To celebrate International Women’s Day, Girl Geek X hosted our fourth-annual Elevate virtual conference. The March 8 event featured luminary engineering and product leaders who came together to elevate the conversation around women – an important opportunity to empower the women globally in a pandemic with diverse set of talks from technical women leaders on the hard and soft skills needed to succeed.
Events such as these, along with our Girl Geek Dinners, are important ways to elevate women as experts in their profession, to provide a safe space to speak candidly about career development. The inspiring speakers shared nuggets of wisdom and encouraged each other to persevere.
Here are 5 key takeaways from Elevate 2021 Conference:
#1 – Lead with your strengths
“Resilience is the capacity to deal with setbacks, yet continue to grow. It is also the cornerstone of mental health. Good mental health doesn’t mean never being sad,” said Anu Bharadwaj, VP Product at Atlassian in her morning keynote:
“When you start a movement, you have a chance to move the Overton window. As a leader, you should shift the frame of reference, that the unthinkable and radical can happen. As a leader, my personal style is to be the activist, the person who shifts the Overton window, doing so energizes me.”
She weighed in on prioritizing strengths over weaknesses – that while it is important to build skills in your career, Anu encouraged conference attendees to “really lean into your strengths” – because it is when you are happiest, and helps you to be resilient.
#2 – Make problem-solving a virtuous cycle of communicated learnings
“Share that you’ve solved a problem, or what you learned by trying. Women often shy away from this step. You won’t earn the right to solve bigger problems without sharing what you’re working on,” said Vrushali Paunikar, VP of Product at Carta.
It is totally OK to fail! In fact, “a failure will be full of learning and it will help you form your next hypothesis.” She is adamant that “your solution hypothesis matches the problem.” Her problem-solving flywheel framework is here:
#3 – Managing your manager
“Tell your manager what you want to grow toward. Flag things early, and communicate specific idea(s) as to how you want your career to grow so they can keep it in mind as the org changes,” said Kellee Van Horne, Director of Client Success at Affirm.
She distilled guidance into 3 key principles: choose your boss carefully, prioritizing roles where you have a differentiating skill or area of expertise, and being clear on what skills you want to learn in your next role – so you can look for growth opportunities.
Research suggests mid-career women are often held back from the C-suite due to lack of experience managing a P&L, for example. Here are some skills to consider:
#4 – Tailor your communications
“Executives aren’t thinking about your project all day. Don’t overload them. They may only need to know the goal and how you’re going to measure success. Make sure you’re giving the right information to the person receiving it,” said Nicole Salzman Page, Product Manager at Zumba.
She shares her framework to release products faster while working from home – check out her new communications strategy for staying aligned with engineering, executives and business stakeholders to launch products faster!
#5 – Resilience
“It was my childhood as a refugee that taught me that resilience was the key to not only surviving, but thriving. At 18, I thought I might have ruined my future by not pursuing medicine. Studying computer science seemed easy compared to what my parents went thru,” said Ashley Dudgeon, VP Engineering at Salesforce in her afternoon keynote.
She talks about her experiences in childhood, growing up in east San Jose with encouraging teachers and coaches. Ashley made a big bet on herself in college, spending two years taking computer science classes to see if her GPA would be high enough to be accepted into the selective major at UC Berkeley:
“I remember seeing my name above the [computer science major] cut line and feeling the weight of the two years slipping off my shoulders. The bet that I made on myself paid off. It has nothing to do with the data structures, the compiler I built, the mathematics I applied. What I did gain was the sense of resilience and confidence in myself.”
Fast forward 15 years — Ashley successfully led a multi-release project at Salesforce that solved a problem that hadn’t been solved in 17 years, and navigated two maternity leaves at Salesforce (which has an amazing parental leave policy).
She shares a story about negotiation:
“I believe the transition back from maternity leave is one of the most vulnerable in a female’s career – and it typically happens in the mid career. So what did I do? I was far too stubborn, or, dare I say, resilient, to put my ambitions on the back burner. I sought support from my trusted circle, and reached out to every technical leader I knew and talked to each. After two months, my boss told me a new project was on the horizon – and that he believed I was the one that I could deliver it. That’s when I knew I had to negotiate. I told him that if I committed to the project and helped make it a success, he’d put me up for promotion in exchange. It took 1.5 years to build and release, and the reception from customers was phenomenal. My boss held up his end of the deal, and I was promoted to Vice President.”