6 Female Leaders on How to Have Your Voice Heard

by Geekgirl, September 7, 2016

In four years, there will be an estimated 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. US graduates are reported to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill 3%, Girls Who Code reports. Making up a minority of the tech workplace makes it harder to have your voice heard.

By Geekgirl asked six female leaders in the tech community how to have your voice heard and share your ideas without being ignored.

Sabeen Ali:
“Give Yourself Pep Talks & Stop Apologizing”

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Sabeen Ali is an international startup expert with experience founding her own companies, AngelHack and Code For a Cause. Sabeen said, “As a Founder, CEO, and a woman in a field that is underrepresented by females, I have experienced it all. Everything from being unequivocally agreed or disagreed with, to being well-respected, to being brushed off; even to having questions at important business meetings directed to a male intern instead of being directed to me. These experiences have taught me to be strong and I’ve became more confident in myself, my ideals, and my mission to impact the world in a positive way.”

Sabeen described an experience that helped her discover her voice, “An old colleague of mine used to give me these pep talks before any meeting I had. He would tell me I was the smartest person in the room, an expert in knowing what I wanted to accomplish and how to get there. I began to give myself these pep talks prior to every meeting I had and the impact it had was absolutely incredible, not just in my professional life, but in my personal as well.”

Sabeen believes that there is no right way to have your voice heard. She said, “Stop apologizing for asking questions, pushing the envelope and disrupt the way things are done with your awesome ideas, your creativity, and knowledge.”

Many accomplishments of women in tech have gone unrecorded. Sabeen explained, “ I think as a whole, women need bigger advocates of women and minorities telling their stories. The conversation around getting more girls and women involved is more prominent now than ever, and we need to keep that momentum going.”

Erika Carlson:
“Find Peer Support”

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Erika Carlson is the Director of Apprenticeship & Training at Detroit Labs and Co-Founder of Girl Develop It Detroit. While Erika can now be heard speaking to women at Girl Develop It, it wasn’t always so easy for her. She remembered, “I wasn’t sure I had anything worthwhile to say, I felt simultaneously pressured and silenced as I was often the only woman in the room, and I received little encouragement from others to speak up.”

Things changed as Erika pushed through. She related, “I gained more confidence as my skills grew and I built a supportive network of female peers and mentors. I began working on a more diverse team, which has continued to grow in diversity and inclusivity. I received feedback that others valued my perspective, and I saw the effectiveness of my own ideas at work. I now feel comfortable and confident that I am being heard not only in meetings and smaller team settings, but even speaking in front of large groups at conferences.”

“If you’re struggling with speaking up,” Erika counseled, “Find a safe, supportive group of peers and practice with them. Be open about your struggles. Set a goal: ‘I want to get more confident about being heard in meetings/by my manager/etc.’ Practice conversations, share advice, and support each other.” Erika remarked, “The place where you spend so much of your time & effort should be building you up, not making it harder for you to be heard.”

Erika’s secret weapon? Technically Speaking. The weekly newsletter provides resources and inspiration for technical conference speakers. Their tagline is “I have something to say.”

Erika followed her passion for peer support and co-founded the Detroit chapter of Girl Develop It. “Relationships with other technical women have been invaluable to me in terms of both career and personal growth,” Erika shared, “In order to support one another we need to own our challenges, talk openly about our struggles, share strategies that have worked for us, and show up for each other: in meetings, on teams, during events, at conferences.”

Angie Jones:
“Be Authentically You”

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Angie Jones advises agile teams on QA Automation strategies, has developed automation frameworks for countless software products, and is the inventor of more than 20 patented inventions in the US and China.

Angie shared what she’s experienced in her career. She remarked, “I struggled to find my voice early in my career. As a woman of color in technology, I didn’t feel like I had a voice or that anyone would want to hear it even if I did have one. I kept my thoughts to myself. This strategy didn’t work well for me. I was perceived as being disengaged and lacking initiative. Eventually, I began to realize that I was here in tech because I had something to contribute. My background and life experiences are very different than those around me, so I often have a different perspective. Why not share it?”

Once she became comfortable with her voice, Angie’s career flourished. She described, “The perceptions changed. The reactions became ‘hmm, I wouldn’t have thought of that’ or ‘wow, that’s very innovative’. I became a thought leader – sharing my voice through patenting, public speaking, and writing.”

Angie first and foremost advises to be authentically you. She said, “You are unique and everything about you contributes to your voice. Own that. Do not muffle your voice in an attempt to fit into your environment. It’s much easier to get your voice heard when you’re confidently sharing your own unique perspective.”

Secondly Angie advised, “One of the best ways to get your voice heard is to save it for the things you’re most passionate about. Your enthusiasm will shine through and will draw others to you. Coupling your passion with your unique voice is a recipe for success!” Angie does this herself by volunteering with TechGirlz and Black Girls Code.

Suw Charman-Anderson:
“Practice Where it Doesn’t Matter”

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While Suw Charman-Anderson could name her friends working in tech, she couldn’t name CEOs, CTOs, and Founders. She related, “It became obvious that women had a visibility problem, and that many of us felt ignored, disempowered, and isolated. At the same time, I stumbled on research by Penelope Lockwood, who found that women need female role models more than men need male role models.”

In 2009, Suw launched Ada Lovelace Day to encourage people to blog about a woman in tech they admired. The response was impressive. Ada Lovelace Day eventually evolved to become more about live events. Suw commented, “There is no single silver bullet to fix the challenges faced by women in STEM, and it’s important to recognise that what we need is a pluralistic approach with multiple organisations addressing different facets of the problem. My chosen approach is to try to raise the profile of women in STEM so that their successes can act as inspiration for other girls and women.”

The best way to grow as a public speaker, Suw advised, is to get practice in a venue where your performance doesn’t matter. Ease yourself in with a panel discussion or join a group like 300 seconds. Suw recommended, “When it comes to finding opportunities to talk, women should contact conference organisers in their field and offer to speak. Don’t wait to be invited, but seek out speaking slots. It doesn’t matter if you’re turned down — a good organiser will bear you in mind for future events even if they can’t slot you into one immediately. And, of course, there’s always the option of organising your own Ada Lovelace Day event, and adding yourself to the schedule!”

This year, Ada Lovelace Day’s flagship event in London featuring 8 women in STEM and will be hosted by The IET’s Women’s Network on October 11th.

Amanda Spann:
“Stop Waiting for Permission”

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Amanda Spann is a technology publicist and Co-Founder of tiphub. She recalled, “When I was younger, I had bouts with impostor syndrome. I was apprehensive to speak my mind in professional and business settings. But I came to realize if I was to ever step into my greatness I had to own who I was, my thoughts and my contributions and start believing that they were as valuable as anyone else’s. Since then, I’ve come to see my voice as an asset and something I’ve very proud to vocalize.”

Amanda’s number one piece of advice for having your voice heard is to stop waiting for permission to let your light shine. Once you do put your ideas out there, Amanda said, “Let your work speak for itself and don’t be afraid to unapologetically stand behind it. If you continually exude excellence you won’t have to worry about getting your voice heard, people will seek it out.”

Making it easier for more women to make their opinion known in the tech field, begins with community, for Amanda. She shared, “We need to continually build communities to foster fellowship, collaboration and inclusion within tech. Community building and ecosystem development not only promotes goodwill but facilitates the spread the new ideas.”

Tiffany Rider
“Make Your Message Clear”

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Tiffany Rider developed her leadership skills at a young age through cheerleading. She remembered, “I loved dance and creating my own choreography, so if I wanted to see my pieces performed I had to be able to articulate myself and make sure members of the squad agreed with my ideas. Because I believed in what I choreographed, I felt more confident stepping into a leadership role and teach. That’s the key to having your voice heard. It’s about knowing your value, believing in what you’re doing, making a plan and executing it.”

Tiffany’s ability to make her voice heard has taken her through her career as a writer, editor, digital media strategist, and executive for several tech and journalism startups. One of the best ways to make your voice heard, she says, is being able to clarify your message. “When in doubt, write it out,” She explained, “Jot down your thoughts and get them organized. Read them aloud. Share them with a friend or family member. Get feedback to make sure your message is clear.”

The second part of delivering your message is psyching yourself up. Tiffany encouraged, “Give yourself pep talks—in the mirror, in the car, while you’re cooking, wherever you can. Remind yourself of your value and your grace. Put that confidence behind your belief, and it will show in your expression.”

Tiffany believes that by bringing our best selves to our work and being persistent with our message, we can be heard. She said, “We must cheer each other on, highlight each other’s achievements and learn from our failures.”

Your Voice