A Journey for a Woman in Technology
There is that well-known saying that “behind every successful man is a woman.” As I think back to my career in technology, I would change that to say “behind every successful woman in high tech is a supportive man.” The most important person to help me become a strong and productive professional was my dad.
I grew up in a male-dominated household. As the only girl with three active brothers, I had to adapt to survive. Early on, I knew that to be successful in my family and earn my place with all those boys, I needed to be clever, smart and establish my path. My parents knew it could be tough for me. They gave me personal time, supported my interests and instilled confidence in defining my voice. And they put the boys in the corner when they went too far. My mother had a magical way to keep everyone in line, but it was my dad that put me on a path to later achievement in technology.
My dad was an architect who had his own firm and also was a principal in several large construction firms. Hard-working and talented, he was a role model. While running his own firm out of our house, he asked me to be his executive assistant. What a job for a 12-year-old! I made his copies, double checked the math on cost estimates and arranged his drawings. The sense of responsibility was exciting. He provided feedback on what I did well and how I could improve. Each Saturday, we would go to lunch at the local pub and discussed what I could help with next, the current business climate, the stock market and what I wanted to do when I grew up. These sessions were not only a great way to spend time with my dad but also served as some of the most important mentoring sessions to guide the future me.
In high school, I put my executive assistant role behind me. Later, I left for college with drive, ambition, and enthusiasm to learn and succeed in the business world. I pursued technology and communications, embracing how mobile and internet technology could change our world. The future was limitless. However, once I started my working life, I found that not everyone was like my dad.
I encountered conflicting motivations, politics, sexism and jealousy. While I was used to dealing with boys, I was not prepared for the pervasiveness of these roadblocks. My dad was now Vice President in a large firm. I would ask him how I could manage through the challenges in a male-dominated workplace. He reminded me of our Saturday “lunch meetings,” and how we talked about what was important in the workplace — how to keep my integrity and focus on results. Most of all, he reminded me you must be kind and support others — no matter how unfair the situation may be.
Over the years, his advice still resonates. Throughout my career, I was often the only woman in the meeting or the only female on the executive team. I was in organizations not considered woman-friendly. It put me in situations similar to those you may read about in the news. Yet, it did not prevent me from sharing my opinions or recommending bold actions for the company to undertake. My dad instilled in me to look for the big picture, work hard, be smart, be kind and do what you said you would do. Get it done, no matter the challenge. As a woman in technology, I would not be where I am today without my dad. As women continue to push forward into technology leadership roles and greater responsibility, it is important to keep in mind who helped steer them. Strong and supportive mentors are vital to women in tech. I hope that more women are lucky enough to start off with a mentor like my dad.