Find the Girls' Girls
Three things have been on my mind this past week:
- constant reminders of the obstacles professional women face
- potent words from a role model of mine, and
- the kind of girls we've attracted to #SheConnectsIRL events
Read how these topics have all brought me to the same point: girls' girls. Trust me we'll come full circle if you can get to the end!
I work in tech. Tech companies (small and large) are basically on a constant rotation in the media in terms of the gender gap. It's not my place to say they're all bad, but the topic is constantly bubbling to the surface and raising awareness in me.
- May: UploadVR faced allegations for total sexual harassment. I read this mind-boggling article and thought– was this 'kink room' they had set up in their office truly a thing?! Seriously even if it's a rumor, how did the rumor even arise?!
- June: Chris Sacca, early investor in Twitter, Uber, and Instagram posted a pro-women article on his Medium account, apologizing for not supporting women more in his early career and stating he had "more work to do." I was so happy to see a male in a power position taking a stand to popularize the advocacy of professional women, seemingly out of nowhere. I naively reposted his article on Twitter and my Snapchat story (amberillig). The next day, The New York Times released claims against Chris and other venture capitalists who had allegedly made passes at female founders who were approaching them for fundraising. I'm not here to point the finger at Chris because he knows his own truth. I still appreciate his article. I understand that everyone is on their own journey in accepting others and some have to learn lessons the hard way. But I sure felt stupid thinking he had taken the time to deeply understand a minority group's perspective, only to find out he was posting it as a prequel to the story he knew The New York Times would soon release against him.
- Also June: Forget Chris. Let's be honest, we all know Uber took the cake in June. Oh wait, news released on this company detailing derogatory treatment of women dates back to at least 2014 (full timeline here)! But in June things escalated so far that their CEO actually stepped down. The media has lost a bit of steam with this one as attention has shifted to their search for a new CEO.
- July: People took it easy to celebrate the 4th? Nothing's coming to mind except for regurgitated news.
- August: Swooping in like clockwork, a Google employee sent a memo to the entire company which obviously leaked to the entire internet, claiming women are less represented in tech because they are genetically less capable or apt to certain jobs (like, ahem, engineering). This sent everyone in tech into a frenzy – some facts he stated were true but he generalized and applied them to real life in a Handmaid's Tale / Holocaust sort of way claiming that women were only fit for certain jobs and we should allocate people appropriately. He was eventually fired, but people continued to debate: Should he have been allowed to speak his mind? Should he have been fired?
It's no wonder with this constant negative news that many feel hopeless and worn down whether things are going well for them individually or not. Have you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecy? If you're doing well, then suddenly something extrinsic convinces you you're not, you might actually get inside your own head, preventing yourself from actually doing well. So while it's important to remain informed, it's even more important to know your worth and let those negative detractors go.
I had the pleasure of meeting Shelley Zalis this year when she spoke to an intimate group of women at my workplace. Her story is pretty rad. She proved any haters wrong in 2010 by selling her pioneer internet market research company for $80 million. Then she showed up to CES, the world's largest – and might I add male-dominated – tech conference with 50 girlfriends to make a statement. It was a knockout success which turned many heads, so she created The Girls' Lounge, a traveling lounge for women at major tech conferences. The best way I could describe how I feel about Shelley is that she is my executive spirit animal. Mainly because she is blunt and real. She wastes no time in stating a problem, supporting her claim, calling for action, and taking (sometimes hilariously bold) action. She also happens to be extremely quotable, so if you've been following me for a long time, you've probably seen her quotes peppered throughout my work. This past week I've been especially focused on this article where she explains why she calls badass female executive leaders "girls." She also suggests that the best female leaders are girls' girls – "the kind of girls who would prioritize lunch with a friend over an invitation from a professional acquaintance." She claims these girls are collaborative and supportive, not competitive. They are reliable and loyal, not flaky. They are nurturing, not lazy. They make plans, and they follow through.
I started doing an event series with my friend Sam called She Connects IRL, for our local LA friends and followers to participate in. You may have read about our first event here. Our second event was at Basecamp and we tried something a bit different! After sweating it out for an hour, we hosted a She Connects circle.
The connect circle is a concept I created after experiencing council and moon circles, two different forums that allow friends and strangers to open up and explore themselves in a safe space. I wanted to combine aspects I liked from both and add my own flavor to it. We created a welcoming space for each woman at our event to share a lesson learned from an impactful woman in her life with the rest of the group, one by one. This taught some to speak, this taught some to listen. We got it all, and it was beautiful. I was so touched that the crowd Sam and I attracted through social media was not cliquey in real life.
At this particular event, Basecamp gifted 30 days unlimited classes for FREE to the girls at our event, which was amazing. I figured no one would go as crazy with a free month of classes as I would. But I was wrong. These girls have been SLAYING. The 36 of us communicate through Instagram to coordinate workouts. EVERYONE is taking advantage of the free classes and being so active! These girls have inspired me, because they MAKE PLANS WITH EACH OTHER. They FOLLOW THROUGH. They PUSH EACH OTHER. They LIFT EACH OTHER UP. They CELEBRATE EACH OTHER'S VICTORIES. They FORM STRONG BONDS. These are girls' girls. Even though the original connection was fitness, not career, the characteristics I'm finding span across their entire life. I've gotten together with a few of them one on one to find they all work in different industries but are extremely driven and taking quantum leaps to reach their goals. Hell, one of them (Laura Kyttanen) even invited me out for dinner and approached me with a business proposal. These are the kind of well-rounded, smart, hard-working, savvy, feminine, committed girls I want to surround myself with.
We are ON TO SOMETHING here. I know tech isn't the only industry with closets and closets full of skeletons. There's a lot going on in our world which might make a woman scoff in disgust and go about her work, or worse, feel like she should just give up on her professional dreams. But instead of focusing on the negative and feeling worn down, let's focus on what we have to be thankful for, and surround ourselves with people who lift us up. Here's how to do it:
- Lower the volume: Be aware of the world you're living in, but don't let all the noise drown you out. If you obsess over negative media all the time you may forget the strides women are making in our industries right now. Take it with a grain of salt!
- Light it up: I originally started this blog because I believed there were more women like me and my close friends out there, and the vastness of the network needed to be exposed not just to the world, but to ourselves. We need consistent reminders that we're not in this journey alone as professional women. Get your own self outside of your current circle. Your support system is not just your two friends you call when something goes wrong. Form new relationships so you can discover and relish in the fact that we are a whole world full of little connections that just needs to be LIT UP. They can be friends from work, but try to find friends elsewhere as well. All the #WholeRoleModels interviews I've been conducting 1:1 plus the amazing friendships stemming from our #SheConnectsIRL events have revealed to me what I always knew was true. We are here, in every industry, EN MASSE.
- Find the girls' girls: Befriend them. Hire them. Collaborate with them. Advise them. Listen to them. Work for them. Support them. Advocate for them. Foster their growth. And see what that does for you.
Last month I met a girls' girl at work. She's 19 years old and has interned at NASA and Snapchat. She studies Computer Science and never pays for travel. Why? She has been invited to over 30 hackathons around the world by major tech companies like Instagram and Snapchat! There she uses her smarts to compete with other students and quickly code new concepts for companies on the spot! She has won many times, and was a finalist this summer in Snapchat's intern hackathon. I met her on a Friday after a meeting, and we realized we are both fashion and photography amateurs who love to play and create. On Saturday we were out shooting in Malibu! She brought along another new friend, Ace, who has tons of experience in modeling and acted as our stylist for the shoot! We all have serious day jobs, but that's not what we spent our time outside of work doing and talking about. Click through pics of us just being girls below: