Advice from 5 Generations of Women Working in Tech

a Social Suite panel recap

Return on Investment looms large in the C-suite—and rightly so—but another kind of ROI also deserves attention, too: have you considered your company’s Return on Inclusion? This kind of ROI is about the benefits to a business that a focus on diversity can yield. Building an inclusive environment can equal positive impacts to profits and company longevity. At Spredfast, we value varying perspectives, backgrounds, and abilities—so we made inclusion a focus of our Social Suite content during SXSW.

At Social Suite, our VP of Marketing Sarah DeRocher Moore moderated a panel filled with five generations of working women called, “Return on Inclusion: 5 Generations of Women at Work.” The esteemed, thoughtful, and candid women who joined her included:

  • Kerry Flynn, Business Reporter covering tech at Mashable
  • Ada-Renee Johnson, Staffing Lead, Diversity SWE++ and Tech, Google
  • Janet Wright, Senior Vice President, Corporate, Securities And Finance Counsel & Asst Secretary at Dell
  • Beverly Jackson, VP, Social Media and Content Strategy, MGM Resorts International
  • Jill Griffin, NYSE Public Board Director, NACD Governance Fellow, Luby's/Fuddruckers Inc.

As our panelists shared insights gained from navigating their varied careers, lessons and tips that could benefit anyone working in tech became clear. Here’s what rose to the surface around the power of labels, the issue of retention, and how to overcome career-related fears, all through the lens of being a working woman:

1. Be mindful of the power and consequences of labels

We know pretending everyone is the same (and has the same experiences within a company) doesn’t work, but that attitude doesn’t make good business sense, either. Studies demonstrate that diversity improves the bottom line no matter the company. And, the inclusion of women measurably impacts company profits: companies with women in the C-suite are 56% more profitable. Numbers like that speak for themselves.

Other labels matter, too: millennial, baby boomer, working mother, single mother, and all manner of labels associated with race, nationality, gender affiliation, and age all play a part in how employees work day-to-day, as well as how managers manage, and how executives run their companies. Moore asked panelists about their experience with the labels attached to them and they shared how being part of specific demographics has influenced their careers.

Labels matter—and play a part in how employees work day-to-day.

 

“I am a unicorn,” said Beverly Jackson: “I’m 50+, I’m African American, I work in tech space, and I’m a woman. I’ve been working in social media before it was called social media.” But still, Jackson explained, despite her varied experiences, she’s found it important to be mindful of how labels affect others on her team.

Some time ago, she was called into a team meeting and senior leadership explained that someone on her team felt she wasn’t being supportive of working women. “That evoked so many emotions on my part and caused a lot of anguish, not because I had done anything wrong, but because I hold everyone to the same standard,” Jackson explained. Jackson went on to explain that she works hard to make sure everyone on her team has the same opportunities to grow, but that it’s a balancing act in consideration of all those labels. “Keeping it all even is difficult,” Jackson said.

Janet Wright told us the value a focus on inclusion brings to her team. Because they run on cross-generational inspiration and ingenuity, multiple generations working together means diversity of thought, vision, and purpose.

2. Know when to quit and when to stay

The Harvard Business School reports that only 36% of women choose to stay in full-time jobs in business. This is something that affects everyone, not just women, and Moore asked our panelists if they’d ever thought about quitting or leaving–either a particular job or the working world in general–and what made them decide to stick it out. Not surprisingly, the demands of motherhood and family, as well as workplace bullying, impacted the way the women on our panel thought about their work and made choices related to it.

Retention is something that affects everyone, not just women.

 

Speaking about a former job experience, Jill Griffin said: “I quit because I was being bullied.” Griffin said she’d never been bullied before, but when a higher-up was demoted, she became his target. After complaining many times to the CEO—and after trying to figure out what she herself could do to turn the bully around—Griffin said she finally quit without another job lined up. It was small comfort that the next day the CEO had seven other employees threatening resignation unless he did something about the bully, and though it took some time to get her bearings again career-wise, Griffin realized the job had been holding her back professionally.

Ada-Renee Johnson also shared her experience with considering quitting or reducing her responsibilities. After the birth of her second child, born just 20 months after her first, Johnson said she considered going to part-time or even staying home to save on childcare costs. But, said Johnson, “A lot of the women who were beside me before had quit because they looked up and didn’t see anyone that looked like them.” Being a role model motivated her to stay, she said, because she wanted younger women to be able to look up to her and see how she navigated the difficulties while sustaining her lifestyle. Johnson summed up her “how” rather succinctly: “ I implemented hardcore work-life balance.” Critical tip? This balance also included one entire afternoon every week permanently blocked off for “Get shit done time.”

3. Overcome fear by knowing yourself

Finally, our panelists shared their personal experiences with doubt and fear—and how they persevered in spite of them.

“Each generation is going to get bolder and bolder,” Johnson said, explaining that the boldness exhibited by each generation that has come before gives the following generation strength to build on. “First we saw, ‘Get in and play the game, head down, work work.’ Then we saw, ‘You have a voice, earn your seat at the table,’ and then, ‘Speak up, not only do you have a seat at the table, you invite the people who sit at the table,’ and now we have the, ‘Eff it, it is what it is,’” attitude of the newest generation of working women. Kerry Flynn embodied the final sentiment as she spoke about her company’s tendency to hire man after man and her relentlessness in calling them out: “I think some young people at work don’t want to speak out and are fearful of losing their jobs,” but Kerry’s attitude is: “Embrace it, accept who you are, be you.”

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Jaime Netzer is Content Marketing Strategist, leading content operations in marketing at Spredfast. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly.