As the book’s title suggests, my book can be summed up in one word: persistence. I’d like to tell you why I wrote this book and how persistence fits in.
It’s no secret that the tech world is male-dominated. When I reached the senior management level in my own career, I was surprised to discover that I felt stuck. I looked at my management chain—and there were no women in senior leadership positions. I looked at my peer management chain—and there were no women there, either.
All through my earlier career, I had been told I was a change agent and that great things would happen in my career. I truly believed that. I was also raised with the idea that the business world was a meritocracy. I assumed that hard work would take me where I wanted to go. So I worked hard.
But in 2016, when I found myself stuck in my career, a light bulb went on, illuminating my gender for the first time in my life. I decided to look for senior women leaders as role models to help get me unstuck.
Shortly after that, I experienced another light-bulb moment. Since embarking on this journey felt so necessary for myself, I thought I could bring along other people like me on this journey. That’s how the concept of this book was born.
As I did research for my book, I came upon many disturbing facts. I’ll note just two here.
First: Every year, Fortune Magazine releases its Fortune 500 list, which ranks major U.S. companies by their prior year’s fiscal revenues. In 2014, we had female CEOs running 24 of these companies. That number dipped to 21 women in 2016. In 2017, we had promising news: that number went up to 32 women. In terms of percentages, we went from 4.2 percent to 6.4 percent in a one-year period. But I still think the numbers are low—perhaps about 45 percent too low.
Second: In March 2014, a report by Judith Warner, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, documented that at the current rate of change, equal representation of men and women at the top will not occur until 2085. To help you internalize this fact, I am going to repeat it: at the current rate of change, equal representation of men and women at the top will not occur until 2085. I hope this stops you in your tracks as it stopped me. That is 67 years from now. Even our youngest daughters will be retired by then! My own daughter, who was born in 2013, will not live in a world of leaders who are actually representative of the population until her 70s. This realization broke my heart.
And it strengthened my resolve to complete this journey. I wanted to create role models for young girls like my daughter. I wanted to hasten this process so my daughter experiences an equal representation of women in her 20s or 30s and does not need to wait until her 70s. I wanted her to experience that for her whole life and not just at the tail end of it.
With gusto, I interviewed nineteen female executives. They told inspiring stories of how they accomplished their achievements, what influenced them during their childhoods, who their mentors were, and what successes and failures they experienced along the way. As they spoke, a common theme kept emerging. Persistence. These women persisted in the face of gender bias, stereotype threat, imposter syndrome, and negative messages from the media and society. I listened to so many hopeful stories and I wanted to give these stories a voice.
There are many lessons that women—and men—can get from this book. I would like to share a few with you now.
The glass ceiling
There’s not just one. Innumerable glass ceilings can emerge for every woman in tech. Each time she shatters one, another is likely to appear, for all a variety of reasons. The two keys to breaking through this series of glass ceilings are allies and persistence.
Also known as fraud syndrome, imposter syndrome is the recurring feeling people can have that they are fakes and might be found out soon. This feeling of not being good enough tugs at their confidence. Most women in tech, and even men suffer imposter syndrome. However, people can tell themselves they can do it, and rename that feeling as the discomfort of learning something new. Again, persistence in turning away from feeling like an imposter is crucial here.
The moment a girl is born she is topped with a pink hat. From day zero, we send messages to our daughter that eventually puts her at risk for stereotype threat and imposter syndrome. For example, the message that girls are not good at math affects them more than society can fathom. Further, the curriculum taught in schools tend to make it harder for women to stay in STEM-related fields.
For early career preparation, persistence is crucial in a different way. Often, a girl or woman doesn’t even know that she needs an intervention, a nudge in a new direction. This is where people need to have persistently high expectations for women in our lives. This book includes great stories of timely interventions making a significant difference. Sometimes the redirection came from a mom or stepmom. Sometimes it came from a college profession: “Hey, you should a take a vocational aptitude test;” or “You really need to figure out what you are passionate about before you get the business degree,” or “I won’t tell you-you’re smart, but I know people dumber than you who have a PhD.” The nudge may come in the form of advice or even sarcasm. But interventions like these were of crucial importance to some of the women in my book. Again, maintaining a persistent vision of a woman’s potential and being willing to offer input when she gets off track is so important. So we need to be prepared to intervene at every stage of a woman’s life, starting from day zero. Every person is empowered to do that for their daughter, sister, mother, and girlfriend.
And there are so many other ways that persistence is the antidote to a mediocre career for us as women.
Persistence is important in gaining what we need and deserve. This is true in negotiating for a first salary, raises, and promotions.
Persistence is key in making sure we have people at the top levels of our companies sponsoring us. Being mentored is important, but it is not enough for becoming successful. We must persist with those top-level people: get them to believe in us, get them to give us the strategic projects that will build the skills, vision, and visibility we need within our companies to advance.
On the domestic front as well, persistence is important. For those of us women who are aiming for prominent careers in tech but also want to have a home life, we need to ensure that both partners share responsibility for housework and taking care of children.
Although this book is now completed, the journey hasn’t ended. I am starting to see the impact that my book is having.
I have followed my own advice in my book and tried intervening in a positive way in women’s careers and seen that just a few words of intervention can have a huge impact. I told one woman that she needed to ask for a promotion. She followed my advice and got the promotion. A woman I know read my book and decided she had what it would take to go back to school to get a degree.
My book has given me more opportunities to hear more stories about women who are doggedly persistent. If you have a story of persistence please send it to me here. I would love to hear from you!
As I have been going around trying to promote my book and make it accessible to as many people as possible, I ran into this nineteen-year-old girl named Yasmeen Jassim. She’s had an amazing journey of persistence and she fills me with hope! You can read her story in the next post.