For 7 years, my husband and I tried to fill the roles of our conservative upbringing.
Despite our best efforts, our family of four was living on $800/month.
It was absolutely unsustainable.
I dusted off my resume, scoured LinkedIn for the EasyApply button, and found a job at an accounting startup.
That decision brought me to this moment, to what I’m doing now.
I have the privilege of learning from fearless women every single day in my work.
Many women who are in the process of facing their fears ask me how I transitioned into tech and what advice I would share.
Here are three quick lessons learned:
Lesson #1. You don’t need to know everything
Ever suffered from impostor syndrome?
(If you answer no to that question, you’re the impostor.)
As a high school English teacher turned marketing director, I feel that impostor syndrome every day.
As a perfectionist student, I knew how to work the system. Even as a teacher, I was leaning on my natural talents.
But in tech? There was too much I didn’t know.
Thankfully, I had a team who allowed me to learn on the job without being condescending. Who gave me a chance. Who gave me space.
But I also had to have the courage to raise my hand. To do things I’d never done before.
This became my superpower.
I know I put my foot in my mouth, asked dumb questions, and failed many experiments.
Volunteering to run their marketing after just four months as a copywriter was a gutsy move. Asking for a raise was the scariest thing I’d done. But If I hadn’t taken those risks, I never would have known what I was capable of.
Executive coach, Julie Johnson finds that the “desire to be perfect” —to know everything— is one of the two most serious challenges facing women at work. (People-pleasing, if you’re curious, is the other).
While perfectionism may have helped us succeed in school or entry-level roles, it is the very thing holding us back from reaching the next step. Because it holds us back from learning.
Brene Brown says that perfectionism isn’t about striving for excellence, it’s actually about protecting ourselves.
This fear and pressure to be perfect can intensify when we’re the only “representative” woman in room. And it’s even more pronounced for women of color and the queer community.
While I can’t speak from those perspectives, I can say that the greatest boon to my career has been shunning perfectionism and embracing learning.
I don’t need to know everything.
And neither do you.
Lesson #2. You don’t need the tiara
When I first heard the term “tiara syndrome,” I laughed out loud.
First, because I refused to be associated with something so girly.
Second, because it described me perfectly.
“Tiara syndrome” is the (often feminine ideal) that if you do your job well, someone will notice and come place a tiara on your head.
We don’t ask for recognition, but assume that it will come.
Unfortunately, for most women, this isn’t how it works.
Instead, we have to share our impact. How?
- Don’t wait for your boss or investor to check-in, share your milestones with them.
- Send your own weekly report for tasks done and revenue gained—watch your bullets pop up in the town hall slides.
- Do your research on job salaries and promotions, and when it’s time, make your pitch.
You may receive some pushback—women aren’t “supposed to be” self-aggrandizing or assertive. But if you’re working with honorable leaders, they’ll appreciate you for owning your recognition.
As a side note here: It can be a lot easier to own your recognition when you have a sponsor at work. I like to seek out a leader who is 5-10 years ahead of me and ask them all my questions. Share my successes. Get advice and make a friend.
Men, this is where you can step up.
The male sponsors in my life helped me to negotiate a 50% raise when I was out of pay parity with male counterparts. They shouted my name from the rooftops and helped me get noticed by the executive team. They taught me how to measure to outcomes and to take credit for my work. We need more men of integrity who will sponsor women.
So no ladies, you really don’t need the tiara. You work hard everyday because that’s the kind of people you are.
You know the sacrifice you’re making—and you’re going to make it count.
For me, that sacrifice is leaving my kiddos every day. I’ve felt the guilt of not being the parent my children will remember being home all the time. But I’m still present, I’m still loving, and they are more understanding and inclusive little people because they see the work that I do.
Being a mother is part of my professional identity.
The only tiara I need is the one my daughter places on my head. I can play fairy princesses with a four-year-old and still build a thriving company.
And so can you.
Lesson #3. Lift others as you rise.
I’m not proud to say this, but I’ll occasionally twinge with jealousy when I see another woman succeed.
It’s something I’m actively working on and it stems from a scarcity mindset.
In a male-dominated society, women have been conditioned to compete for a single seat at the table.
Whether it’s intentional or not, when women rise to power we sometimes use our position to keep other women down.
This behavior is holding all of us back.
In a Ted Talk by Rha Goddess and Deepa Purushothaman, they explain how a single seat makes diversity feel like charity rather than “actual recognition of our dedication and hard-won results.” It stems from a belief that diversity is mandated, but not useful.
When in reality, McKinsey & Co has proven that more diverse teams produce 20% higher revenue and profits.
So what do we do next?
We create more room at the table by rejecting female rivalry and pulling up a seat for others.
Bring a folding chair—or two or three.
As I’ve met with transitioning moms in Utah tech programs, one thing is certain. You are going places.
As you rise, please don’t forget to lift others.
- When you feel jealousy creeping in, talk to her, not about her.
- Join your company’s Employee Resource Group for Women and Allies or start one.
- Find a mentor and be a mentor for others.
- Praise and amplify each other’s voices in every meeting.
- Be conscious of women who face even more obstacles on their way to the table.
- Surround yourself with advocates who are not threatened by you, but who want you to succeed.
Melinda Gates said, “When women are trying to decide whether we should stand up, we don’t know if others will stand with us. It often takes many women, arms linked, to inspire other women to speak.”
This was the momentum behind the #MeToo movement and this is how we will achieve pay parity and gender equality in Utah—and everywhere.
So let’s do the hard work together.
Let’s create companies our daughters would be proud to be a part of.
- How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith (Chapter 7: The Perfection Trap)
- The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
- “4 ways to redefine power at work to include women of color” by Rha Goddess and Deepa Purushothaman
*Blog article adapted from a keynote delivered at Utah Tech Moms