case, then we really need to work on this as a group and start to really believe that there is nothing wrong with failing and understand why men are more open to taking professional risks.

Rebecca Stanic speaking at the WTF NANOG 75 event with Nadia Tuffaha looking on in admiration.

Rebecca Stanic speaking at the WTF NANOG 75 event with Nadia Tuffaha looking on in admiration.

After I was elected, a lot of women approached me and asked me about the process: how to get nominated, how I’d gotten elected, and if I knew of other board positions that were coming up. So, if by being elected, we help just to get a message out, and then to move to the next step—to get more women serving on boards and thus proving to those boards and companies the value that women can add through their skill sets and ways of approaching problem solving—we’ll have more sponsors and allies who don’t just think we’re the token female with nothing to say. It’s about creating critical mass, step by step, where we can.

Luckily, at France-IX, being seen as the token females isn’t an issue. From day one we were welcomed, we felt that our ideas and comments were taken seriously and that we’ve brought a different side to the discussions and new solutions to problems faced. If the male contingent on the France-IX board would be representative of men in the tech industry, quite honestly, I don’t think we’d have many problems closing the gender gap.

Nevertheless, even if we had been “diversity hires”, I’m a firm believer in it not mattering necessarily how you get in the room, as opposed to what you do with that opportunity once you’re there. Once you’re sat at the table, it’s up to you to make your voice heard.

I think it would be interesting to understand how many attendees of this year’s event are serving on boards and then, in a year from now, ask the same and see how many more have been elected, or just taken the chance and run for a position. Hopefully, we’d have an incremental increase in the number of hands that are raised.

Our industry as a whole has a pretty large gender gap. But I’d imagine the divide is even more glaring in the Internet engineering, architecture and ops side of the industry. What has been your experience with the NANOG community and attending their events? Has it helped you make valuable connections or did you ever feel like being a woman played a part in making that more difficult?

I’ve always worked in roles and industries where there is an obvious gender gap. So in a way, it’s the norm for me.

Regarding NANOG, I think the great thing about this conference is the sense of a close community that they have built. However, that can also be quite daunting when you’re first attending meetings and everyone seems to know each other so well, on professional and personal levels. Breaking through that barrier isn’t always comfortable.

Luckily, I had already met several people in the NANOG community before my first meeting, so I didn’t feel that I stood on the edges of the room, wondering how I was meant to meet the people I needed to and how I could interrupt their conversations. I do understand how it can appear to others outside the NANOG community, but generally once those first initial introductions are made, people are friendly and want to help. I don’t think you ever forget the people that eased your introduction to the NANOGers and I’m glad to say that a great many of them were other women.

As far as being a woman and whether that made it more difficult, I think being a sales person caused me more difficulties and I’d very much like to see the gap between technical and commercial reduced just as much as the gender gap and any other bias we might be fostering.

Attendees listening in on the panel at the WTF NANOG 75 event, San Francisco

Attendees listening in on the panel at the WTF NANOG 75 event, San Francisco

What do you think is driving the gender gap in engineering?

I was recently discussing this with a female colleague and how many instances we knew where people were still not encouraging young girls at school to even consider engineering and technical roles. Typically, these young girls are still being pointed in the direction of Marketing, Media and Hospitality when in search of internship and job opportunities. It’s a mindset, and it doesn’t change overnight but we all have a part to play. We also need more role models. I think women, on the whole tend to be more humble and less self-promoting, but we need to be better about sharing our successes.

Additionally, I think we need to openly acknowledge that male-dominated industries are not always the most conducive environments for women. This is probably where I should reel off the instances of my WTF [what the f*!$] moments. But more than that, I believe it’s about creating awareness with our male colleagues and championing diversity programmes in our places of work so they are more welcoming environments for women. So often situations arise simply from ignorance and this is something we can combat.

What’s something that has helped you tackle the gender divide in our industry and succeed in your career?

Undoubtedly, I have been judged before I opened my mouth because I am a woman. But then when I was younger, I was judged because I looked too young. At technical meetings, I’m judged because I’m commercial. In every situation someone is judging you based on some pre-existing bias. I’ve tried to concentrate more on what I can control, which is my own knowledge and experience. I’ve studied, I’ve asked questions, I’ve found mentors that are happy to sit down with me and spend time helping me to understand.

I think as women we need to play to our strengths and not necessarily emulate what are seen as masculine personality traits. We’re empathetic, we’re great networkers, and we’re “allowed” to be vulnerable with less judgement than our male counterparts. Understanding that at times you have to ask for help and that’s ok is something I’ve found very powerful. No one can know everything and admitting that at times and seeking out people to support me has meant that I’ve been able to move forward in my career instead of struggling alone.

Another trait that has really helped me is being open to challenges. So, if someone asks if you want to run for board election, don’t over think it, quiet your doubts and just say yes.

Diversity & Inclusion panel at the WTF NANOG 75 event.    From left to right: Talia Mares (Facebook), Kayla Clifford (Facebook), Renee Law (Oracle), and Inga Turner (Linx)

Diversity & Inclusion panel at the WTF NANOG 75 event.

From left to right: Talia Mares (Facebook), Kayla Clifford (Facebook), Renee Law (Oracle), and Inga Turner (Linx)

How do you see WTF helping the gender gap in our industry?

For me, personally, what I see as the value of WTF is in enabling women to meet and network. I’m not sure that we’re all great at doing that within our own gender and this forum provides us with a reason to start a conversation. It gives us all a bit more courage to step outside of our comfort zones and meet new people.

What I’d like to see is that women in tech build a strong community so that newcomers feel like they have someone who can help, support and if needed, mentor them, so that they don’t ever feel like they’re standing on the edge of a large, noisy, room with a community of people that are too daunting to approach. If we can do this, then I believe we have a far stronger foundation to start to chip away at some of the larger, more serious issues we all face on a far too regular basis.

What is a WTF (in the original meaning) moment you had to endure as a woman in your career and what did you learn from it?

Too many to list here. But encouragingly, the most WTF moments of my career were not in Telco. More and more, I believe what we need to do is create a dialogue and bring awareness. By having a community of women who support each other, we have a network of women we can speak to when we’re in a situation that makes us uncomfortable or frustrated. We have a lot of supporters in the male community of NANOG who are also willing to make sure that the dialogue isn’t just kept in forums like this and permeates across all segments of the community, regardless of gender.

The Way You Make Me Feel.

I woke up this morning and decided to take a shower and put on something other than yoga pants for work.

Today was an average Wednesday but I felt good about earning a gold star in #adulting and went on my merry way to work with a smile on my face. My morning routine isn’t unusual. I, like most other self respecting adults, do something similar every day. We put on uniforms and make ourselves look presentable because deep down we know that it makes us feel more confident and helps us professionally. Statements like “dress for success” and “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” exist for a reason. But that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about another weirder, yet ever present experience, that I have had as a professional woman.

The other day I was having lunch in my husband’s office with a co-worker (disclaimer: we work together, and yes, we both think it’s a little odd). My personal relationship matters for the context of this story. My husband asked me a technical question and I started explaining the rationale for a business decision when our co-worker interrupted me, looked my husband squarely in the face and said, “Doesn’t it feel amazing that you are married to someone who is both beautiful and smart?” My husband and I shrugged it off and changed the subject. Still, I couldn’t shake the feelings of embarrassment and irritation and left his office to go back to my desk. Later that day when we were on our way home my husband brought up the conversation and asked how it made me feel. I was disappointed in myself and he too was disappointed that he didn’t stop the guy and say something. The worst part about it was we both agreed that the guy genuinely thought he was being nice by giving me a compliment and neither of us wanted to say something because we didn’t want HIM to feel uncomfortable. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been struggling about whether I should or shouldn’t write about this. Here we are in 2019 and me, the neo-feminist elder millennial, is afraid to talk publicly about a guy who objectified me in the workplace in front of my husband a few weeks ago. Get your shit together Brynn. Here’s the reality. Stuff like this happens all the time and it needs to be talked about. Words matter just as much as intent and sometimes even intent can be misplaced in the right context. My co-worker’s intent may have been to compliment me but my decision to not use my words to say anything had just as much an impact on how I felt about the situation and about myself after the experience.

I had another thing happen this morning. I was browsing my LinkedIn messages and got an InMail message from a guy named John who wanted to connect. John doesn’t know me, nor does John know that I am a little sensitive these days about how my appearance is used in a work context. John doesn’t know about the WTF panel we did at ITW last year where we talked about how our appearance and behavior has changed throughout the years so we could fit in in this industry. John doesn’t know that I, like a lot of women, am told to smile more.

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John also doesn’t seem to know the difference between LinkedIn and Tinder.

John might think he was being nice. After all, who doesn’t like compliments? John even knew what he was doing probably crossed a line when he said “I know I should keep it professional here”. It must be my fault. I mean, my smile in my head shot is so attractive, and don’t even get me started on that blazer and work blouse. What dude can resist a strong smiling female in a pantsuit? I know if I was a guy I would find it irresistible to not reach out on the off chance my charm could score an opportunity to get to know a lady in private…

But enough with the sarcasm. Emails like this are the LinkedIn equivalent of a dick pic. It’s unwarranted, creepy, and made me feel extremely uncomfortable and self conscious. I actually asked myself, “do I need to change my LinkedIn photo now?” and “Is my photo not serious enough?” Now I’m not a woman who is generally afraid to use my words but like with the co-worker example I found myself feeling embarrassed and pretty vulnerable. I could go on and on about how looks shouldn’t matter in professional environments but I know that they do. Ask any economist who has studied how appearances impact behavior in the workplace and my feelings based argument about how I think the world should work gets shut down. Yet in a world where women more and more are speaking about their experiences I believe it is important to focus on how we can shift the narrative. We should create working conditions where all people can feel safe, comfortable, and can thrive.

Giving compliments should be like giving employee feedback. If you want a positive outcome and for that person to rely on you for your opinion and guidance then it helps to be specific. Instead of saying, “Jane is beautiful and smart” say something like…

"Your contribution to this project has been exceptional Jane. I really appreciate how you worked across multiple teams, aligned everyone on a common goal, and delivered on time and on budget.”

Instead of talking about Jane’s beautiful smile maybe try something like…

“Don’t take this the wrong way Jane but I think you have amazing teeth. My wife and I are looking for a new dentist for our kids. Can I get your dentist’s number?”

Or don’t say anything at all.

I know the line can be hard to see or even understand at times. We’re human and part of being sentient beings is that there is ample room for improvement and growth. I am sure there are going to be people out there who get frustrated or even offended by me writing a sarcastic blog about “compliments”, but it’s not the compliment, it’s the impact of the words that were used and the impact it had on my perception of myself at work.

I’ve focused on two blatant examples of where this is not ok but I have good examples too. At PTC this year I decided to go paddle boarding for an hour before my meetings and like most people on the beach in Hawaii I was wearing a bikini. About 50 yards out from shore I ran into a CEO of a well known data center company and the conversation went something like this:

CEO: Hey Brynn!

Me: Hey! What’s going on?

CEO: Fancy seeing you out here.

Me: <laughs> No kidding. I didn’t know you surfed.

CEO: I didn’t know you paddle boarded. Are you going to that thing at Tapa Bar later?

Me: Yep. I should get there around 10 or so.

CEO: Ok cool. Catch you later. Say hi to your husband for me.

That’s it. What could have been a totally weird situation given the circumstances was instead a non-event and a nice conversation that we both left feeling good about.

Words matter. It’s important to remember that feelings and perceptions matter too. With women leaving tech at a rate of 41% compared to 17% men according to data published in a 2016 study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology called Women in Tech: The Facts, it is critical for all of us to focus on the reasons why women feel the way we do in the workplace. We can all benefit from being more mindful of the language we use with all people of all backgrounds. We can all make an effort to create a better environment where we work because if we do that we’ll have a better opportunity to create a safe space where both women and men can thrive.

If you are interested in learning more about language and actions you can take to improve your culture and team check out some of the content we’ve found from organizations we respect.

Women in Tech: The Facts (2016 Update)

Recruiting, Retaining and Advancing a Diverse Technical Workforce

Flip the Script: Women in the Workplace

If you want to continue the conversation about actions we can take to improve the culture across our industry then we want to hear from you. For us to truly make an impact and create lasting change then this needs to be a team effort where both men and women can partner together to find positive solutions.

- Brynn

*Photo credit from How to be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings

Sponsor Spotlight: Meet the Women of Stream Data Centers

It really does take a tribe to make WTF a reality. We’re excited to highlight the women of Stream Data Centers who were instrumental in helping us host our PTC 2019 event as supportive sponsors.

Five-year PTC veteran, Katie O’Hara, attended the WTF event again this year and reflects on her time there as well as her experiences throughout her career. She is also joined by her colleagues Mary Morgan and Danielle Rountree, who also share some of their thoughts as well.

MEET THE WOMEN OF STREAM DATA CENTERS:

  • KATIE O'HARA: Vice President, Business Development

  • MARY MORGAN: Vice President, Marketing

  • DANIELLE ROUNTREE: Director, Client Services

From left to right: Stream Data Centers’ Katie O’Hara, Mary Morgan and Danielle Rountree

From left to right: Stream Data Centers’ Katie O’Hara, Mary Morgan and Danielle Rountree

What were your overall thoughts on PTC this year?

[Katie O’Hara]: PTC 2019 definitely grew in comparison to past events. Over the past five years, I’ve seen the conference evolve and shift to become more data-center centric, with colo providers establishing a solid presence, and industry veterans evangelizing the event itself.

It seems that the general consensus among the WTF community is that PTC has become the go-to place to get business done with C-level executives in our industry.

What did you think of the WTF event at PTC? Did it help facilitate meeting new women in the industry?

[Katie O’Hara]: I thought it was great! The event setting on the Garden Terrace at the Halekulani Hotel was beautiful and I took full advantage of meeting new women in the industry, and bonding over Mai Tais and poke bites. At huge industry conferences like PTC, it’s refreshing to be able to go to an event where I feel safe and comfortable and can exchange ideas and experiences with women that I might otherwise not have gotten a chance to interact with.

What’s something that has helped you tackle the gender divide in our industry and succeed in your career?

[Katie O’Hara]: Having started my career in commercial real estate and then tech, I have often had the experience of being the only woman in the room. But it wasn’t until later in life — and fairly recently — that I started viewing this as a negative. Growing up, my mother and father always treated my brother, sister and I equally, expecting us all to do the same chores like shoveling the driveway and placing the same expectations that we would all get our college degrees. I’m grateful to have grown up in an environment where my parents enforced gender equality and didn’t give my sister and I a leg up or cut us slack because we were girls but rather enforced the same rules and principles for all of us. That atmosphere at home as a kid has helped me shut out the notion that my gender would hold me back in any way and has prevented me from experiencing things like ‘imposter syndrome’. Unfortunately, I’ve since then gradually realized that the workplace does not abide by the same gender equality practices I grew up with so I now feel passionately about making sure I’m never the only woman in the room again.

[Mary Morgan]: Something that has helped me is focusing on results. I always try to set goals and focus on solutions that “move the needle.” Since data can’t lie, I try to lean on my performance for earning the respect of the men and women I work with. I’m honestly not in the habit of making gender part of the conversation, so I think hearing from other women about their experiences — both successes and struggles — will help me even more along the way

[Danielle Rountree]: Although I’m fairly new to the tech industry, I have been in the real estate industry for over 14 years, which can also be male dominant. I learned quickly that it was important to stay educated and research facts so that I could contribute to meetings. Sometimes I would call up friends who are subject matter experts in a particular area on my way to a meeting so that I can better understand the content. One thing I have learned is that women love helping out other women, so don’t ever be afraid to utilize key contacts. Don’t allow yourself to feel pride or fear if you do happen to be the only woman in a meeting.

Group shot at WTF’s PTC 2019 event in Honolulu.

Group shot at WTF’s PTC 2019 event in Honolulu.

What’s one thing you wish you could teach your younger self upon entering your career?

[Katie O’Hara}

Patience. I used to think of success as mainly having a certain title and being at a certain level. Therefore I’d grow anxious in when I could attain that and be “successful”. And while those things can certainly signify success, I know now that your title is not everything and it’s important to enjoy the journey at every stage of your career. That’s something I still have to remind myself to this day.

[Mary Morgan]

I would remind my younger self that the learning process never ends and to always seek out mentorship and educational opportunities from others. It’s not like you ever reach a symbolic peak of the mountain with learning and go, “welp, I know everything now so I’m done learning.” Even now in my career, I am always asking questions and not afraid to admit that I don’t know something; something I wish my younger self had done more of vs. viewing it as a sign of weakness.

 [Danielle Rountree]

Speaking up. Early in my career, it could be intimidating to voice my opinions—especially if they differed from everyone else’s—and ask questions in meetings and other group settings for fear of others judging me. But over time, I’ve learned the importance of sparking conversations and not being afraid to make my voice heard. It has really helped me develop my own thoughts and ideas while, most importantly, attaching value to them.

How do you see WTF helping the gender gap in our industry?

[Katie O’Hara]

I love that WTF encourages the practice of women supporting and promoting women. By bringing more visibility to talent among women through meaningful networking, the better the chances are that we can place qualified women in the right roles on our own teams, within our organizations, or in other openings within the industry that we come across.    

What is a WTF - in the original meaning (: - moment you had to endure as a woman in your career and what did you learn from it?

[Mary Morgan]

Yep I’ve seen my share. My least favorite moments are when women “beat each other up” in the workplace. From my experience, I do think women support each other more often than compete with each other. But unfortunately it does still happen whether it’s competition, insecurities, or sadly having the belief that there isn’t room for us all to be successful which couldn’t be further from the truth.

[Danielle Rountree]

There have been some scenarios where I have been treated differently by a client because I am a woman and have even had the client admit it! They may have even had good intentions and thought they were “protecting” me from a harsh reality. We cannot control the circumstances in life that we encounter, but we absolutely can control our reactions, emotions, and what we gain from the experience.


Can you relate to any of this? Be sure to comment below.

Sponsor Spotlight: Meet Kris From Google

From Women’s Tech Forum’s inception, Kris Bennett has been a fierce ally and supporter. As an industry veteran with over 35 years of experience — the past 11 of which have been spent at Google as a Global Infrastructure Negotiator —Kris brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table that she has proactively put to good use by providing career advice (that is actually helpful) and mentoring women in the industry.

Last year for our ITW event, Kris sat on our panel and shared her thoughts on gender diversity, women and competition, and imposter syndrome within our industry. It was a breath of fresh air to hear Kris, along with the other panelists, be completely transparent and open about her experiences without sugarcoating anything. That’s why we’re pleased to shine the spotlight on her this time around. Kris and Google’s support & sponsorship helped us make our PTC 2019 event a reality and we look forward to continuing our partnership as WTF continues to grow.

Check out the below Q&A with Kris who shares some tips on what has helped her throughout her career and where her nickname, Boomer, came from.

What did you think of the WTF event at PTC? Did it help facilitate meeting new women in the industry?

Industry veteran, Kris Bennett, from Google

Industry veteran, Kris Bennett, from Google

The WTF event is growing leaps and bounds! I’m so excited to see such great positive results. The settings chosen for these functions are relaxing and yet exuberant. They make the attendees feel safe and “special”, providing a space where they exchange open and honest thoughts. I was personally asked by two groups from China if they could start a WTF chapter there. When we get a response like this so early in WTF’s inception, it leads me to believe the growth of WTF will be widely successful and will help participants grow their professional careers.



Group shot at WTF’s PTC 2019 event in Honolulu.

Group shot at WTF’s PTC 2019 event in Honolulu.


What’s something that has helped you tackle the gender divide in our industry and succeed in your career?

In today’s corporate world, you don’t get promoted being at a company for a long time or because your manager thinks you should be promoted. You get promoted by promoting yourself. For women in a lot of cultures around the world, promoting yourself is foreign. In seeing this, I started doing a lot of mentoring, trying to teach women confidence, giving them tools to ask for difficult things. For instance, how to ask their boss what to do in order to get promoted and what steps to take to prosper. For me, mentoring within Google has been a great achievement because many women I've mentored have been able to achieve their goals.

What’s one thing you wish you could teach your younger self upon entering your career?

I’ve always been fairly confident, but in my younger years it would have been great to have the confidence I now have. I also wish I had been a bit more of a risk taker. It is hard to say where I might be today if I had both those traits as I began my professional career. These are two primary points I try to instill in those individuals I’m mentoring. Hopefully it will propel them to higher levels as they transition through opportunities presented to them.

How do you see WTF helping the gender gap in our industry?

I believe the most successful people are well connected. The WTF program allows associates to let their guard down and be free to develop and improve their skill sets. It helps them stay on top of the latest trends, explore the job market, meet future mentors, partners and clients and gain access to resources to foster their career development. Developing your career is a lifelong evolution and the burden resides with the individual. Hence WTF bestows a wonderful environment to explore opportunities for growth, and develop the skills to prevail.

What is a WTF - in its original meaning (: - moment you had to endure as a woman in your career and what did you learn from it?

Oh, there are so many WTF moments in my career, but I recall one of the earliest encounters which helped mold my profession. I was working in the office of an Outside Plant Engineering firm, watching my male counterparts go to the field to do the engineering drawings. I wanted to learn that skill so I went to my boss to ask if I could join the field teams. He looked astonished at me and said, “the men stay all night in the field....won’t your husband have a problem with that?” I immediately replied with, “would your wife have a problem if I went to the field with you?” What I learned is how to be confident and willing to step outside my comfort zone to gain new competencies. It was the beginning of doors opening for me, molding me into who I am today.

Kris is short for your birth name, Christine, so where does the nickname Boomer come from??

I've been asked over the years how I ended up with my e-mail (boomer@google.com), which has ultimately become my nickname.

I am a product of staunch Corporate America so when I first joined Google, I expected the same sort of treatment. On my first day of orientation, there were 153 ‘Nooglers’ [new Google employees] in my class. As we marched up the steps, we arrived at a long table where there were about 10 individuals behind the table, each asking us questions. As you can imagine, this was a very stressful situation considering I had been used to orientation environments where others told me what was next instead of asking what I wanted next. With butterflies in my stomach and my mind drifting and racing with thoughts, I approached the table and thought I was being asked what I wanted my password to be for my computer. I was born and raised in Oklahoma and so I blurted out "BOOMER".

At the end of the day, I was issued my computer. Sitting at my desk, I logged into my new e-mail and I couldn’t believe my eyes. BOOMER@google.com showed up on my screen. I was horrified!!! I figured nobody would ever know who I was but that is not the case. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect where it stuck with people and became memorable. Over the past 11 years, it seems my mistake has faired me well.

Sponsor Spotlight: Meet Colleen From CyrusOne

Our bags are packed for Hawaii because PTC 2019 is right around the corner! Naturally, we’re excited to escape to the warm, tropical beaches of Honolulu but what we’re even more excited for is kicking off the Pacific Telecoms Council week with our networking event this Sunday, January 20th from 5p-7p. It’s not too late to register!

Back in October, CyrusOne partnered with us to sponsor our first ever European event. Through that, we got to know CyrusOne’s Regional Marketing Director, Rebecca Wall-Morris, who is based in London and an advocate for ‘women supporting women’.

We’re thrilled to have CyrusOne’s support again for our PTC event #WTFPTC19. It’s a breath of fresh air to have sponsors on board who live and breathe the WTF mantra of supporting fellow women in the industry to help foster career growth. We are delighted to feature Colleen Sherman, a Global Account Director for Cloud at CyrusOne, in this installment of our Sponsor Spotlight series. Colleen will be joining us for Sunday’s event so be sure to say aloha!

Get to know CyrusOne’s Colleen Sherman, Global Account Director - Cloud

Get to know CyrusOne’s Colleen Sherman, Global Account Director - Cloud

Is this your first time going to PTC?

I’ve attended once before. As a company, we are global, and PTC reaches all of our customers. It is an incredible conference, bringing the best of the best into one location and growing together.

What are you looking forward to most at this year’s PTC?

I am really looking forward to becoming a part of WTF and sharing ideas with other women in the field of technology.

What’s the one trait that has helped you tackle the gender divide in our industry and succeed in your career?

I believe that through constant learning in the core business you represent will allow the divide to be a non-topic. I have never felt at a disadvantage being a woman, but I also strive to be the best in understanding the industry and dynamics of evolving times to keep myself educated.

What’s one thing you wish you could teach your younger self upon entering your career?

I would have early on become more multi-faceted in all arenas supporting the IT world. Being in Infrastructure services for my whole career, I would have started early in gaining knowledge on the end-to-end process of networks, storage, and compute all the way up the stack in order to understand the full picture. I also would have found a mentor earlier on in my career. I believe this is a critical stepping stone to our growth.

How do you see WTF helping the gender gap in our industry?

It is breaking down walls between us and embraces relationships with one another that can be very powerful both professionally and personally.

What is a WTF (in the original meaning) moment you had to endure as a woman in your career and what did you learn from it?

Being in the technology business for the last 21 years, IT has predominantly been male-dominated. I was told by many that, as a young woman in this field, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I used my youth as an advantage and worked with men who looked at me as a daughter and wanted to help. It goes back to being confident, knowing your business, and doing more than the next guy to learn.

contact Colleen

Colleen Sherman

csherman@cyrusone.com

m: 817.528.5228

#WTFPTC19

Over and out - excited to see y’all on Sunday!

-The WTF Squad

Stop Being Proud of Being the Only Woman in the Room

Above photograph by Hopper Stone—SMPS/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

Let’s not beat around the bush. The title says it all. I realize this may make you feel uncomfortable or even annoy you.  Or you might cheer it on. No matter what your reaction is, I need to get it off my chest and say it:

Ladies, we need to stop being proud of being the only woman in the room.

The Epiphany

A couple of months ago, I was invited to participate in a listening tour meeting with our Corporate Vice President. Upon entering the room, it struck me that the meeting was entirely made up of women.  It felt amazing to be surrounded by a group of women from diverse backgrounds and specialties. It was also the first time I was in a meeting with all women in my 4+ years at Microsoft.

But then something else struck me. As the women in the room shared their background, I heard many repeat the same phrase: “I don’t notice anymore that I am the only woman in the room”.  Said with a smile or a laugh, we all nodded our heads. There was even a shade of pride for some women in saying this. But I get it since that used to be me. After I left the meeting this axiom and the ease in which everyone said it kept repeating in my head and left me with the question: why are we proud of this?

I used to proudly regurgitate this phrase to my colleagues and friends throughout my career. I used to feel a certain level of accomplishment with it because it meant that I had persevered through a male-dominated industry to succeed and that I had become “one of the boys”. In other words, it created what I now see as a misperception that I was “stronger” than other women who couldn’t make it. The reality is  not that those women were not strong enough, but rather that no one made space for them. We have normalized being proud of being the only woman to such a degree that we view it as empowering, when it in fact does the exact opposite.

Turning a Blind Eye

But these types of justifications and excuses are merely defense mechanisms that come in the form of deflecting and laughing it off to try to prove to others that isolation doesn’t affect us and, most importantly, to survive in our careers. And oftentimes, the best way to survive is to assimilate. But assimilation does nothing to change a situation. “I don’t notice anymore that I am the only woman in the room” is essentially synonymous with “I don’t notice the gender gap anymore”. And if you don’t notice something, you’re not going to fix it. There is also level of privilege that comes along with this:

“I worked hard to get here, shouldn’t I enjoy my success?”

Yes, enjoy it.

“If someone else didn’t get here, doesn’t that mean they didn’t work as hard?”

No, for many it means the opportunity to get there was systematically shut down.

While we have been blending in and accepting, we have forgone the benefits of standing out and making sure there are more like us.

STEMming from the past

Women hold less than 20% of US tech jobs, yet we make up over half of the workforce in the US. However, fields like computer science used to be considered a natural fit for women in the 1960’s. Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper are pioneers in computer programming which shatters the notion that men are inherently better at STEM jobs. We have seen the movie Hidden Figures which outlined the unique role women, especially women of color, played as human computers and then computer programmers to help send humankind to the moon. But as we all know, the number of women in STEM has been plummeting since the 1980’s. This is driven by multiple factors including blatant sexism, lack of female mentors, lack of education initiatives, and active discouragement of girls from STEM. It’s a “brotopia” and we are living in it. The numbers get even worse if you are a female minority. Computer science majors numbered over 30,000 for white men in 2016. That number drops to barely over 1000 for Hispanic women, Asian women and African American women. And yet, more women earn college degrees than men. But pushing back against an entire industry and society that has systematically tried to box women in – intentionally or not - is no easy feat.

A brighter future

The good news is that there is more focus on getting women into tech and computer science today. From toys that teach young girls the building blocks of engineering, to organizations making it their mission to teach girls to code, to large companies having entire teams and divisions to focus on diversity and inclusion, we’re making steps in the right direction. There is a spotlight that we need to capitalize on. It’s been documented over and over that more women in tech drives greater diversity in thought, increases revenue, and propels innovation. Women are the largest economic workforce in the world and there is no reason why the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos shouldn’t have a vagina. There is no argument out there that can hold up against the benefits of expanding women in the tech and computer science fields.

No more excuses

So let’s bring this all back together. We are part of the problem. Every time we dismiss the fact that we are the only woman in the room instead of questioning it, we are giving in.  We need more women in tech in order to get more women in tech. We need to be visible. The next time you are the only woman in the room don’t accept it, ask why and make it your mission that you won’t be the next time. Be proud when there are two of us, three of us, an entire room of us. Let’s ask more questions and make up less excuses that allow us to accept that there is only room for one. There’s room for us all.

-Sarah

Sisterhood.

I remember the first time it happened.

It was Monday morning following our last PTC WTF event at Ravish and I was running in between meetings. She was just as busy and focused on getting from point A to point B as I was but as we walked past one another we locked eyes and smiled. It was a smile of recognition and camaraderie. Normally this wouldn’t have been remarkable. I have attended countless conferences and seen and passed probably hundreds of women going between meetings over the course of my career. She and I never crossed paths before the event the previous night but it didn’t matter. We knew each other now and had a shared experience. Today was different.

At our last event one of the topics we focused on was this concept of women and competition. All of the articles and all of the data and studies seem to indicate that where there are fewer of us we are naturally inclined to tear each other. This is survival of the fittest ladies… right? We asked the panelists at ITW the same question and offered up the following from a 2016 Forbes article titled The Dark Side of Female Rivalry in the Workplace and What To Do About It:

Research confirms that women are more likely to have an external locus of control. Personality can dictate how sensitive we are to outside factors influencing our achievements. If we lack the confidence in our innate talent to help us reach our goals, we are more competitive and anyone is a potential threat, especially other women in a workplace that fails to offer sufficient advancement opportunity.
— Forbes, 2016

On our panel there seemed to be a common theme that at least in our industry the source of our competition is not women competing with other women. Or at least if it did exist previously it seemed to be improving. Does it mean that competition doesn’t exist? Of course it does. However, like a lot of things in life, our experiences have shown that the situation is much more nuanced and ever evolving.

I have personally had to compete with both men and women. It’s work after all and we’re all supposed to be striving for recognition, deals, improved performance, promotions, projects, and many other things. It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I took an inventory on my life that I realized the majority of my industry friends and career confidants were men. Despite the friendships I had made with other industry women over the years I was not actively seeking advice from other women. These were women that I valued and appreciated but what I realized was that I wasn’t listening and learning from them and this needed to change. In hindsight I think it was because when I looked at the technical leaders around me it was far easier for me to network, learn from, and emulate people who were in positions of power that also happened to be men. It was a strategy that worked ok for me up to a certain point in my career when it didn’t.

Two years later I am proud to say that through this network I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from some remarkable women. Like the subject of competition, the process of learning is also quite nuanced. Some of my lessons have come through hearing from other women and learning about their experience. One of my favorite lessons came after I was told I was not listening and being too domineering by one of my esteemed co-founders and closest friends. She wisely told me that I could benefit from listening more to what the other women on our team had to say. It was equal parts challenging and uncomfortable to hear as the delivery was honest and kind. So I shifted and we’ve since benefited significantly from it. Sisterhood isn’t just about love and good times; it’s about being ok with calling each other on our bullshit in a way that lets the other person know that you are still there for them on the other side.

Listening is a pretty powerful tool and frankly one that doesn’t discriminate against gender, race, socioeconomic status, title, or political leanings. Friendship and support networks start by building personal connections and the only way to do that is to stop, listen, and invest in the other person. The value in being heard is unmeasurable but it has the potential to change who we are and I believe our experience at work and in our industry.

If the Forbes article is right and the source of competition stems from some external locus of control then what if we worked to change those external forces from within? Men and women ask me all the time what they can do to help change the status quo. There is no easy answer yet there are so many opportunities to address the multitude of challenges ahead of solving this problem. Sometimes the very thought of changing an entire industry is so daunting that it’s impossible to know where to start but starting is half the battle.

Start Small

Ask a fellow lady to lunch or coffee. Ask for a 1:1 with someone you admire or want to learn from. Accept a 1:1 if someone junior to you reaches out to you for advice or support. You might think you are just one person but imagine what would happen to our industry and our retention rates if every woman did this? You might be the difference between that person staying or leaving.

Be Curious

There are a ton of resources out there to help you start a discussion with your leadership or HR teams who have expressed interest in building and investing in a diverse workforce. https://www.catalyst.org/ is one of my personal favorites and one that I refer to often. It has a ton of tools, worksheets, and infographics available for free.

Get Involved

Does your company have a group focused on supporting women? While we love our WTF community we also believe that our value extends beyond our circle and benefits from our collective involvement in organizations sponsored by our own companies. We’ve had a lot of success by word of mouth but also know that sometimes it helps to get support from within. We all lead very busy lives but sometimes showing up is the best way to contribute. As someone who often attends industry events one of the ways I have contributed to my company’s women’s leadership organization is by participating as an events chair within my organization to help drive awareness into what we’re doing.

It’s ok to start small. It’s ok to not know where to start. It is also always ok to reach out and ask for support when you need it. We wouldn’t have assembled such a wonderful and inspiring community of women had we not all wanted to create something bigger than ourselves. As we move into October and towards our upcoming event in Europe I am more hopeful and inspired by our wonderful community of women and look forward to seeing you all in a couple weeks and to our next wonderful event!

-Brynn

Sponsor Spotlight: Meet Rebecca from CyrusOne

We’re just over 2 weeks away from our London event on October 22nd and we’re counting down the days. If you still haven’t registered, you can RSVP here. We’re looking forward to our first European event with all of you dazzling ladies for a chance to network and get to know one another as we continue to build our community.

Since WTF is a grassroots initiative, support from our sponsors goes a long way in order to put on these events throughout the year. But it’s important to us that our sponsors believe in the WTF ethos. We are thrilled then to have CyrusOne, who has shown enthusiastic support of the WTF mission, on board as a sponsor of our London event.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Wall-Morris, Regional Marketing Director, about her experience at CyrusOne and her thoughts on navigating the industry as a woman.

 

Get to know CyrusOne’s Rebecca Wall-Morris, Regional Marketing Director

Rebecca headshot.jpg


What’s the one trait that has helped you tackle the gender divide in our industry and succeed in your career?

Without hesitation I would say my work ethic. I’ve spent most of my career in B2B marketing in a traditionally male-dominated real estate sector as part of an in-house marketing ‘support’ function of predominantly women.

To be taken seriously, to hold a seat at the table, and to progress within the industry, I believe women need an internal motivation to get the job done no matter what, and to ensure that their professional opinion is voiced.  

 

What’s one thing you wish you could teach your younger self upon entering your career?

The importance of getting and holding on to a mentor, coupled with continually pushing for industry-specific training. It is so easy to get caught up on the tactical delivery of tasks – to cancel training and ‘nice to have’ catch-ups when you have a busy and demanding job. But it’s essential to continually stick your head above the parapet and see the bigger picture. I like the simple saying, ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’ and I try to constantly remind myself of this.

 

How do you see WTF helping with the gender gap in our industry?

I am relatively new to the Women’s Tech Forum, but I can immediately see that the practice of ‘women supporting women’ is at the heart of the organisation. We all know that communication is more than just words and as such the WTF’s mission to create opportunities for face-to-face contact is vital.

One of the many reasons I’m personally delighted that CyrusOne is supporting the WTF network is to support its growth across borders, and I’m extremely excited to be part of the team driving that objective.

 

How long have you been at CyrusOne?

I joined CyrusOne in September, following the acquisition of Zenium - a leading European hyperscale data centre provider with portfolio in the UK and Germany (Europe’s largest data center markets) - as Regional Marketing Director based in London, UK.

 

Who is CyrusOne?

CyrusOne is a high-growth real estate investment trust (REIT) specialising in highly reliable enterprise-class, carrier-neutral data center properties. We have a portfolio of nearly 50 data centers worldwide, providing mission-critical facilities that protect and ensure the continued operation of IT infrastructure for approximately 1,000 customers, including 201 Fortune 1,000 companies.

 

What is your role there?

In my role as Regional Marketing Director I’m responsible for establishing the CyrusOne brand across Europe and supporting the growth of the business within and into new territories through strategic integrated marketing and communications activities.

It’s an incredibly exciting time. The acquisition of Zenium was an important step in establishing CyrusOne’s footprint in Europe and driving expansion across the region by addressing the increasingly global needs of our customers who demand larger deployments.

By the end of 2019, we expect our European platform to provide nearly 250 megawatts of potential data center inventory - spread across four major markets - London, Dublin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Take-up across London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris in the first half of 2018 was an impressive 87 megawatts, up 50% from the first half of 2017.

Naturally I’m thrilled to be at the helm of these ambitious growth plans and looking forward to working with our local partners to develop meaningful entry strategies for these new markets.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many members of the CyrusOne team on the corporate integration since we announced the definitive agreement to acquire Zenium in December 2017, and something that consistently shines through is the teams palpable and genuine love for the company. Culturally CyrusOne people are without question focused and ambitious, ‘glass is half full’ people who are in it for the long haul. We work hard and play hard, and that old adage ‘blood sweat, and cheers’ is certainly true here – it’s a real team effort and we love to celebrate!

 

A passing message

Since joining CyrusOne almost everyone I’ve been introduced to has left the conversion with these four final words … “Welcome to the party!”

They truly mean it, and I too warmly extend them to the WTF community, and look forward to seeing everyone in London in a few weeks!

 

Contact Rebecca

Rebecca Wall-Morris

rwmorris@cyrusone.com

+44 (0)782 651 9389

Rebecca will be at the event on October 22nd so be sure to say hello!

-The WTF Squad

Hiding in plain sight.

Well ladies, summer is coming to an end and we’ll admit that we might have taken the last couple months off to relax and enjoy summer sunshine. Who are we kidding? We were head down feverishly planning our next amazing event. Wait for it... wait...for...it.....

WTF GOES TO EUROPE!

That's right ladies. The WTF event series is going global and will be hosting our first international event at Capacity Europe in October. Details and a save the date is coming soon so stay tuned and tell your friends. We would be remiss to not mention what we're doing in the 2+ months leading up to our next event so it’s time to get back into the swing of things and launch a new blog series.

Our ITW event was successful in so many ways but one of the biggest highlights came from our panel. We had four amazing and inspiring women talking about their observations as women in our industry and we were so moved that we wanted to share this with the rest of our community. Today marks the start of a series of blogs highlighting some of our favorite takeaways and ah-ha moments and we hope to continue to share stories like this moving forward. One of the best things about this community is that each of us has something to contribute to help each other grow. That’s why we wanted to share some of this with you.  So with that here is the first of our 3-part ITW Takeaways Series!

We asked our panelists about their personal experience with being a woman in our industry and posed the following question:

What has your experience been with gender diversity in technology over the course of your career?

When we were planning the panel a lot of us figured it would lead to a discussion about gender disparity in tech and then evolve into a discussion about what we could do to solve it, but instead we were surprised with how the conversation evolved. No one threw out the infamous percentages that we all see in articles blasting tech companies for not being female friendly. Instead the conversation shifted inward.

Suddenly gender diversity became about how we identify externally and how this has evolved over time. Some had felt the pressure early on in their careers to not look “too feminine” in order to be taken seriously, while others felt more confident in not hiding their femininity from their male colleagues.

“I felt like I needed to assimilate to really fit in. I cut my hair, wore male boxy suits and cufflinks, and looked 10 years older than I look today. I generally tried to do everything I could to be taken seriously and not for my looks but for my mind.”
— Amber Caramella, Senior Vice President

It was refreshing to hear varying perspectives since it’s something we all probably think about - whether consciously or subconsciously - at work. How we present ourselves to the world undoubtedly impacts our confidence. How many of us are familiar with the terms "fake it until you make it" or "dress for the job you want, not the job you have". These sayings exist for a reason and for a lot of us we took it to heart and dressed the part. Or at least that's what we thought... 

“I refused to dress like a man, act like a man, and as a matter of fact I would polish my nails and wear perfume and climb down in a manhole to dig up the splice pits. I just didn’t understand why the male dominated world didn’t believe that women couldn’t do the same job. I never expected the man to do the job for me. That was my early early days and that permeated throughout my entire career. I’m confident,  I show that I’m confident in the work that I do and I’m able to do the same work that men do.”
— Kris Bennett, Senior Strategic Negotiator

What moved us about the experience was each of us came into our industry at different times and had different strategies that lead to our success. Many of us were surprised to hear the exact opposite about what we assumed to be the truth. Some called it assimilation for fear of judgement or being held back, others called it doing what needed to be done to get to where they are today, and others simply called it being themselves. Whether we like it or not, we acknowledged that gender does play a role in how we see ourselves in the workplace and in our industry. Read What a Woman Sees if you are looking for a good way to add a little levity to this topic.

Be that as it may, it’s our capabilities that keep us here and it's our community that keeps us moving closer to our authentic selves.

Brynn + Nadia

 

 

 

 

Come Together... Maybe not right now, and that's ok.

Oops, I did it again. I unintentionally started another fight on Facebook.  

It started out pretty innocently. I woke up and did what I normally do which is sit on the couch with my coffee and pulled up then the news on my phone. I was struck by an article announcing that for the first time the Boy Scouts of America planned to integrate girls into the program. Initially I was pretty positive and excited about it. I was hopeful in thinking that the Boy Scouts are doing the right thing to integrate genders. The article talked about the organization’s desire to expose more girls to STEM programs by giving them the same opportunities as boys. It seemed like a pretty good thing considering the very real talent gap that exists in our industry so I forwarded it on with no comment. Point one for feminism and equal rights! Awesome right?

What was interesting was that a lot of the counter arguments against this change initially came from women that I really respect. Here I was, a self-proclaimed modern feminist having my viewpoint challenged by other feminist open minded thinkers. Throwing boys and girls into the same activities should be a good thing, right? Giving girls the same opportunities as other boys early on in their development is progress, isn’t it? They cited study after study which showed that integrating girls into an all-boys environment had a positive impact on the boys’ development while it showed that it had a detrimental impact on the development and self-confidence of girls. This wasn’t an argument against gender equality. It was an argument for creating environments where girls could thrive.

When my excitement turned to curiosity and I asked, “isn’t equality a good thing?” men reacted too. A lot of these men had strong opinions that I generally agree with like, “treat boys and girls the same way,” and “give everyone equal opportunities.” One of the guys backed up my question with a passionate argument implying that not wanting integration in the Boy Scouts was the same thing as the segregation laws in the 1950’s. As if choosing to keep boys and girls separate in the scouts is synonymous with forcing someone of a different race to drink from a separate water fountain. Or that if the Girl Scouts didn’t offer the same activities as the Boy Scouts we should shift our focus and force the Girl Scouts to change their programs. The guys weren’t arguing against a case for women and girls, they were just looking at the change in a completely different way.

And then it dawned on me…

Here I was singing the praises of integration yet I am also the same person who co-founded a women’s only networking group for my own industry. It’s not because I/we believe in segregation of genders in any way whatsoever. WTF exists in response to a very real issue that exists in our society. Girls today still are faced with a lot of issues that stem from their childhood and it continues on into their professional lives. I love that people are starting to recognize and talk about solutions to these issues. I appreciate that books like Lean In exist and that it has helped create a movement to help women in business and technology (thanks Sheryl). But as someone who has “leaned in” my entire career and never shied away from expressing my opinions or asking for a promotion, my determination and assertiveness is to this day still labeled as “bossy”, “bitchy” or “overly aggressive” while my male counterparts are labeled as “driven”, “strong leaders”, and “high potential”. We can talk about the issues and address the problems but given where we are as a society today it needs to go beyond that. They say it takes a village to raise a child but it takes I believe it takes a community to empower and inspire women and that community needs to be ours.

This has never been an us versus them thing but I realize now that the reason we’re doing this is for the same reasons why the women on Facebook were in support of keeping the two scout groups separate. WTF is not a private women’s club where we sip champagne in our amazingly well-lit room and plot against our male coworkers.  Although I’ll take the great lighting and a glass of champagne any old day of the week. WTF is about a global community of women in our industry coming together because we recognized that we all needed something like this.

Some of us are driven by a desire for mentorship from other strong female leaders. Some of us lack a safe space in our own companies to ask questions or talk about the very real self-confidence issues that exist across a lot of women in the workforce today. Some of us want to move to the next level in our careers but don’t know how to take that step. Some of us love our bitchin’ acronym and get the humor in it because it’s 2018, come on people! Some of us simply want to enjoy a nice glass of wine, get to know some other ladies, and get away from the insanity and chaos of the conferences we all attend. Even if it’s for just for a few magical hours.

For me it’s all of the above.

- Brynn

What a woman sees.

So the other day I started a lively discussion on Facebook.

I was working on the WTF website and was on the hunt for some good stock photos to help elevate and inspire women in our industry. As a grassroots organization the photos needed to be high quality but also not break the bank. I searched Getty Images, iStockphoto, 123RF, and Unsplash and started to notice a pattern.

Here is what I searched for:

Woman in tech
Woman in datacenter
Woman engineer
Woman coder
Woman leader
Woman network engineer
Woman business

What came back were thousands upon thousands of photos. On the business woman/leader search the photos ranged from nicely dressed friendly women smiling with a blurred office background, to strong looking women giving feedback in meetings, to women leading presentations. While there weren't as many images that necessarily resonated with who I am or how I dress at work I felt like these could be representative of something I could get behind. If you go to womenstechforum.com/who-we-are/ you will see an example of one of those photos in our banner image.

Then I started to look for good photos that represented women in tech. I scrolled through page after page on Getty Images and found one or two photos that I deemed acceptable. Both of the good photos could be obtained for the small purchase price of $550. Nope. 

A Google search for women in datacenters introduced me to 123RF. Between that site and iStock I found a handful of photos but it took me nearly an hour of searching through multiple pages on each of these sites. Unspash (a free photo site) offered little to no examples of women in technology so I moved on. As an aside, if you want some great general photos of women Unsplash is a great resource.

Long and short, photos of women in our industry do exist but you have to search through pages and pages...and more pages...<le sigh> to find them. This brings me back to my lively Facebook discussion the other day. It started with a comment on the photo below...

"If the tech/cloud/data center industry wants to change the perception of women then maybe start by getting some better stock photos than some dude mansplaining to a woman taking notes on a laptop."

"If the tech/cloud/data center industry wants to change the perception of women then maybe start by getting some better stock photos than some dude mansplaining to a woman taking notes on a laptop."

Needless to say the resulting comments were lively. A few folks posted photos as a counter to this statement. Unfortunately many of the photos that were posted helped support the point I was originally making. Yes, there are photos of women in datacenters and women working in IT. A lot of them. But there is an appallingly low number of them that actually represent who we really are.

Let's break this down with some good and bad examples of what is out there:

In a recent article published on AFCOM Theresa Simpkin, head of the department of Lord Ashcroft International Business School for Anglia Ruskin University, was quoted as saying, "Organizational culture is often not conducive to supporting career progression for women in tech - not necessarily because of the individuals within the organization per se, but the accepted norms that have developed over time," Simpkin said. "Networks, advocate programs and other mechanisms designed to provide a desirable career trajectory are often not aligned to alternative labor characteristics (this is not just about gender, but also covers socio-economic factors, race, orientation etc).  This is a highly complex, socially constructed matter that has its roots in organizational structure, culture, social learning and unconscious bias." To learn more about the content published in the recent AFCOM article go here. This was also republished recently on DataCenter Knowledge.

If the goal is to get more women in our industry then there are countless ways we can tackle this issue. I am grateful that there are men out there who recognize there is a problem with the content that exists. Thank you for your contribution to the Facebook discussion. But the discussion itself is an example of a broader social issue. As I looked back through 2 days of comments on that post that I realized something. It goes something like this...

  1. Woman addresses problem in a public forum.

  2. Man jumps in and start offering solutions to the problem.

  3. More men jump in with more solutions to said problem.

  4. Even more men offer solutions.....

I'm just going to stop here.

I love that men want to help solve these problems. Seriously. It's really cool that guys recognize that there is an issue and want to provide support. I personally have had so many wonderful men help me in my career and build me up over the years. But that's not the point. 

The point is that women should be offering solutions to problems like this. We have a voice and an opportunity to contribute to the discussion and enact real change. If men want to help us then tell the amazing women in their company that we exist and help us build more connections. Help us build our community. Ask us how we think they can help before offering solutions to solve the problem.

I want more women leaders in my life. I want women around me that I can aspire to be like so that I can evolve in my career. I want a community where it's ok to talk about my desire for a strong female mentor, or talk about my fear of public speaking but that I do it anyway because I feel like it will help me get over it, or my own challenges as a woman leader tech. The reason I jumped behind the concept of WTF was to not just change the conversation, but to create a community where other women had a common framework and an environment where we could support one another professionally and grow our personal networks and maybe even make a few friends along the way.

We've defined the problem but how many of us are taking action to help solve it? Women are leaders. Women are technicians. Women are coders. Women are network engineers. Women are individual contributors, president's club award winners, Managers, Directors, Sr. Directors, VPs, CEOs. Women get things done. So what's preventing us from talking about solving it more than we are right now? What's preventing us from striking up a conversation with our marketing teams about how the images on our websites shape the perspective of prospective candidates? Or informing the recruiting teams at our own companies about how the language used in job descriptions actually impacts the candidate pool. Each of us has the ability to make an impact as individuals and as female leaders at our companies. The beauty of our industry is that it is small and by design we are in the business of connecting the world.

So why not shift inward and focus on what holds us back and what we need to move forward and evolve beyond the status quo. If we as women want to change the way the world sees our contribution then let's start with how we see ourselves.

- Brynn

Leading the conversation.

Have something you want to say or contribute to our community? Then we want to hear from you. Shoot us a note on our Get Involved page. We're currently compiling a list of topics we want to cover in 2018. We are actively looking for bloggers and women who want to contribute to this effort and have your voice heard.

Some of you may have read an amazing book that you want to share with our community, while others have an idea or topic you want to speak about to get others thinking. Any and all topics relevant to our industry and to our community will be welcome. So don't be shy ladies. :) 

- Brynn

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