Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For June, Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens, authors of the just released book, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, offer a four-week course in professional acumen, designed to serve you whether you’re a tech founder, an artist, or anything in between. In the fourth installment, Cabot lays out a plan for—now that you’ve reached a certain level of professional success!—paying it forward by helping the next generation of girl bosses and connecting them with like-minded fellow mentors.
When it comes to career advice 101, seeking out mentors often tops the list of strategies to get ahead. Yet, while reporting our book, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, we noted how often successful women turn the tables to step into the role of counselor, connector, and teacher to others. It seems to be a secret ingredient that is especially potent for women to advance in the male-dominated technology industry. They share time, connections, and expertise with others and everyone is better for it.
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Here are four ways you can pay it forward and make an impact on your professional trajectory – even if you are not a techie!
#1: Gain Inspiration by Giving Back
Kaya Thomas wasn’t planning on a career in tech, let alone as a mobile iOS developer, when the recent Dartmouth grad signed up to be a mentor at a Black Girls Code (BGC) hackathon. She told us she was inspired to volunteer by a TED Talk given by BGC’s founder, Kimberly Bryant, in which Bryant made the case that women of color are big consumers of technology but not often creators. “We’re not that present in the creation process of the technology that we use. For me that was an eye-opening thing. I was like, ‘Whoa,'” Thomas told us. She says working with the tween girls involved in BGC opened up a completely new world of opportunities that she had never even considered. “Just being in this space where there [were] all these young girls coming up with these crazy good ideas and actually creating a product was just an incredible experience,” she recalled. Dedicating her time to the organization eventually convinced Thomas to learn to code, major in computer science, and to ultimately become a vocal advocate for diversity in tech.
#2: Make a Key Introduction
While the boys’ club has long connected powerful men to each other, women are increasingly creating their own networks to help each other get ahead – especially in the tech world. Sisterhood is the hallmark of groups like the members-only secret handshake society we write about in the book, known as TheLi.st. “It’s all about shortening the distance from A to B,” according to Rachel Sklar, co-founder of the community that connects female entrepreneurs, investors, techies, writers, and activists, who advocate for each other and share valuable connections. In a world where personal branding is more important than ever, “who you know” is essential. When you introduce someone as smart and hard-working as you are to a key contact, it reflects well on both of you – and you’re expanding the network. As Shelley Zalis, founder of The Female Quotient and the Girls’ Lounge, a series of pop-up retreats for women inside tech and business told us, “A woman alone is powerful. But together, we have impact.”
#3: Build Something to Help Others
When Ayna Agarwal and her Stanford roommate, Ellora Israni, initially came up with the idea for the first computer science club for women on campus, they were looking to find relatable role models in tech. “I don’t think I look to Marissa Mayer and say I will be her in 15 years. That’s so hard as a college girl, to say that’s the path I want to follow,” she told us of the motivation that led to a campus conference in April of 2012 that drew female execs from Oculus VR, ThoughtSpot, Facebook, GoDaddy, and VMware. But as the initiative known as she++ (named for the programming language C++) grew, the students running it developed an even more powerful way to work together: coaching the next generation of girls to join them at Stanford. Their #include Fellowship program introduces 30 high school girls each year to computer science through a competitive all-expense-paid summit on campus. The members of she++ form strong bonds with each other as they work together on the planning and publicity, including an annual gala at the Computer History Museum. “Not only have I made friends who have inspired me but I have also grown from being part of a non-profit. I’ve learned skills outside my major,” explained Lucy Wang, a she++ board member who graduated in 2016.
#4: Senior-level Not Required
In our reporting on the “sisterhood shaking up tech,” we observed that you don’t have to be a boss to be a mentor. For the online community managed by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), which connects 10,000 high school and college women, service is staple. Through the NCWIT Facebook group known as “Aspirations in Computing,” girls ages 14 to 19 compete for grants to launch their own camps, clubs, and afterschool programs aimed at inspiring the next generation of “STEMinists.” This summer, there are 850 different initiatives in action. One of them is the non-profit Together to Empower, started by California teen Michelle Qin because she was uncomfortable being one of the only girls in her coding classes at school. What began as a club is now a big-time effort to engage younger girls in her community in STEM including a new summer camp at UCSB and supporting education initiatives in Guatemala and Uganda. “Seeing and meeting women in tech goes a long way towards these girls being able to picture themselves in the field,” says Ruthe Farmer, former head of development for NCWIT and now with the CSforAll Consortium.
And it’s laying the groundwork for young women like Qin to keep expanding the network.