Lessons Learned: Women's Careers in Retrospect

Posted by Katie Del Angel on Thu, Apr 1, 2010
Our insightful panelAt once inspiring and entertaining, last night's Lessons Learned: Women's Career Decisions in Review panel provided our female MITX members with some food for thought. This event concluded Women's History Month with a bang - some of the top women tech professionals took a moment to share with MITX, Girls in Tech, and Microsoft participants just how they got to where they are today.

Career Path Patterns -  Zig-zags & Concentric Circles
MITX President Kiki Mills kicked off the event with a humbling question that set the easy-going, known-each-other-for-years tone for the event: When you graduated high school, what did you think you'd go on to be? Though the answers were diverse, the overall theme was clear - no one expected to be where they are now, as esteemed professionals in the technology industry. It seemed that our four panelists shared the common perception early on that their career path "should" be clear and straight, like their brothers and fathers who knew from the get-go that being a doctor or a lawyer was their calling. But in retrospect, it became evident that that straight-line career path wasn't the only way to success.

As Nataly Kogan, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, put it, "Zig-zagging is cool - as long as you can tell a story about it".

This candid bit of advice truly resonated with some younger professionals in the crowd*. Kathleen Kennedy, Chief Strategy Officer at Technology Review, agreed that changing course is okay, and not necessarily a waste of time. Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace, explained that being passionate is also a huge part of becoming successful. It may not be the Peace Corps, but if you love your job, you'll be making a difference. Gail Goodman, CEO at Constant Contact, emphasized her biggest lesson learned from her journey to the top: Absorb & Observe; Be curious - sometimes the best lessons are learned on the fly.

Challenges in Retrospect
Kathleen shared her experience from a time she felt she wasn't going to be able to grow further with a former company; she explained that noting that nagging feeling that the job isn't right for you anymore is the key thing. Leaving that company ultimately allowed her to grow personally and professionally.

Diane's comparison of the workplace to a field hockey team illustrated her point that culture matters. Being surrounded by people with the same values as you can do wonders not only for morale, but overall in performance. She also threw a few inspirational words out there for women uncertain of making that big career change, advising them to go for it: "People will see you differently".

Gail's recount of an old coworker comparing her personality to a "garlic milkshake" really woke her up to the fact that negative feedback can be "hard to hear, but it's a gift. Then you have to decide how much you're willing to bend". Listening is a great catalyst for growing and improving.

The newest working mom on the panel, Nataly, offered some insight on being able to succeed with a young daughter. The good? ALL working mothers feel like you - stressed, worried, a bit overwhelmed - with the struggle of work/personal balance. The bad? It will never get better. But realizing the best medium you can will allow you to allow yourself to succeed.

Pearls of Wisdom
Kiki asked the ladies what the best piece of advice they'd received was, and they shared with me after the event. Check out their answers on our YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/mitxvideos

*As a young professional female myself, interning at MITX, I found this advice particularly comforting that knowing exactly where I want to go and how I should get there isn't as important as the story and growth from the journey. Hearing stories of meandering and bumpy paths from such successful women was reassuring and inspiring for myself and what seemed like quite a few others in the crowd, too.

From our all-female staff here at MITX, we hope everyone enjoyed the event and would like to sincerely thank our amazing panel, event partners Microsoft NERD and Girls in Tech, and our fearless leader Kiki Mills!