I attended the Grace Hopper conference in Baltimore last week; it’s the largest global conference for recruiting technical women. It was such an honor to participate, represent Microsoft and network with other women. I have spent most of my nearly 20-year career working as a woman in technology. Not as a developer, but rather, as a communicator. Most of the time I have been one of only two women at the table in a meeting or in the room. For me, this is ‘normal.’
In my life, I have relocated many times. Change and getting to know new people have also been ‘normal.’ So when I started working in a male-dominated industry, I accepted this norm.
Two exceptions: On the first occasion, I was working at Washington Mutual, the now-defunct national bank that employed more than 60,000 people. I was doing public relations, reporting to the chief information officer (CIO). Away on a business trip, I was at a dinner table with nearly a dozen men (and one woman) one evening. All of the executives were a decade or two older than me. A male colleague who also reported to the CIO said something rude to me. I calmly defended my position with facts and background information. This man glanced at the CIO, who looked around the table and confirmed the obvious, “Angela can go toe-to-toe with any one of you here.”
It wasn’t as if I was never challenged again after that night. But that incident confirmed for me that I had to speak up confidently no matter who my audience.
The second exception came at the Grace Hopper event. Everywhere I looked… from the one-hour registration line, the nearly as long Starbucks line, the foyers to the sessions in ballrooms– just about all the attendees were women. It occurred to me that for the first time in my career, I was part of the majority. When I had this ‘aha’ moment, I felt inspired to learn about these women. What did they have in common and how they were different from each other? Some were geeky, most seemed mainstream… and they came from all parts of the world. As I talked to these women, I learned they shared one common denominator: enthusiasm to learn and contribute to something large and meaningful in the world. It seemed we were more similar than different.
I believe we all want to love what we do. I believe we all want to make an impact. I also believe when we choose to do what we love… skills, confidence, fun and success will follow. Stay tuned for my next post, when I’ll address one way that women are very different than men in our careers. And it’s the one thing that’s holding us back.