Like A Girl

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Why be a role model

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Lessons from the GOTO Chicago conference

My first time in Chicago was an absolute dream. I was there to attend goto; Chicago as an exhibitor in the GoCD team. It’s a conference that I’d been looking forward to attend since the past year.

As an exhibitor, I don’t usually get to attend many talks since it’s my job to (wo)man the booth and talk to people who are interested in our product. I saw that there was a networking event for women over lunch. With the help of my colleagues who covered for me, I was able to make it.

I had the pleasure of listening to Katherine Kirk and Erica Windisch speak about women and minorities in technology. This is a short account of what they said and of what inspired me from their chat

Diversity and Insight

Katherine spoke about how when people collaborate, the insights and products (as a result of those insights) are reflective of their collective experiences. And so, when the same type of people collaborate (over and over), the resulting insights and products are also homogenous.

But the world wants NEW. We want new products, new solutions and new experiences.

Insight is the new market differentiator.

Having diversity (of gender, thought, race, class, experiences etc.) is increasing the quality of the insights. She said something that really inspired me, which was this:

“It is your difference that’ll make the difference”.

The Role of Role Models

Erica Windisch spoke about role models and the role of role models. She spoke passionately about the dearth of role models in her life growing up. If you see someone like you out there, doing something you never thought possible, you find a way for you to be out there too. And so, being a role model is a responsibility.

You aren’t a role model for yourself, but for the people after you.

If you can endure being a role model and be visible, do it. You don’t even have to speak at events or talks. Just be there.

Just exist.

Erica’s journey was different and a lot more difficult than mine. But it got me thinking about something that many minorities experience — being the “token minority”.

After listening to Katherine and Erica in the conference, there are 2 things that I took away and chose to apply to my life —

Takeaway #1: Being aware of my ‘difference’, being okay with it and finding its strength

As someone performing a non-technical role in the tech industry (I am a product marketer), I often find it challenging talking about tech to ‘technologists’ . Even if I know what I am talking about!

Instead of hiding that aspect, now I express my need to have technical terms explained. And I’ve found that rather than being judgemental, people often start getting to the essence of things.

Some who start talking about trouble with their deployments end up talking about how difficult it is to implement change and how they were going to overcome it. Or where business decisions were taken, and how people on the ground were being affected. That’s when I became aware of the difference that I could bring in.

Takeaway #2: Choosing to be a role model

As a non-practicing muslim woman, I am confronted by being the “token minority” many times in my professional life — especially when I am chosen for something big. Even if that was not why I was chosen.

In the past, this thought has crippled me. It has caused me to get angry, upset and feel like I’m not good enough. After listening to these women, I tried a new way of handling this. The angry-upset-ranting route had only made me angrier, upsetter and rant-ier.

I am choosing to love and want being the token woman. This quote by Katherine (when asked how does she deal with being a token woman) sums it up —

“That is your moment. To show why people need more women. Take it and kick ass.”

And if I am the token woman anywhere, it will be my responsibility and pleasure to show you what you were missing by not having more people like me in the first place. And I am going to talk to more people about embracing being the token <insert minority here>.

Through my rose tinted glasses, when more and more of us can be the token whatever, the shame and taboo associated with it goes away — and the word token stops applying anymore. Plus if there’s even one person out there who sees someone like themselves and believes that they can get here too. Then, it’s a view I think is worth having.