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09/17/20 | Menu-Homepage

You Have To Be You: Adventures of Women in Tech

Can women have meaningful careers in tech? Are diversity efforts in Silicon Valley failing? Should women avoid working for technology companies? 

I was annoyed every time I saw the latest headline questioning women’s survival in tech. I pictured a new graduate deciding on her career and only having one-sided articles to help make her decision. I saw colleagues roll their eyes at books about C-level women in tech and heard jokes about how inaccessible those stories sounded. I wondered how women could feel like they belonged if they didn’t see themselves reflected in the media. 

Inspired by women I know in tech—women with diverse backgrounds, education, and ambitions—I wrote The Adventures of Women in Tech to fill that gap. A twenty-year tech company veteran and leader, I work to systematically replace what we think we know about women in tech with more than eighty women’s stories of what it’s honestly like to join, lead, and thrive in today’s top technology companies.

The Adventures of Women in Tech delves into why we join tech, the challenges we face, and the skills and support we need to succeed and stay in an often challenging environment. In twelve chapters filled with intimate stories, insights, and advice from women working in technology companies and start-ups, I demonstrate that we all belong in tech.


NEEDING ME TO BE ME

In 2013, I attended a training for women directors. A first of its kind at Google, it served as a combination of retreat and learning. Its goal was to help us figure out how to sustain high performance amid the unique challenges we faced. Why worry about this? An annual happiness survey had shown weak scores for women in senior positions, not necessarily surprising given the overall burnout rate in the industry and even non-
industry data indicating women face burnout at a higher rate than men.

The author, with her kids.

The training was held at a nice resort, and I got a free massage. I felt like the winner from that survey! The training couldn’t have come at a better time. Despite my success, the truth is that I was struggling. At the time, I was a director of a growing team with two healthy children. But the question on my mind was still “Who should I be?” I looked around at my peers and saw many leaders, both male and female, who focused on business metrics or product definitions. You could throw a stone and hit someone who would debate a graph with you or pick apart data. Frankly, I was bored in those meetings.

What I enjoyed was thinking about how to motivate people, how to build great teams, and how to grow employee happiness. Was I in the wrong place? Should I change my focus?

Throughout the training, as we sat together and spoke as leaders, I heard what fellow women were struggling with, and their issues were interesting and exciting to me. At the core, so many of our problems were people problems, and that’s what I really love. Another business or technical person wasn’t going to be helpful at this moment; instead, it was my ability to listen and coach others that would be useful. This seemed especially true as Google was growing larger, and it increasingly faced problems of how to motivate and lead large groups. It was a real “aha” moment. I thought, “I have to be me, and Google needs me to be me.” That set me on the course of truly embracing being a people-focused leader and letting that guide me both in the day-to-day and in strategic decisions, even personal ones like where I take my career.

Why is belonging important? The term has only sprung up in a business context in the last five years, but belongingness—the instinctive human need to belong—has been studied in psychology for decades. In a paper in 1943, Abraham Maslow, a humanist psychologist, placed belonging, paired with love, at the center of his pyramid demonstrating the human hierarchy of motivations. This reflects our natural need for acceptance and relationships, which, if deferred, can lead to loneliness, anxiety and depression.13 I usually instinctively shy away from these terms, rolling my eyes at how we dress up simple concepts. I find myself adopting “belonging,” though, because it does get to the root of why many of us don’t flourish. How can we be successful if at the root of everything we do we don’t think or feel that we belong; if every time we have an idea, we wonder if it’s our place to speak up; if every time we disagree, we fear the downsides of sharing our thoughts? That adds up, and ultimately means we either don’t act like ourselves or our jobs jail us without leveraging all our talents.

Let me give you that gift now. You have to be you, and the world needs you to be you. (I suppose unless you are an evil dictator, but I’ll assume you aren’t!) From what you focus on to your personal ambitions, let your inner voice drive you and not the definitions of the outside world. We need so much diversity in tech to build great products and services for the world. Don’t let anyone convince you to be cookie cutter.


The Adventures of Women in Tech is available now for pre-order!

Alana Karen

Alana Karen

Alana Karen has spent 17+ years at Google in various customer service and operational roles. She's committed to growing people-focused leaders at Google and beyond, most recently with her LinkedIn series "Still Learning: 17 Years of Lessons Learned at Google". Alana raises her 3 kids and dog in California with her husband.

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