Women, Supporting Each Other
Today, I’m going to address a recurring theme from the last few months, driven in part by the narrative of the US presidential campaign and the election of Canada’s new feminist Prime Minister: women in the workplace. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since co-founding Hyr, a tech company, in an industry which over the last number of months has been increasingly called upon to embrace diversity.
First, I’ll give you a sense of my professional background. For the past fifteen years, I’ve worked for senior politicians, public affairs firms, and large multinational corporations — and been the only woman in far too many rooms. Some may ask why I’ve made so many career changes. The answer — as Shopify’s Tobi Lutke brilliantly put it — is that a career should be ajungle gym, not a ladder. And I’ve sure climbed that jungle gym! I started my career as a keen intern, was promoted and recruited to each of the rungs, and even fell a few spots when I was wrongfully dismissed at one point. What followed after that dismissal was a career-defining moment — it truly gave me the confidence to leave the corporate world and launch Hyr.
Looking back, I realize I didn’t quite fit in my previous work environment. Although I was on the executive track and my performance reviews always read “exceeds expectations”, I always felt like an orange in a barrel of apples. I lived with the classic workplace double standards. Women must “fit in”. Women who have opinions or pursue goals are too aggressive, bitchy, even emotional. More, particularly in the lobbying and political world, it was clear that women shouldn’t complain about unwanted sexual advances from men; they’re meant to be flattering or shrugged off. The same goes for inappropriate jokes and comments. Worst of all, many of my female co-workers and counterparts were de facto enforcers of these ludicrous standards. In jobs where success relied on relationship-building, you couldn’t afford to be “that girl”. And for too long, I wasn’t.
Now, being in the tech world, it is obvious that the role and value of women in the workplacehas been an afterthought, to put it very charitably. However, since launching Hyr, I have attended numerous women-driven events in New York, and they have been eye-opening in a good way. I’m finally hearing women talk about why there is a lack of women in tech and venture capital from an aggressive, how do we change it perspective, instead of passively asking how and when it will change. I can’t adequately describe how refreshing and inspiring this has been.
So, here are three resolutions I’ve made:
1. I’m going to be “that girl”. Don’t be assertive in meetings? Sorry — I have experience to share. Don’t offer feedback? No thanks. Just go along to get along? Forget that! It’s ok to be a strong, assertive leader. We’re either all stepping forward or we’re all stepping back, and forward’s better. And if you want to be that girl, come and do it at Hyr and, together, we’ll build a business that supports girls like us.
2. Breaking into a male-dominated industry is not easy, so support is key. I have been lucky to have a few very important mentors in my career who helped me and my confidence level, and who supported me when I was down. I thought it was a weakness to ask for that support, but it has made me such a better, well-rounded person. Support and mentor a woman you believe in. Let’s all help each other instead of competing with each other — instead of reinforcing, or justifying bad behavior. I will be — every day.
3. I’m going to keep dreaming big and encouraging other women to do so, at Hyr and everywhere else. Until I started thinking through the concept that became Hyr, I sold my ideas to the companies I worked for and it hadn’t occurred to me to start something on my own. I am very lucky to have two kick-ass co-founders who have encouraged me through this ongoing entrepreneurial process, and help turn an idea into the company we are now seeding. It’s now my turn to give back.
With all the talk and media attention around women and diversity, I truly do believe we’re on the cusp of meaningful change in the workforce. Equity and parity are still distant cousins, but we’re on the right track. Let’s all work to keep us there.
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