Watch Out Little Lady

I self-identify as a woman in the tech/startup industry. I’ve run a collaborative workspace – spaces that tend to attract those with tech backgrounds. I’ve organized and facilitated multiple Startup Weekend events, a 54-hour frenzy of entrepreneurial learning that commonly results in a mobile or web-based minimum viable product. And I’m preparing to jump into a new role as a Project Manager for a digital strategy agency.

As a woman in the tech/startup world, I’m constantly being told it’s a man’s game. Watch out little lady! Your breasts and lack of an Adam’s apple are going to make it impossible to succeed!

Recently, Fast Company (my favorite publication) published an article titled ‘Practical Advice From Female Who Stand Out In A Sea of Dudes‘, providing guidance to combat this very problem. To summarize, female entrepreneurs should:

  • Speak up. As stated in the article, this means doing your homework, reading a lot and coming prepared with an ‘arsenal of information’.
  • Participate in pitch events so you can get practice and feedback. Concerned about tough questions? Practice ‘fielding zingers’.
  • Stand out. Leverage being in the minority.
  • Use your network.

Okay…clearly I’m missing something. Isn’t that what EVERY entrepreneur should be doing, regardless of their sex? With the exception of leveraging a minority position, all of this advice could just as easily be applied to an all male startup. Perhaps I’ve been sheltered, but no investor or Startup Weekend judge I’ve ever come across has let a male startup get away without knowing their stuff in a pitch just because they share the same chromosomes.


It isn’t just the ridiculously common sense advice that gets me. It’s that somehow women need more hand holding then men when it comes to succeeding in the tech and startup spheres. I see so many¬†female-centric learning environments claiming they’ll solve the lack of female programmers, scientists, CEO’s, etc, simply by keeping men out of the picture. What happens AFTER we learn all these skills from women and then have to work with men? A female-only environment simply isn’t reality.

I’ve worked in all-female environments. I’ve attend female-only meetups. What I’ve come to find is it isn’t the men discriminating against me as a woman in tech…it’s my fellow females. I get much more discouragement, odd glances, judging comments when I talk to women about what I do then men. I’m criticized for my choice, yes…CHOICE, of a career over children by other women who have chosen otherwise.

Don’t take my comments as denial of the problem. I absolutely want more women entrepreneurs, programmers, scientists, CEOs, etc. I want more woman leaders I can look up to. I just don’t think we should have to exclude men or make them the enemy to get there. Put simply ladies, JFDI.

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Collaboration over Competition

When the Gangplank Video Studio was getting ready to open, we held a special open house just for industry folks. The goal was to explain our goals for the studio and how we think we could partner with their programs. But before we could get to those points, an owner of a professional video studio expressed his fear over our studio taking away from his business. Our “free” resources would undercut the need for creatives to purchase his services or rent his equipment. It was unfair competition in his mind.

Immediately I wanted to lash out. How could our one mid-level camera and wrinkled green screen be perceived as competition? Why couldn’t he see our training program as an opportunity to educate new talent, creating future employees and patrons for his business?

Then, a few weeks later, I found myself on the other side. When provided with a good idea by a volunteer, I shot down the suggestion with weak explanations because I felt anger at not doing a good enough job to recognize the solution myself. It was petty, small and came from a primal part of my brain instead of the reasonable one.

Study Group at UBC Library

Study Group at UBC Library (Photo credit: UBC Library)

Far too often, we leap to fear and frustration as opposed to finding the opportunity in a situation. Competition is embedded in our DNA and pervasive in society. We competed for food and resources. Now we compete for the best grades as a means of survival. It’s only natural when we finally do enter the working world, we act the same.

Did you ever participate in a study group or partner up with the smart kid in class for tutoring? In school, we all knew the best way to make it through to graduation was to help each other. So while competition kept us going, collaboration got us to the finish line.

I’ve had to pull myself back in during conversations to recognize when I’m letting competition overwhelm ¬†and blind me to the opportunities. It’s really hard – I mean I’m reworking the pathways in my primal brain here. Approaching EVERY conversation like an opportunity has certainly helped and also made meetings a lot more fun.

No one says you’ll have to give up striving to be the best – but letting a few people help you get there and learn something too raises the tide for all ships.



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Turning 29

I don’t usually ponder birthdays, and 29 doesn’t really seem the age to fuss about. 30…now there’s a milestone. People take you seriously at 30. You can introduce yourself at network events as a professional in your thirties.

But here I am on 29…on the brink.

And that’s how I imagine 29 is going to feel.

When I reflect on my life, I always feel proud and fulfilled. I’m constantly using the phrases “at my age” and “by my age”, because I know I’ve been given many experiences and opportunities not typical to my age range. Perhaps they are things most people don’t think of as momentous – getting a graduate degree, studying abroad, living in four states, getting married, helping build a nonprofit – but to me, I feel like I’ve achieved a lot.

Despite these achievements and milestones, I often feel my age – not in my bones, but in my juvenile actions. When will I have the wisdom? How many experiences do I need to gain the insight others demand of me?

When will I finally feel older?

Something tells me 29 is it. There’s been a lot of changes in year 28 and I think it’s all starting to sink in. 29 is the year I grow up =)