What a great way to spend a Saturday by being inspired by some of today’s top female leaders of our industry and meeting many young women aspiring to be the next generation of leaders! The Women’s Student Associationat Harvard Business School invited me to participate on the Technology panel at the event. Not only was it a pleasure to share my thoughts and experiences being a woman in the tech industry, but I also had the great pleasure of sharing the discussion with Kimber Lockhart (Box), Carrie Householder (Amazon) and Julia White (Microsoft). First time I’ve even been on a panel with another Julia! Our excellent moderator was Kathy Murray of FARO.
Before our panel, I joined over 1000 women at the opening keynote given by Sheila Marcelo, Founder and CEO of Care.com. All I can say is “wow.” Sheila spoke to her focus on not just hard work, but passion for building products that touch people. She demonstrated tremendous humility when talking about how she succeeded and failed along her career trajectory which I think reminded the participants that there’s no perfect path. We each have to find our passions and learn along the way.
We had a lively group at our panel session. Around 5o women attended – most were business school students and many had technical backgrounds. The first part of the discussion focused on career paths and what it means to be a woman in tech. My guiding principle has always been to focus on the quality of your work, working on cool projects and with cool/fun people. The fact that you’re a “girl” should not come into play, but the reality is that we do think and behave differently and have to accept that we have to adapt to the predominantly male work environment in the Tech industry. One example I discussed was applying for jobs. As cited by the Anita Borg Institute‘s report “Solutions to Recruit Technical Women“, women tend to not apply for a job if they do not qualify for ALL of the description requirements whereas men will apply if they meet only a percentage of the requirements. My co-panelists unanimously agreed that we need to push ourselves and our female colleagues to “lean in” when it comes to applying for roles of which we might not feel we’re completely qualified. Whether this is for a job at a new company or the opportunity to grow or change roles at your existing company, we need to go for it more to get ahead as leaders – both administrative and technical – and we need to encourage and support each other to get there.
Another hot topic was near and dear to my heart: How do we stay innovative as our companies scale up? Each panelist had so many good points to offer. I spoke about how important it is to keep channels open to ensure new ideas come forward – the primary mission of my team – but also how important it is to be selective and not invest in everything. At VMware, we try hard to explore new ventures and give them time to prove themselves worthy for more investment, or not. When we decide to not invest, we see the ending of such an exploration as a success because we made an educated decision not to invest. Other panelists spoke to how important it is to go for it vs. taking too long to decide to invest and missing an opportunity to stay ahead of your competition, how to pay attention to trends and adapt your products to the leading edge (e.g., touch screens/mobile), as well as how important it is to fail fast and move on.
The panel was truly a terrific experience and I enjoyed the conversations I had with many of the attendees just after we wrapped up and during our networking lunch. The latter ended up being a lively discussion about careers, how women can do a better job self promoting their talents, and a deeper discussion on how companies are innovating today. I want to thank the two talented women, Carrie Fei and Luciana Baigun, for inviting me to participate and congratulate them for coordinating such a wonderfully organized event!