Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

How my mom made me a better leader, an unlikely techie, and a happy, independent woman

My mom getting her undergraduate degree at…, well…as a mature student

Three things my mom taught me that have gotten me where I am today

My mom has always been a working mom. She had to work so we could make ends meet. I think she also enjoyed (and needed) the intellectual challenge.

From the time I went to kindergarten, my sister and I would make our own way home from school and let ourselves in. We were on our own until our parents got home from work a few hours later. In the summer, this meant whole months stretched out in front of us left to our own devices.

When I was growing up, it was ok to be a latchkey kid- no one was going to arrest your parents if you came home to an empty house.

That time at home on my own made me who I am today. I had to do my chores (for which I got an allowance), then I could play or read or do homework, or anything else I wanted to do. This meant that I was responsible for my own time, and made my own decisions about how to spend it. There was an expectation that I would do what I needed to do. I was not a micro-managed child!

No doubt my middle-aged self could bemoan many a “wasted” hour I should have spent learning another language, or becoming adept at some sport or other, rather than the god-knows-what I got up to. But I wouldn’t trade those open and creative hours upon hours year after year for anything.

They made me independent.

The ability to be independent has not only propelled me through life but I am sure it is the reason I enjoy it so much and why I am grateful for every single day. Even the wobbly ones. They are all mine, of my doing. Bring it on.

As well as learning to be independent, my mom taught me by example to appreciate technology as a tool for getting things done and doing a good job. Back then, when she was working hard to get better and better jobs as a secretary, she threw herself into learning any word processing and office software that was rolled out in the government agency she worked for. And in the 1980’s, some of it was as clunky and user-unfriendly as you can imagine.

She was always the one who fed back to the IT fancypants (who had made something that they thought was the whizziest thing in the world) exactly why it wasn’t working for the people using it 8 hours a day. And she never used the words “user experience” or “user interface”. It was always “I am trying to do a good job and your product is stopping me, or taking me twice as long, or simply doesn’t make sense in the context of the job at hand. Trust me, I’m doing it”.

These are the stories we would hear over the dinner table. I was interested as far as her frustration to get a job done was concerned, but it never occurred to me to be interested in the hardware or software she was talking about. Computers didn’t interest me, but getting stuff done did.

She taught me about tech as a tool that should work for you, not as a means in itself.

She taught me that computers and technology were about getting things done, making it easier to work faster, and producing things that looked good. I saw the value in learning how to use it for all that could be done with it.

In fact, despite the fact that money was tight, Mom got my sister and I one of the first home word processors to use for our school work. It had a tiny, one sentence read out, and we kept trying to use it like an electric typewriter which wreaked all sorts of havoc on the formatting.

We also got an Atari Pong- you know, that early tennis video game which just had the two bars and the square that bounced between it. I never learned to like video games despite that early opportunity, for some reason. Maybe it was because I didn’t see it as a useful tool to get something done! But it was my first introduction to what would become my life in tech as a digital immigrant.

User experience and interface and practical application was what I came to think was important for tech. I don’t think I would have been able to dream up and design my current startup without that. It is a simple technology that does what it needs to. It is the opposite of whizzy.

My mom also wasn’t interested in tech either. She was committed to producing excellent, well presented work, and for making her boss look good. She was good at using the tech at her disposal, no matter how rudimentary, to create useful, fit-for-purpose systems and documents, solving problems and keeping the wheels on in the office. She made her bosses’ lives easier, made them look better, and helped them do their best work.

She taught me to be an empathetic, compassionate, and respectful leader and manager.

My mom taught me the value of those roles that are often considered the least prestigious, or perceived by some as the “lowliest” in an organisation- the admin and office staff who, as the mug says, “secretly rule the world”. Through her stories I got to see what really goes into those roles, what the people who did them put into their jobs and what they often had to put up with.

Many years later, I became an assistant director, then executive director, and I relied heavily on my administrative assistants. They not only made sure I could do a good job but often helped me keep my sanity. I believe I was much better able to foster those relationships because of what my mom taught me about being in those roles.

Some of my strongest, longest-lasting workplace friendships have been with those who I worked with as “boss” and “secretary”. We became a united front, a force to be reckoned with, as we strove to work in tough, stressful environments.

Now, I am CEO of a startup that has a simple, useful, user-friendly tool at its heart to solve a real world problem and make a job easier than it was. I have had great working and personal relationships with assistants who I came to see has partners-in-crime, and I have remained a strong, independent woman who has made my life my way, and who is grateful for all of this and more.

Thanks Mom!!

I have written a book on leading and managing teams based on my twenty years of experience using a simple four-part model that makes it possible for anyone to get a grip and do a good job. I will be sharing the first chapter to everyone who signs up on my list in the next few weeks. You can sign up here to receive the first chapter as well as news of the launch.

I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the heart.