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Profit, power, and women in tech for good

From: #WOCinTech Chat

In honour of International Women’s Day this week- a call to action to Be Fearless, Be Helpful, and Be Unapologetically Present

“The thought of self promotion makes me feel sick…!”

This is a direct quote from one of the coolest techies I have ever met. She left a lucrative developer’s career to start up a social enterprise helping homeless people in one of our biggest cities with one of the biggest homelessness issues in the country.

She had successfully created a website and app that was doing what it intended. But she felt unable to do any promotion about her work or herself in relation to it.

Her quote made me feel sad, and this is why: women are not often encouraged to talk about their achievements, claim credit for them, and certainly not boast about them. And when we do, we are often made to feel bad about it.

Her service has so much potential, and she is such a charismatic ambassador for it. If she chose to do even the tiniest amount of self-promotion, I imagine she would be swamped with offers of support and contributions.

I couldn’t help but unpack her comment and consider all the implications of it. It will be the people she wants most to serve with her efforts who will miss out.

We must overcome beliefs that hold us back from achieving what we dream of, if not for our own glory then for the people who stand to benefit the most from our efforts. Here are three things I think will take us a long way to that end:

1. Be fearless

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. -Marianne Williamson

Overcome the fear and embrace our power. Do good things, tell people about it, and ask for their support.

For me, there is a big difference between shameless self-promotion and pomposity and telling the world about something great you created that is going to help a lot of people if it gets the support it needs.

2. Be helpful

There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. — Madeleine Albright

Help each other out. Ask for help when you need it. Give it when you can.

Never undermine another woman and her efforts to do good work.

Ok, you might despise promoting your work, or simply not be very good at it. What skills can you bring to the table to swap for those of someone who is brilliant at it? Can you introduce me to the best PR person out there who might give me a good deal? Perhaps I can help you install that SSL certificate that needs activating in return. Let’s help each other out. There is enough room for all our success out there, especially in the tech for good space, while making or attracting money to do even more good.

3. Be unapologetically present

The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet. -Mohadesa Najumi

Give no one the power to “validate” you. By the sheer act of doing and striving you are valid. There is a flip side to seeking validation that is even more insidious for me than validation itself. It is the idea of feeling like you have to make excuses for your ambition or achievements that can hold back you and your work even more. It can make you act “less than”, achieve less than, or set your sights too low.

If you are not apologetic or holding back, you can indeed be an intimidating force that can go forth and achieve a great deal. That force does not have to instil fear. It can instil confidence in you and what you stand for, admiration for your work and accomplishments that helps increase its reach, a desire to want to support and contribute to what you are trying to achieve. This means more impact for the cause you are working on or the people you are trying to serve.

Profit, power, and tech for good

But there was something else underlying this repulsion at self-promotion. She also generally thought that making money through her work was inherently bad. She was apologetic for it, and wanted only to be able to pay her fellow techies who were building and developing to compensate them for their time.

She was fearful of creating a cashflow that would sustain and then grow her ability to be able to help homeless people even more, or help more people for longer. Of course she wanted to do that, but not if it meant “self-promoting” or operating in a money-generating way. She felt it would undermine her tech for good intentions. The whole money side of the enterprise made her very uncomfortable.

I wonder if this isn’t an issue that women face often that men often do not. If that is the case, why is it? It seems to me that men very much associate money with power, and that having more of both is generally considered good. Many men with both do incredible things for their communities, society, the planet, and would never think to apologise for it nor recoil from promoting themselves and their work.

Of course there are lots of people who abuse money and power. But I think it is important to remind ourselves of just how much more we can accomplish with both for the people we seek to serve with our work, and for the causes about which we feel passionate. Without apology.

This is one of the biggest reasons I feel so lucky and proud to have entered the tech space at this time. The potential of tech for good is still just at the beginning. Tech for good combined with profit and power can mean a massive impact for those who we strive to benefit from the interventions. But you can’t hold back or apologise for what you accomplish.

So make a profit, be powerful, and assert your presence in that space you inhabit. There are people out there who need your brilliance as a capable and successful woman in tech.

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: https://medium.com/@eshassere If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the heart.

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