Thriving as a woman in tech's male-dominated landscapeFeatured

We often come across stories in the media and online chat groups about the challenges women face in the tech world and the battles they have to fight. While I deeply respect those stories, I'd like to offer a different perspective – my perspective, which is quite the opposite. I want to highlight the strength of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and how it can be a superpower.

To get to this story, I have to start with my background and how I discovered my superpower as a woman: I am a 4x Founder with 2 exits. All my startups were in the tech space and often in areas that were heavily male-dominated, like AI. Not to mention I started my startup journey at a time when there weren’t many women, especially in AI. So, I had to learn quickly how to navigate these uncharted waters.

Now, I must share that I am not a technical founder - I am not a data scientist or programmer and have no computer science degree to speak of. What I have is business skills. I understand the tech world and I know how to build a business from the ground up. I guess you can call me the business-whisperer.

How did I discover my superpower as a woman?

I owe this to my father. Back in grade school, I'd often come home in tears because the boys wouldn't let me play with them simply because I was a girl. That's when my father took me down to our basement, which he used as his boxing room (yup, he's an ex-boxer), and he shared a valuable life lesson with me, using boxing as the medium (a regular thing in our home). As I punched the boxing bag, my dad told me to never be ashamed of being "just a girl." He made it clear that being a girl should never hold me back from anything I wanted to achieve in life or any career I decided to follow.

He explained that as a woman, I had inherent "superpowers" that I should nurture and enhance over time. These superpowers included:

  • Natural ability to connect with others on a deeper level.
  • Proficiency in multitasking and the capacity to think ahead for efficient planning.
  • Innate aptitude for expressing thoughts and feelings.
  • Strength in fostering harmonious work environments as effective team players.
  • Valuable intuitive abilities for decision-making and problem-solving.

He taught me that as I grew up, both men and women might attempt to undermine me, belittle my abilities, or withhold opportunities, emphasizing the importance of harnessing my superpowers to learn and grow even stronger.

Thanks to my father, I learned that being a girl and now a woman is a source of strength, not a limitation.

My father continued to guide me throughout my life on how to harness these innate talents as my superpowers, regardless of the situation. These superpowers became instrumental in helping my companies secure funding, especially during times when there was a significant disparity in investment between women and men.

For me, it boiled down to effective communication, negotiation skills, and the ability to stand my ground. I learned to recognize my worth and not let negative comments or exclusion from activities like "drinks with the boys" shake my confidence. Over time, I earned the respect of the men around me.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is like having a superpower because it brings in diverse perspectives, innovative thinking, and unique problem-solving skills to the forefront. Women tend to shine in areas like collaboration, empathy, and communication, and these qualities are invaluable in any industry.

To make the most of these strengths, start by embracing them. If you're unsure how to do that, don't worry. There's a wealth of free information available in today's world. You can learn just about anything online at no cost. I often recommend starting with YouTube; it's like the best university out there.

Additionally, connect with other women who naturally possess these superpowers. Reach out to them for mentorship, guidance, or simply observe their approach. Never underestimate your own potential based on headlines or stereotypes that suggest "it's harder for women to succeed than men." Don't let those narratives become your reality as your thoughts and focus shape who you become.

Remember, you have the power to shape your own reality, discover your own strengths, and advocate for what you're worth. I know that asking can be challenging for many of us, and it's an area I personally continue to work on. But I'm learning, and every day, I gain more knowledge and face the discomfort of asking for what I need at the moment. You can too.

Let’s not forget, being a woman in a male-dominated environment naturally makes you stand out. You've already captured everyone's attention in the room. Why not leverage that to your advantage?

Many of us didn't grow up with a father or families that had support structures - that alone is a privileged perspective. For far too many women it IS harder for us to succeed than man. We walk into meetings, and are disrespected by being talked over, mansplained, ignored and condescended to. The 'power to shape our own reality' comes off as tone deaf when far too many of us are dealing with toxic workplaces. For many of us - including on elpha, Fairy God Boss and countless Women in Tech groups - we share experiences of harassment and misogyny. The 'narratives become our reality' feels insulting. Should I tell the female junior developer who was driven to tears by a workplace bully that she just needs to lean in into that discomforting reality and suck it up? We're not going to Tony Robbins mantra chant our way out of workplaces that are toxic. We need to change them and embracing toxic positivity ain't going to do it.
I understand your frustrations. I am currently in a situation where I am getting crushed by condescending men. Even after legally complaining within the company and then after working with a female HR and our female CIO of the company I got NO help/resolution. Like ZERO ZERO support from THE female leader in the company. So how do you trust women or men or anyone to support you. All I can say is one needs the right support from the right people regardless of their gender. I just want to emphasize that it is important to stay positive in your journey to connect with the right people who would understand your problem and are ready to support you to get you out of this mad situation be it a male or a female. Nevertheless, I want to scream at the top of lungs saying that - "LEADERS STOP HIRING CONDESCENDING MALE LEADERS AND IGNORANT WOMEN LEADERS ON YOUR TEAM. IT CREATES A BAD CULTURE AND EXPERIENCE FOR EVERYONE"
I don't see this as a story about toxic positivity, but a story about resilience. I also grew up without my dad, in a post-war economy, in a small village in the middle of nowhere. Yet, this story resonated with me. Yes, it's tough being a woman at work. It's even more brutal in male-dominated environments. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. I have been frustrated by the behavior of my male colleagues, and I did my best to speak up and try to address the issues. If they weren't addressed, I found ways to change jobs. I loved how she connected boxing to work and overcoming issues. We are, in some shape and form, boxing on a daily basis with this world and this economy that just isn't fair.
Thanks for saying this @Milica! I ๐Ÿ’ฏ am with you on this one.Lastly, letโ€™s all be real, we all have set privileges.
Boxing as a metaphor for work seems really odd. Being in toxic workplaces felt violent. No thanks.
Thanks so much for sharing this perspective! Love that your dad instilled that in you and proud of what you've accomplished :)I love the perspective of leveraging what might look like weaknesses and turn them into strength.
Back in high school, my physics teacher called my parents in for a parent-teacher conference. He made it clear to my parents that a female had no place in physics or the sciences and I should not have a place in his advanced placement class. This was the one time that I recall actually having parental support as my father told him that his daughter could take any class and do anything that she chose. I worked really hard in that class and kept proof of my work so that teacher was forced to give me an appropriate passing grade. I heard that teacher moved to a different career about a year after I graduated.The teacher was a product of the environment where I was raised. In semi-rural New England, there were may limitations on women based on the perception that females couldn't or shouldn't be in sciences or math, didn't play certain musical instruments, were unable to perform heavy work, and they couldn't even own a business without a husband signing a formal document registered with the state giving her permission. Maybe it was influence from all the sci-fi I was reading, or perhaps I just naturally questioned everything, but I saw any of those perceived limitations as something to be challenged. This is the core of resiliance. I highly recommend a couple of books:The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox CabaneHow Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Joanna Barsh and Susie CranstonFinding a champion in the workplace helps. Basically finding that voice that is supportive. It could be as simple as having a respected team member say "she's right" on a conference call. It also really helps to find a mentor, someone who can listen and provide feedback. Keep in mind that the champion or mentor may be one of us.This is just barely scratching the surface of this complex and multi-faceted topic.--LP
thank you for sharing these recommendations!! Which of these was your favourite (if at all) and why?
I think the Charisma Myth was my favorite as it really addressed how to get out of one's head when imposter syndrome hits. It was recommended by my mentor when I was having difficulty presenting to some intimidating higher ups from our foreign investor company.
SoUnds like thatโ€™s next on my reading list :) thank you again!