Tonight we're hosting leading women in tech talking about what they've learned by being a woman in tech; here's highlights from the talk (which we're also Tweeting here with the hashtag #realtalkWIT):
Julie Ann Horvath on Leaving GitHub -- and What It Taught Her
Recapping her experience at GitHub, Julie says: "For a long time, I tried to avoid the Twitter/feminist conversation and just build things." But she quickly realized that she'd experienced sexism in tech and hadn't connected the dots -- "you get to the point where you can no longer ignore it." To the point where she couldn't even walk into the office: "I was kind of sick of the talk of hiring more women [at GitHub], yet refusing to provide the safe environments that women need."
Colleen notes that the conversation about the company revolved around the word "toxic", and Julie talks about that: "It's sort of Lord of the Flies... it's very high school. But it's distracting, and there should be feedback processes to avoid that toxicity." Because GitHub didn't have a management structure, there weren't healthy processes to deal with the problems a typical growing company will have. (A co-worker who was attracted to Julie began punishing her at work passive aggressively.)
"What's even more frustrating to me is the way GitHub belittled my work" after bringing up these issues, she says. "I had a couple people, specifically the HR lead at GitHub, laughing at me." Which led her to this insight: "A startup is always hellbent on protecting its tribe, and if you're a women or a person of color, they don't see you as part of the tribe."
Colleen asks how feminists who had previously criticized Julie on Twitter for defending GitHub before her departure engaged with her afterward: "It was so amazing," answers Julie. "I felt I was getting it from both sides. I had to defend working there to a lot of these feminists. The amazing part was they actually showed up and supported me, offline as well." Meanwhile, her former colleagues at GitHub who once supported her "disappeared".
What's Julie's recommendation for identifying a positive culture? "My best advice is to really get to know your prospective team... if teammates don't respect each other, and you see how teammates engage with other people, you get to decide if you want to engage with someone like that."
Someone in the audience asks if it was it hard to promote passion projects at GitHub when the culture didn't support women? "At times it was really hard," says Julie. "There are a lot of women in tech, you just don't hear their voices."
Another women in the audience who's in marketing in tech asks if there's a way to help deal with problems other women in different departments have: "My best advice is talk to each other," says Julie. Not really a "ladies club", she adds, "but I did find a lot of strength of going out and having drinks with each other... it can be easy as retweeting a co-worker, or offering to edit a blog post written by a [female] engineer."
Amy from the tMa team asks: Now that Julie has a platform and people are listening, how are you going to capitalize on it? "I struggled with this a lot," says Julie. "Part of me just wants to be a designer and a developer." She did spin a GitHub passion project into an LLC, and is retweeting other women in tech and other voices. Beyond that, she adds: "I'm still trying to figure what the best way is to use it for a good cause... I'm still giving it thought."
Vanessa repeats a comment from a man in the audience, that more men should hear all this. Julie agrees: "It's just as important for men in the community to see women as role models and leaders." Finally, she encourages everyone to foster an "If you see something, say something culture" around offensive speech and behavior.
Next up, thoughts from Leah Hunter (Fast Company), who moderated, Jennifer Lankford (Orchestrate.io), our own Vanessa Camones, founder and CEO of theMIX agency, and Sepideh Nasiri, formerly of Women 2.0. (Pictured above from left to right.)
Being Labeled as a "Woman in Tech" - and Helping Other Women in Tech
Leah starts by asking if the women felt like they are a "woman in tech". Vanessa answers that as she works with bigger companies, she has had to start thinking more about the politics of this, especially after Julie's story came to light. "It just seems to not slow down." Sepideh adds: "We're still discovering what is the best way to have a great career... before this, we were mothers, that was the way women had to go... labels are just temporary."
Leah notes a recent Kara Swisher post about being the queen of pushy media dames (a reply to Jill Abramson's recent firing as head editor of the New York Times) , and asks what advice the panelists would give to young women entering a male-dominated industry. Vanessa: "When other women come to you or have questions, [you should be] there, first and foremost." From the audience, a product designer who manages many engineers advises reaching out to women on her team whose voices weren't being heard -- and for that matter, also quieter men.
Why Tech is Often So Backward on Women in Tech
A member of the audience asks why the tech world, which is so innovative, has such a Neanderthal reaction to these issues. A female engineer in the audience offers an answer: "A lot of us are incredibly brilliant in a code-ish way, but aren't necessarily as good about talking with other people, dealing with emotions; it becomes more complex, and people become scared." An older female CEO from the audience adds that men aren't necessarily evil, "they just have a history of clubs that women do not have."
How Women in Tech Are Expected to Dress - and Act
Colleen notes that Sheryl Sandberg recommends women smile a lot and be approachable, which is something expected of women but not men. Leah says she noticed she was advancing slower in the ranks than her male colleagues, and only started moving up when we began dressing more like her male colleagues. Whether you do that or not, says Leah, "It's nice to at least have that intellectual distance so you can see how the game is played." Echoing that point, Jennifer adds that even her tone of voice at a meeting (if she raises it during a passionate conversation) can be judged negatively.
A tech reporter in the audience says she is judged at tech conferences by what she's wearing (jeans versus a skirt). Vanessa: "I'm happy to judge this because I love clothes. I could care less. At the end of the day, I am myself, I wear what I want to." She advises women in San Francisco tech who worry that they should dress down, to instead own their style: "I go to New York, I go to LA, everyone's fierce."
Being "Bossy" -- And Being Bossy Like a Boss
How do you react to people who accuse you of being "bossy" when you're just being a leader?
Vanessa: "I had a difficult time with the whole 'bossy' thing... I don't care, I'm aggressive, I'm confident, I speak my truth. When we're asked to lower your standards, we resist that [label]." The first time she was accused of being bossy, Sepideh made this answer, which she generally recommends, "Yes, I am. I get paid for that."