By Heather McGough (Founder, Urbanity Events)
Where do you sit when you enter the boardroom and why? This topic came up recently with a dozen women at Women 2.0 headquarters in San Francisco.
Many of us hadn’t thought about why we subconsciously choose to sit at the head of the table versus the sidelines. The question sparked interest in a campaign which took place at the fifth annual Women 2.0 PITCH Conference, the Sit With Me campaign.
Over 800 attendees gathered for the all-day conference and throughout the course of the day, many embraced the opportunity to join the ranks of Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Lynda Grindstaff of Intel to sit in the now celebrated red chair at the head of the table.
This red chair is a powerful visual representation for the Sit With Me campaign which serves as a platform for conversation and action around validating women in computing and IT, recognizes the important role they play in creating future technology, but takes it one step further by empowering them to look past “boy’s club” boardroom traditions and envision themselves as the (wo)man in charge.
As women piled one-by-one into the Sit With Me chair, I asked about the reasons behind what brought them there.
Rebecca To, an attendee from a self-proclaimed “big old corporation”, explained: “Women are still asked to do things a man wouldn’t do… they have to choose between their feminine side or blending in with their male counterparts in order to have a voice at the table.” There are nods of agreement from around the room.
“If I told myself when I was 10 years old that I’d be here now, I’d wonder how I got here. The red chair symbolizes being bold. If you’re passionate, it’s about having confidence in what you want not about how up or down to dress, or deciding whether or not to come to boardroom with a pink pen that day.”
Jennifer Lo, Social Media and Marketing Specialist at Whole Foods Market says: “It’s important to have a voice and this awareness in the community. You always hear about what guys, Facebook, or some other trendy company is doing. Women need to create a voice about what this campaign stands for.”
One comment offered off-the-record told the story of a former colleague whom her female peers ostracized, yet she gained constant attention from her male counterparts – but not in a good way. The reason? “She was hot, smokin’ hot.” Her contract with the company was not renewed. “The worst part is” said my anonymous source “this girl was really bright and one of the smartest people on our team!”
My roundtable agreed that sometimes looks influence what their male (or female) counterparts in tech think about them. If they’re seen as attractive and in touch with their femininity, then ipso facto they may not be smart.
Why are so many women leaving the tech industry?
Of all women in the technology private sector, 56% will leave midway through their careers because they’re dissatisfied with their jobs.
Mary Wang was a software engineer for seven years before she quit. “It’s important to address why women leave tech… most of them are in the QA field as a supporter role and not in a creative one, so it’s not as satisfying. Women in the industry can also feel like the minority.” This can make them feel isolated, which can be debilitating.
Miri Lee of Google has an idea on how to get more women to stay involved: “Tech is an exciting and dynamic space. Women can
contribute in a variety of ways, but may need some mentoring and support. It’s difficult though because of the lack of females.”
Shasta Nelson, the Founding CEO of GirlFriendCircles agrees saying: “I think the more modeling we can do the better. Let’s support each other.”
Gazelle Javantash of Leadership Public Schools offers an alternative view: “For many, sitting in the red chair is not necessarily just about the tech industry, but about women’s leadership in general. Sometimes your own conceptions about what the boardroom SHOULD look like do more to hold you back than anything else.”
The Sit With Me campaign stresses the idea that as we look to compete globally and solve the world’s most pressing challenges, we must rethink the role of women in technology.
Whether it’s fighting off gender bias, holding onto a steadfast determination to climb the career ladder, managing 70+ hour work weeks in a male-dominated field, finding a system for support, or simply believing in yourself, our country needs to tap into the diverse voices women can offer in order to serve an increasingly diverse global population.
And that starts by taking a seat at the head of the table.
For more information on Sit With Me, click Sit With Me.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Heather McGough is Founder of Urbanity Events. She began her career working in the non-profit sector and still commits her time to serving local and global causes. Her business focuses on startup conferences, speaker series’ and other high-tech events while donating time to non-profits. She is a volunteer at with Women 2.0. In her free time, Heather enjoys travel, the outdoors, playing basketball and is writing a detective fiction book about organized crime.