Take a good look at what’s impactful and what works against you. Since women are cast as soft skilled, emotional labor will go against your promotion. They erase memory of your technical contributions. Teammates often remembered my Slack emojis over my complex system flows. Make sure you get credit for your work. This Survival Tips For Women In Tech post expands on this further.
On my stereotype and how I broke it.
Teams are looking for leads who are talented, intuitive, driven, and inspiring. To combat my stereotype, I had to overcorrect especially for driven and inspiring. As a petite Asian American woman, I’m cast as meek in the workplace. It wouldn’t be enough to highlight the success of the work. I needed to show my influence.
I made sure to cite numbers in all my case studies. The more uncomfortable those numbers made me feel, the better. Next, I was explicit about the question, “Why was this hard?” This took the guesswork out of my ability to drive work forward. For example, HealthCare.gov is an online form. But I talked about every constraint, process, and stakeholder meeting that made building a form challenging. Correcting this cast me as the inspiring design lead in the job requisition. I gave every interviewer the evidence they needed to make my case.
Your reach goal is your actual goal. Believe you are worthy.
It's time for me to admit that getting an offer for a lead role was my reach goal. I had only expected to correct myself back to the path of Senior IC. The plan was to do both job searches in parallel. If I had 1 offer, I had nothing to lose with the back-up plan. If I had no offers, then I could see where my gaps were.
When reaching past your comfort zone, frame everything as practice. For example, if you’re leaving your job regardless, you don’t need your remaining social capital. If you’re happy where you are, you can approach a potential opportunity as a reach goal. Rack up those failures.
Bias doesn’t stop when you’re hired. You need to maintain your position.
Now that you are correctly leveled, the challenge is to stay on that trajectory. Position yourself strongly from the start. Keep your doubts to yourself. Don't let biases have a chance. It’s healthy to consider a 360º view of your work self, but your team only needs to see the you who can lead. Lean on your friends in the industry for questions like, “Am I cut out for this?” We all wonder sometimes. Expect each place you work to have an ugly truth. Implementing a truly inclusive workplace is tough. No company is there yet.
It would be disingenuous to claim I made it here on my own. I surrounded myself with ambitious women, especially women of color. I wouldn’t be writing this letter if it wasn’t for Iyo, my career strategist. Together, we all know this isn't a zero-sum game. We can lift each other up. My hope is that we can maintain this new status quo. An inclusive tech is one where we don’t need to plan to earn respect. I want the advice in this letter to be irrelevant one day. Until then, repeat after me:
“I am really smart, and I am really good at what I do, and you should fucking listen to me.” –@hels at #xoxofest