Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 2
Continuing our discussion, could you talk more about your own initiatives? What are also some other initiatives that are available for free for anyone? Are there any other communities you can recommend to our audience members?
Nidhi: For SheTO, there’s no membership; it’s free. The way we think about SheTO is two concentric circles. If you identify as a woman or non-binary person in engineering, IT, project management and program management, you are more than welcome to join. You can just go to SheTO.org/joinus. If you’re an individual contributor, you will get invited to our open events, which we typically do once a month or our mentorship program. If you are on the management track, an engineering manager and above, you also get to participate in the slack community and all of our programming such as workshops and accelerator programs. Almost everything is free. I intentionally Incorporated us as a 501c3, and my goal is to help as many women as possible. Some of the accelerator programs and workshops are paid. So, you can tap into your Learning and Development budget. You can take advantage of the plethora of programs that we offer.
In addition to SheTO, many great communities exist, such as Girl Geek and Women in Product. Girl Geek does these dinners and conferences. There are also Lesbians Who Tech that focus a lot on conferences. There are a ton of them out there. So, find your tribe and go hang with them.
Farah: With Pakistani Women in Computing, we run talks throughout the year – tech talks, talks on building your brand, building your self-confidence. We do virtual job fairs every year. So, many companies in North America and Pakistan list their openings with us. You can sign up for one-on-one workshops with other engineers who can help you with coding interviews. We have a workshop on resumes and Linkedin. So, we provide support with a hands-on practical approach. You don’t have to be from Pakistan; you don’t have to be a woman. Anybody can participate for free. All these past events and videos are on YouTube.
In addition, I can share Above Board for senior women, which is an exclusive platform and community providing access to senior leadership opportunities.
If your goal is to support – you want to give back, you want to be the person to benefit these communities, there are many ways to do that. You can donate to scholarships such as Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Anita Borg. In Pakistan, you can volunteer with Code Girls Karachi. I’m also working with the national curriculum Council in Pakistan to build the curriculum for K-12 for computer science, which will scale to every public school in Pakistan. So every one of us here can also give back in those ways. There are some fantastic organizations where your dollar goes a long way, and you can help locally or globally.
Kathleen: I mentioned OwnTrail, where I currently work and am also a member. That is open to anyone – you can freely create a trail, ask for help, and participate in conversations. We have a TED Talk-like series called Trail Talks which you can attend or view the recorded ones on our site. Another community that I participate in now is elpha.com, geared towards career development and job-seeking women. It’s more than just a job site, though. There is a lot of discussion on the site, and many “office hours” type of community events where they bring in people to do Q&As from the community. Finally, an organization I just recently learned about is OSTEM, which stands for “out in STEM”. It is towards students and early career professionals in the LBGTQ+ Community who are in STEM fields or working towards STEM degrees. They have a lot of student chapters throughout the country but also professional ones and offer some career development-type of programs.
Could you talk about the power of communities, not only for professional support but also for personal support?
Rose: In 2018, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to be private about it. I also knew that there was a lot of work that I still needed to do while at Anita Borg and Black Women in Computing. So, I met with my inner circle; four of us are on the Founding Committee of Black Women in Computing. I told them I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on a Zoom call. And we all cried. They asked to get back to me in a week and devised a plan to let the Systers and all the other affinity communities know. They reminded me that gratitude is essential for people who want to help but don’t know how to. So, they reached out to everyone, including all affinity communities worldwide. They got a mailbox for me. I love handwritten letters, and I also love spy novels. So, I had a lot to read during that time, and once I was up to it, I wrote back to everyone who sent me a handwritten letter. It was so comforting to know that you have support like that. Even when I wasn’t going to be able to make it to that Grace Hopper, they made these little note cards. So, I received 1500 plus little note cards that I read daily, whether I was going to treatment or getting ready before another surgery. It was the hardest time. But just to have that kind of support… We talk a lot about tech and how we can support careers, but we also have to support each other as a woman. We go through a lot. We are most likely the ones who care for everybody in the family, but we still have to get up and work. We have no days off. We constantly try to set an example as we represent the only one (of our kind) at work. So, I’m so happy about having that community.
I have a lot to thank my community for because it’s tough to deal with everything you have to. When COVID hit, I lost many people in my community, especially my family. After 17, I just stopped counting. So now is the time you should reach out – some of the communities I mentioned earlier – Anita Borg has Systers, Black Women in Computing, CMD-IT.
I’m also a Filipina. I was born in the Philippines. I’m part of Filipina Women in Computing. So, we have these layers of intersectionality. My older sister is blind. I have two nephews who have Muscular Dystrophy and are both wheelchair users. One is autistic. I bring a lot of this to my work and my personal perspective on technology and innovation and have a sustaining impact.
If you’re at the executive level, there are also Black Women on Boards – a massive initiative to ensure we have voices at the exec table. So there are a lot of initiatives around women, but also, we’re trying to help black women. We are pleased to share information because we’ve experienced (the lack of) it, and there is no reason why the next generation should ever feel alone.
We have discussed the role of the community in professional support and personal growth. But I would like your input on the community support to establish yourself as an immigrant. What are some of the unique needs and challenges there?
Farah: If you’re moving countries, if you’re moving context, there’s a lot of learning that has to happen, but there’s also a lot of unlearning. In a stable context, you can fully immerse yourself in your new career and focus on that. You don’t have the luxury of doing that when you’re moving again. Support groups at that time would have been super helpful for me. For example, knowing somebody who could cook food from back home or with who I could share a story about my childhood or talk about sports. Cricket is a sport that many of us in southeast Asia understand, a sport which resonates with us. We play different sports and listen to different music. We have, as Rose mentioned, intersectionality. So, that sense of belonging is not there; it’s a very lonely place, and you are also trying to figure out the work situation. At work, in a water cooler conversation, everybody is talking about the football game from last night, and you’re trying your best to fit in, but you can’t. So, it’s very apparent to you that you don’t fit in. Even though you may be killing it at work, not having that support can undermine your self-confidence. That feeling permeates into work. Having some support groups that help you feel more comfortable in your skin would have been very helpful. They can help you figure out that you don’t have to assimilate but can integrate, and you know the difference. As Rose said, because we went through it, we don’t want anybody else to go through it. We want people to learn from our experience and see how we can pay it forward.
With PWIC, it was the idea that we have all these women coming from these different contexts. Some are born here, and some aren’t. But, in every conversation I’ve had with different people, e.g. a chapter in Pakistan, Europe, and North America, there are underlying threads, issues, and very similar circumstances. So, if we started talking, we would all find those threads, and there’s something very comforting about having that.
At work, you’re always the one flying the flag of being the perfect (single) example of your kind. It’s a lot to shoulder. It’s a million tiny paper cuts every day that exhaust you, and you don’t even realize it. Being able to integrate well and having support when you’re going through a family or health crisis or any other personal crisis is vital for your mental health. What I love about our current work environment is the open conversation and recognition of the importance of mental health. Understanding what communities are available for mental health and not just for work is very important.
Especially for young people who have gone through COVID, it is a very different context – having to start work life remotely. What helped me a lot as an immigrant, who was integrating, was going into the office and finding people of all experience levels willing to share, help, and support. I learned by example. I learned more because I got to interact with people in person. But, unfortunately, I see a whole generation of kids who are not getting that [due to COVID].
Continue to Part 3 to read more about women in startups and how to navigate the current tech climate.