The first Speak Geek event really hit home for me. While I’m not entirely new to the Chic Geek organization, I’ve only recently started volunteering my time to write for and manage the Chic Geek blog. I wanted this post to share what I think is the pivotal success of this event: opening up a niche space for women — and men! — to connect with one another and build supportive relationships around their shared experiences in the tech industry.
The presenters (Janie Fontaine, Kali Taylor, Karen Whiteman and Anette Ceraficki) came from a diverse variety of backgrounds and experiences. But the theme was common: being out of your comfort zone and actively challenging your boundaries is a requirement for personal and professional growth. It’s also a shared experience. I’m making that bold, because I think it’s really important. All four speakers had different perspectives on where the comfort zone is and when to challenge those boundaries, but the experience of doing so — judging by all the nodding heads in the room — was common to them and everyone else at the Speak Geek event as well.
Janie Fontaine’s talk highlighted the importance of asking questions, not buckling to the pressure to “succeed” — side note: what does success even mean, anyways? — being true to yourself, and allowing yourself to make mistakes. I think it’s so hard, but so important, that we stop holding ourselves to a perfectionist ideal and instead start discovering and celebrating the joy in being unique.
Kali Taylor’s presentation was about recognizing that you don’t always have to fit into a predetermined mold. Challenging your comfort zone is often about standing up for what you believe in. Women in tech? We’re confronted with stereotypes on a daily basis. But just by showing up at an event like Speak Geek, we’re recognizing that there could be a different reality and choosing to be part of the conversation about how to make it happen.
Karen Whiteman also spoke about honouring yourself for who you are in her presentation. She shared her realization that her “goodie-two-shoes” personality was actually a strength and not a weakness that she could embrace. We all have pieces of ourselves that we’d like to avoid, but we need to be honest with ourselves and find ways to see perceived weaknesses in a different light. Owning all sides of ourselves, even when we choose not to have all those sides on show all the time, opens doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Anette Ceraficki talked about the magic in being bold and challenging your comfort zone. Even when the results aren’t certain. And even when the reality is probably far removed from what you imagine when you first start out. Her point? Challenging your comfort zone doesn’t read like a fairytale story where one day we all wake up and we’re all successful and everything is rainbows and kittens. Part of the magic is in rising to a challenge and pushing yourself to reach for things you never thought you’d be reaching for in the first place.
And to bring it around full-circle, this is what the Chic Geek is all about:
building a supportive environment where women can acknowledge their realities, skill levels, goals and dreams.
Where women can engage in learning, in seeking out new information or ways of being with other women who support them. Where we can all say, “I want the future to look like that,” and then embrace it or create it, with all the struggle and success that are a part of that process. Idealistic? Sure, but as Kali Taylor put it, “If you don’t believe that you can achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve, you never will.” So I’m putting it out there that I believe in the Chic Geek and I believe that we can shape the roles of women in tech into whatever we want them to be.
One of my colleagues came out to the Speak Geek event, and she caught me the next morning to share just how much she loved the experience. She told me that she’d had some reservations about how she would fit in with the group attending. She has a social sciences background, worked in admin and marketing, isn’t “particularly technically inclined” and wasn’t really sure what to expect from the event. But then she expressed how much more than just a speaker series she got out of attending — her fears about not fitting in with a group of tech-oriented women disappeared after getting a chance to meet other women and hear the speakers, and she left with a deep sense of community and belonging.
This, for me, is the essence of what makes this group incredible and why I’m so excited to be part of it: the opportunity to touch people’s lives, to build that community and to help people step out of their comfort zones and find new connections in what can be an otherwise intimidating or isolated-feeling industry.
“Tech” is a big place these days that encompasses a lot of ground (marketing, social media, project management, blogging, e-commerce…) that isn’t always directly related to coding or programming. Building a community for women who feel like they’re in that grey area is important work. Kylie said something at the Speak Geek introduction that stuck with me: “It’s easy for me to see myself in the stories of other women.” And this group is about making that space for women to find common ground in a community that supports them and cares about them.
In conclusion? Chic Geek has challenged me connect to my techier, geekier side. The experience of doing so has helped me pinpoint this: it’s really important to me to be a part of creating this space where we realize that we’re in this together, we’re not alone in our experiences and we can support one another as we each figure out what success looks like for ourselves.
Written by Hannah Sanford
Hannah organizes the Chic Geek Blog and content. She has a not-so-secret love for all things canned in the kitchen, like strawberry jam and pickled beets and homemade salsa and... well, you get the point. Connect with Hannah on Twitter @HannahSaidThat.