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Ladies in Tech, Let’s Step It Up

empower women in techMy inbox is inundated with requests to speak at local tech events, to help out, teach this, lead that, be part of X. Part of the reason for the volume coming through is because they want women represented. It’s great to see companies and conferences take an active role in ensuring diversity in their events. But because there aren’t many women in technology representatives, they keep approaching the same people. Let’s change that together.

Why we need more women leaders in the community

When I decline an offer and I’m asked to refer other women to take my place, I think of the same women over and over like you most likely do. There just isn’t a big pool to draw from. Imagine the possibility of a vast network where there were too many options. You want more women in tech events? You want more women speakers in conferences? You want more VCs and angels to invest in women? It’s time for YOU to take a stand.

What does that mean? Stop talking about why there aren’t many women in technology and do something about it. The best way? Lead by example. One of the most effective ways to persuade people is to “show, not tell” as marketers and other businesspeople will tell you. I’m doing that with Girl Develop It Philly (GDI) and I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been. I see members come in not knowing a lick of code and hear back about how they just got a raise or completely switched careers. It’s my favorite part and I save every email I get thanking me for bringing GDI to Philly. Since we hit 2 years old in September, I’ve seen an influx of students that started with little to no coding experience becoming teaching assistants and one of them is now even leading classes (Go Sarah Johnson!)

I recently decided to take things a step further by asking members to speak at local events, help organize them, or take a more active leadership role in the community. I keep hearing the same hesitations so I’m including ideas on how to bridge the gap and get a move on.

Overcoming your initial hesitations

Most of the women I talk to respond with this phrase when I approach them: “But I’m not comfortable public speaking.” I’ll let you on in a little secret. No one is. Ever. If they say they are, they’re lying. Think about the long-term effects of having this discomfort. How has it impacted you and others around you? Do you want to be one of the 54% that fear public speaking more than death that they actually gave it a name (Yep, it’s called Glossophobia). It’s difficult to believe you would rather end your life than speak in front of a group of people. Create a possibility of doing it and conquer it with the following:

  • Toastmasters International – A non-profit that provides educational classes in public speaking. It’s cheap, and they have chapters all over Philadelphia. You can take them by day, night, or on the weekends. Look for one that fits your schedule here.
  • Follow @ladies_in_tech on Twitter and subscribe to their blog – Co-founded by our own GDI instructor Jenn Lukas and an incredible line-up of women, it showcases stories of female speakers in technology with anecdotes and tips. Open the site on a new tab right now, it will leave you inspired.
  • Same with speaking.io – Built by a Github employee, it lays out a thorough outline with presentations you can follow along with on everything from planning your talk to reflecting on how it went.
  • Get coached by GDI chapter leader, Jen Myers - If you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should. Jen is the epitome of a leader directly contributing to changing the ratio of women in technology. She offers free virtual office hours and will help you personally. Sign up for one of her oHours slots here. And if you’re a seasoned speaker, read about how Jen goes about mentoring and consider setting up your own coaching calls.
  • Listen to Lisa Marshall’s Public Speaker Podcast – Listen to podcasts about the topic on your commute. I recently interviewed with Lisa on a different podcast she runs. I was so impressed with her energy and confidence that I subscribed to a couple of them. I’m also working on getting her to teach about the topic for GDI (she’s right here in NJ).
  • Follow these public speaking tips by James Altucher – He is one of my favorite bloggers because he writes and speaks in a way that’s instantly relatable. He doesn’t hold anything back and you can’t help but connect with him. In this article, he lists a few ways to start that are  fun as well. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to his blog while you’re at it. With all the emails I receive, his are one of the few I star and make time to read every single time.

From my own personal experience, you’ll find you forget about speaking in public when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about. If you have something in mind, get it out of the way and contact one now. In fact, let your family and friends know that public speaking is one of your goals this year. Go post about it on Twitter and Facebook. You’ll find sharing it holds you to be more accountable for it and propels you to act.

The other response I get is “But I don’t have the time for that right now.” My answer to this is always blunt and straight to the point – that is we make time for the things that are important to us. We are all strapped for time and a common pitfall I see with those that try to expand their schedule is to squeeze more things in the same period length. It’s actually a matter of deciding what matters more to you. I remember reading something that said to start by changing your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time,” say “It’s not a priority” or “I don’t want to” and you’ll see how the impact of those words make you feel. It’s our choice of how we choose to spend our time. Take a step back and make sure you’re choosing it wisely.

My least favorite remark is “I don’t think I know enough.” Actually, you do and the best way to find out is by asking your friends, co-workers and network what they see you being an authority on. I bet you will find at least one topic. If not, that’s a talk in itself. I guarantee you’ll find something and if you don’t, reach out to me personally (yes, I’m inviting you to send me an email despite being overwhelmed with my inbox as it is because that’s how important this is) and I will find a way for you to start.

I recently met Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit at a local First Round Capital event. He talked about technology, startups, and his new book “Without Their Permission.” I haven’t finished it yet but I read something that resonated with me. It said something to the effect of “I guarantee that you’ll never succeed without trying. Just start – take the first step. You don’t need anyone’s permission.” Translated another way, JFDI.

Ideas on how to get started

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about concrete steps you can take to be a leader in your community. I’ll use Philadelphia as an example since it’s where I’m located:

  1. There are 103 technology groups within a 25-mile radius of Philadelphia according to Meetup. Sign up to those groups that relate to you. Go to their Meetups, meet the organizers, and ask questions. Basically, show your face and contribute to the conversation.
  2. Contribute a video to the High Visibility Project. Made by GDI Chapter Leader, Jen Myers, the site collects stories of women in technology and allows them to contribute their experiences and ideas by video. Submit an entry here. 
  3. Approach one of the local tech groups about giving a “lightening talk”. Lightening talks are short 5 to 10 minute talks about a certain topic or a project you’re working on. Starting small will do wonders in helping you practice.
  4. Build up momentum and lead a whole session on a topic. Again, go with something you’re passionate about or work with a lot.
  5. Start or contribute to blogs. Establish yourself as an authority by writing about your experiences, sharing your lessons learned, or tricks you’ve come across. Don’t have time for a full-blown blog? Set up an account on Medium and you can be up and running in minutes. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just get yourself out there.
  6. Submit a speaker application. The 3rd Annual Philly Women in Technology Summit is on April 12, 2014 and they’re looking for women to lead workshops. Go apply here. The deadline is Jan 24th.
  7. Get involved with Philly Tech Week. The site is in-progress but you can join Technically Philly’s meetup and submit an event proposal here (deadline Jan 17th).

As a well-known advocate for women in technology, I’m taking a step back from directly organizing and speaking at local tech events. So ladies, bring it on. Go set the world on fire. Step it up and expand the network. Your community will thank you and you’ll thank yourself.

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  • Tracey

    Way to go Yasmine! I hate speaking in public, but know it is important to represent. I have information that other people what to hear about and you probably do as well. Take a risk.

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  • http://blog.vickiboykis.com Vicki

    This is a great post, Y. I agree with most everything you wrote…esp. try to go to lighting talks if you can. I recently gave a 5-minute talk at DataPhilly and it was much less intimidating than giving a 40-hour talk at a huge conference. The other advice I have for anyone reading is to go to groups as a passive audience member for the first couple times, get a feel for them. Everyone in Philly Tech is really friendly and it’s a small community, so the more events you go to, the more you’ll understand how to talk to the audience, and if you know people it will be less scary.

    The last thing for me personally, it has been really hard to admit that I am an expert at something, especially when people all around me are developer whizzes hardcore coding in the JVM or committing to open-source projects, but I agree 100% that no matter where you work, you are an expert on something, and your talk doesn’t have to be super-technical, it can be more general. And, in fact, I’ve found that bridging the gap between really technical topics and really generalized ones is an area that tech people need to be exposed to more, so if you come from fields outside of tech, the more the merrier.

    And if anyone reading needs any intros to any local tech data-related groups, feel free to shoot me an email. I know going alone is sometimes super-intimidating.

  • Ellen Weber

    Another suggestion for those just starting out speaking – rather than trying standalone speaking, participate on a panel. The format makes it easy to speak about what you know in a conversational way. And they don’t take a lot of preparation… the group will meet ahead of the panel, plan some questions that will be relevant to the audience, and then you just answer questions from your experience. Sharing your real-life experiences rather than trying to “educate” makes it easier too, and is very interesting to the audience. When participating in a panel, invite someone else who hasn’t spoken a lot, and that will help grow the number of people who are speaking.


  • DaveVoyles

    Great post. Very informative. It’s nice to be able to get all of this in one location, rather than having to search through dozens of calendars and groups on Meetup.com, in order to see what active developers are doing in the community.

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  • BrownSkinnedCanadian

    Your post has hit very close to home for me. As a twenty something Social Media Specialist who has experienced her fair share of struggles and challenges in the past few years but has refused to give up, I have been fortunate enough to secure a great starting position but I want MORE! I want to move ahead and be very successful in the Tech industry. I am ambitious about my future in technology and hope to inspire others to tap into their creative potential and excel to their full capabilities. Thank You for creating content that is truly liberating and guides female tech professionals on how to move ahead.