Culture

Womxn in Tech event recap: Elevate and Empower

Read reflections from Persona’s first Womxn in Tech event, Elevate and Empower, featuring speakers from Google, OpenAI, and Persona.

One image of three women speaking on a panel and one image of five women speakers against a chartreuse background
Last updated:
6/14/2024
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⚡ Key takeaways

At Persona, we strive to be open and transparent about how we operate and contribute to the communities around us. That's why we occasionally publish blogs about our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives to broaden our reach and provide a reference point to other companies in the early stages of their DEIB journeys.

Today, we are pleased to share a recap of Womxn in Tech: Elevate and Empower, an event we recently held in our San Francisco headquarters, by Kat Stevenson, a member of our first Business Leadership Program (BLP) cohort.

What inspired Elevate and Empower?

The inspiration for Elevate and Empower stemmed from our desire to create a space where womxn in tech could share their experiences and build community. While we have an active womxn employee resource group at Persona, there’s so much opportunity to support womxn outside of Persona by connecting them with industry leaders and like-minded people.

We especially wanted to encourage attendance from womxn in college and early in their careers so we could make tech a more accessible industry for students and recent graduates. Having just graduated in May 2023, and having spent months job hunting, I understand the difficulty of navigating a tough job market and knew how lonely that experience could be. As I reviewed job postings, I wavered between applying for long shots I knew would be good opportunities and postings that didn’t excite me. Luckily, I stumbled upon Persona’s job posting for the BLP and couldn’t believe it when Persona’s Head of Talent, Natalie Disraeli, reached out to me directly to apply for the job. 

Even though the months I spent reviewing job postings eventually bore fruit, I wanted to create an opportunity for new grads to learn about tech companies in a welcoming environment with peers who understand their experiences. 

Planning the event

When I first learned that Elevate and Empower would include networking and a womxn’s panel, I knew this event would be a great way to support womxn in tech. But, I was hesitant to sign up and join the team 一 I had never planned an event like this and I wasn’t sure what I could contribute. With Natalie’s encouragement, I decided to take the leap and help organize the panel.

Joining this project gave me the opportunity to work with some great colleagues I never would have had the chance to interact with. Each week, we spent time brainstorming themes, drafting marketing materials, and selecting our panelists. The event featured a panel of remarkable womxn leaders across startups and big tech, including:

  • Emma Lalley, account executive, go-to-market team, OpenAI 
  • Shannon McNair, head of business and people operations, Persona (moderator)
  • Laura Milanez, head of solutions engineering, Persona
  • Katie Miller, principal, global strategic partnerships, Google
  • Stephanie Wong, head of technical marketing — content and storytelling, Google

As I took on more responsibilities, including panelist communications, event catering, and university outreach, I grew more confident in contributing to the success of the event. This confidence carried over into my day-to-day work in the BLP and encouraged me to take more initiative during my sales rotation. 

The big day

On the event day, I was excited and a bit nervous! I’d never helped host an event of this size so I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, by 5:45 p.m., we had a long line of attendees waiting at check-in. We registered almost 120 womxn and allies for the event!

The energy and engagement from the community proved how meaningful these events are. Over the course of the evening, I watched people who came to the event by themselves or with a small group of friends branch out and make new connections. I had the chance to learn from womxn who have worked in tech for several years while also sharing my own career insights with some college freshmen attendees I met. It’s clear that events like these not only foster learning but also build stronger relationships among womxn in the industry and those curious to explore careers in tech.

When I was a freshman at University of California, Berkeley, I didn’t know of any events at tech companies that would welcome students purely for educational and networking purposes. It’s heartening to see this change in just a few years. I’m glad to have played a part in building an inclusive event that helps womxn interested in tech learn what’s available to them as they begin careers.

Reflections

Reflecting on the discussions that day, several key topics stood out:

  • Compassion isn’t nice to have — it’s essential. Compassion underpins how we interact with each other and approach problem-solving. This is as true in tech as it is in life. Our speakers emphasized that compassion builds to more inclusive and effective teams, leading to better work.
  • Exploration over the conventional pursuit of passion. Our speakers encouraged us to make strong business cases for trying new things without the pressure of having it all figured out. New projects inherently require exploration. This mindset allows for growth and discovery, opening doors to unexpected opportunities.
  • All opportunities involve embracing discomfort. Shooting your shot without counting yourself out prematurely is essential, especially for womxn entering the tech industry. We’ve all heard stories about men being comfortable applying for jobs for which they don’t “check all the boxes,” whereas womxn often disqualify themselves from an opportunity if they don’t meet all the requirements for a role. More important than meeting all the criteria is the ability to learn quickly, a skill best developed by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone.

I had this epiphany where [working in tech] isn't like a math equation where you input some numbers into some variables to get your output. There isn’t just one right answer and while that's daunting, you realize that no one else has the answer and that's OK. You're equally well positioned to figure out the solution and that's what makes it fun.
Katie Miller
Principal, Global Strategic Partnerships, at Google

What really stood out to me was that it’s OK not to have found a “passion.” Throughout my life, I have heard that if you did something you were passionate about, you would never work a day in your life. As so many friends found their calling and dedicated time to their passion projects in college, I felt like I was falling behind because I couldn’t find mine. I dabbled in many fields 一 accounting, consulting, business journalism, venture capital 一 searching for what would be my calling. 

It wasn’t until I graduated from college, spent time job searching, and ultimately landed at Persona that I realized that those years spent trying different career paths showed me that I didn’t need to find one passion to which I dedicated my life. Being a generalist is another path I can follow to be fulfilled. I’ve learned that I’m happiest when I’m tackling a variety of challenges and learning new skills.

Maintaining momentum

Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this event a success. Your enthusiasm fuels our collective commitment to support each other as a community that values empowerment and diversity.

Elevate and Empower was just the first of several DEIB events we have planned to host or participate in. Later this year, we’re hosting our second annual employee resource group (ERG) fair to promote awareness of and celebrate diversity at Persona. In October, we’re excited to be sponsoring Out for Undergrad’s digital conference, an event supporting LGBTQ2+ university students by connecting them with job opportunities. If you are interested in learning more about Persona or attending a future event, follow us on LinkedIn.

Published on:
6/14/2024

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