Note to readers: this blog post is a prequel to the Kate Brodock (part 2) post that I wrote on 5/14/17. I asked Kate specific questions this time about how she got to where she is today and what she suggests for girls who want to grow into a successful tech career.
Trish: Greetings Kate! Thanks so much for being a P.I.N.K. Briefcase Shero! My first question is about what kind of a little girl you were. Can you share?
Kate: Of course! I was adventurous and active, friendly, but still an introvert (I am today still). This simply means I needed alone time, where I would read or go outside and be by myself. I remember exploring a lot, as we lived on a large piece of land in the country, and there weren’t a ton of kids around. I would do this with my brother or by myself. I liked school, and found myself somewhat natural at it. I did some sports, but I found myself to be less inclined to structure, and enjoyed some of the informal parts of sports, or getting outside the bounds. For instance, I was in the local Pony Club, but I always got bored with the lessons, and enjoyed the trail ride there much more!
Trish: Thank you Kate for sharing that about yourself. Was there anyone you admired as a role model when you were little?
Kate: Looking back, I really didn’t have a particular role model, nor did I really have a mentor. In my generation, that wasn’t talked about at all, and certainly not to the extent that it is now. Not even when I went to college. Self-motivation was expected. I feel that girls now should have a healthy combination of both of these. Self-motivation, struggle, and drive have to come from yourself first. But it can be an incredibly powerful enhancer to have someone who can recognize those traits and knows how to push them forward.
Additionally, there are a LOT of things to think about when you’re growing up, and having access to someone who can help navigate some of your thought processes a bit more could be helpful. Sometimes young adults have a hard time understanding how the things they do at that moment will impact (or not impact!) their future.
Trish: I totally agree with you. Having a role model is way more important now than it used to be. And since accomplished women are more recognized now, it’s easier to find one! Um speaking of role models, do you mind if I ask what parts of your education you use in your professional life?
Kate: Writing, 100%. And secondarily math. Both of those pop up in so many places, that I feel they’re simply crucial. I would then say that the thought processes that I learned in school are much more prominent in my life now than the subjects. For instance, learning how to effectively put together a logical argument. Learning how to construct a project from start to finish under a certain set of guidelines. Learning how to push through struggle comfortably. Learning how to practice and perfect things (I’m not a perfectionist though!). Learning how to work with others. These things ended up being the foundation for most of what I do today.
Trish: Naturally, I love your answer about the absolute importance of learning to write well. I agree with you 100%. Once you transitioned from school to the working world, what was your first job?
Kate: My first job out of college is what got me hooked on both tech and startups. I worked in a small tech transfer firm - a startup for startups - in an innovation center right outside of MIT in Cambridge MA. I was in a tech startup, I was surrounded by tech startups, and flanked by many amazing educational institutions right outside my door. I tried my hand at a large corporation “just to see” but it wasn’t for me! I also got myself involved in community organizations and programs.
Trish: Sounds like you started out small and kept learning to get where you are today. You must have experienced your fair share of sexism along the way. What do you think of the stereotype that successful career women are ‘hard-asses?’ Do you think that stereotype prohibits capable girls from achieving success?
Kate: I’ve learned that embracing some of our best “female” qualities is what’s actually taught me to be the best leader I can be, though there are areas where being a “hard-ass” does help. In terms of being confident, saying no, voicing your opinion, negotiating a salary or sticking up for yourself, channeling your inner hard-ass helps. But compassion and empathy are two qualities that women tend to have naturally that are very powerful in a career when “backed up” by being a hard-ass. It allows us to create well-functioning teams, listen to people around us (while remaining decisive when need be), and think holistically about the company.
Trish: Agreed. Finding that sweet spot between being a hard-ass (A.K.A. self-confidence) and a compassionate person is the goal―in the business world and in life. What about girls who want to have a family someday and a successful career? Can you do both?
Kate: This is a really tough question. I want to say “don’t think about it, just do it when you want” but that’s assuming that our functioning workplaces are willing and then able to support this. Many companies do support family-building quite well, and more companies will be doing this by the time our next generations of women enter the workforce, but right now there are still a lot of companies that have poor policies, and force women to have to think about the timing or practicality of having a family.
However, with foresight, with making family a priority when you’re job hunting, and being open about these issues with your spouse and family, there are plenty of ways to make this a reality. This is a big topic of conversation right now, and it’s moving in the right direction. Personally, I don’t think you should ever be in a position where you need to choose between career or family, and the companies that realize this are the ones that truly support you as a person and a professional.
Trish: Listening to you talk affirms my belief that yes, with the proper support in place, it’s possible to have a successful career and raise confident, loving children. But, unfortunately, there are still people who consider women as inferior beings. What’s the best way to react to this?
Kate: For me, I’m not one to jump to public shaming or bashing. I feel that’s counterproductive. If the capacity is there to discuss with the brand what they’re doing, and identify whether there’s an opening for improvement, that seems like a more productive approach. The “opening for improvement” isn’t always there though - whether it means leadership and culture, desire to change, rigid policies - and at that point, a larger, more public stance could be taken. In our position as a company that has opportunities for brands to be in front of our audience in various ways, we do need to be extra cautious on this front, as we act as stewards of our community first, and that means filtering.
Trish: Yep unfortunately, there will ALWAYS be toxic people in the world. Again, I agree with you 100%―the key to dealing with them is to learn how to recognize them, look for opportunities for improvement, and continue prioritizing your own belief system. But wait, I thought the landscape for women in tech was improving.
Kate: It IS improving, but I still think we need to see more people walking the walk. The discussion has reached a point of real robustness, but the action that results from the discussion is largely left to be realized. This is actually the nexus at which Women 2.0 sits. We work to create actionable, scalable ways to close the gender gaps in tech. To us, this is the way to change the landscape.
Trish: I’m so glad the problem is finally being recognized and addressed. It seems like the tech industry, in particular, has a built-in bias towards women and their ability in technology. What if you don’t want to be a coder/engineer though. Can you still secure a spot in the tech industry?
Kate: Of course! I know enough coding to be dangerous, but I’m a marketer by trade. I do think it’s becoming increasingly more beneficial to know some development and data skills though, as companies are really becoming much more technologically driven, and that knowledge set will make you more relevant inside a tech-driven company. I will say though that the demand for good engineering talent is only increasing (and increasing quickly!) so it’s an excellent goal to become a coder/engineer. You will not be without a job.
Trish: Sounds like you don’t have to be a coder for your entire career (unless you want to!) but it’s definitely a good skill to have. Can you recommend a few specific resources for girls who want to get started now?
Kate: Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It, and Black Girls Code are three great organizations to learn and test out your skills.
There’s also been an increase in the number of interns available at the high school level. This is such a neat opportunity that I wish I had. If your school doesn’t have anything formal set up, try setting up your internship through your local network or your parents.
Lastly, and much more importantly, I worry that children are in a time period where all of their free time is hyper (hyper!) focused on college, career, academic success, extracurricular achievement - essentially all those things that make your resume look good - and they’re slowly, but surely, starting down the path of burnout. I can’t stress enough that free time is crucial to your development. Learning to be bored, or have unstructured time, or fiddling, or simply developing relationships with friends. What’s a good resource? Get in the slow lane.
Trish: What she said. 100%. Thanks Kate!