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The Proteus Leader Show #41: Getting Women Into Tech

Erika is joined by Sherisse Hawkins, founder and CEO of Pagedip, a tech based company. Together they explore what tech companies can do to attract and retain great female talent, and how women can help welcome and support other women into the tech industry.

Intro: 00:01 You're listening to the Proteus Leader Show with Erika Andersen, where you'll get practical tools and insights for leading, managing and staying ready for the future. Erika is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses uniquely on leader readiness. A nationally known executive coach and bestselling author, you may already know her as one of the most popular leadership bloggers on Ready for something you can use today? Here's Erika.

Erika: 00:31 Hello everyone. And welcome back to the Proteus Leader Show. My guest today is Sherisse Hawkins, founder and CEO of Pagedip, a company that provides a way for clients to keep important docents, current, shareable with anyone on any platform and layered to contain critical information in an easy to access intuitive way. So welcome to the show, Sherisse.

Sherisse: 00:56 Thanks for having me.

Erika: 00:58 Oh, you're so welcome. I'm thrilled to have you because so a few months ago, one of our listeners suggested women in tech as a podcast topic and she pointed out that the tech sector is growing fast, and struggling to hire great talent. And yet women are still hugely underrepresented in the industry. So it's true. Very true. So since you're both a woman engineer and the founder of a growing tech based company, I thought our listeners would be interested in hearing your point of view about this. And I think it's a really important topic as I'm sure you do too.

Sherisse: 01:32 I agree.

Erika: 01:33 So let's just roll in. So the first question I wanted to ask you is what do you think tech companies, the companies themselves can be doing better to attract and retain great female hires?

Sherisse: 01:49 Yeah, I think that's a really what I call a classic question around diversity and inclusion. And I'll just provide unorthodox answers. And one of the things I really thought about in my career and when I help people move into this role or as we're hiring is to remember, one of the core components I think that makes engineering and STEM careers so exciting. And that is that they are really a creative endeavor. And so often I think we set up or fall into the stereotypical view of math-based analytical kind of cold environments and projects. And yet I can't think of another occupation that's allowed someone like myself to have such an amazing career and do so many interesting things at the heart of it. I feel like it's a very creative endeavor, more like an artist and a blank canvas versus a calculator and a pencil. So I would challenge people to think about it that way and also write job descriptions in a way that acknowledges this and takes into account who are you writing for? Imagine who you're wanting to fill that role and the job description with that person in your mind's eye, that type of person in your mind's eye to kind of break out of the old habits.

Erika: 03:09 Oh, that's interesting. So I would think both to break out of the habit of thinking of it as this kind of cut and, you know, cut and dry paint by numbers, not creative thing, but also I would think so that they're not unintentionally writing it to some mythical guy.

Sherisse: 03:28 And there's tips and things you can find on the internet around writing a more gender inclusive or gender neutral job description that I would highly encourage people to check out.

Erika: 03:40 Oh, that's great. And then how, what are some of the things you've seen that can help companies retain, females in STEM careers, in tech careers once they've hired them?

Sherisse: 03:53 I think it's really important to consider what the culture is like. It's very, very difficult being the only one. I've been in situations where being the only female or the only African American or whatever in a particular situation. So understanding that hiring one individual that might be underrepresented can put a burden on the organization as well as the individual themselves. So think about, how you bring in a class of new hires and how they can support each other and, and what that mix looks like if you had the capacity to hire more individuals at once. But considering the culture is very important and having some support for new hires. I think we often overlook what the transition is like into a new organization, no matter what experience you have or what background you might have. So really taking that into account and being very purposeful about how you onboard people. Again, it might be an underutilized tip or trick to make the process smoother and have the retention be higher.

Erika: 05:06 Oh, that's great. So you've hired a number of people, so what are some of the things you've done to make on-boarding simpler or more successful? More welcoming.

Sherisse: 05:18 Now remember, we're a small organization, but perhaps this can be applied in a, in a larger organization in smaller groups. But I truly believe that connections, important decisions and being able to create that culture happens over food. So we embrace the idea of going to lunch as a team and having that time that's not as structured, but when you can have more free-flowing conversation, I just think a lot of good, important connections happen over meals. And so being able to do that, it's different than having a meeting where you bring in lunch but having lunch be a part of the purpose for getting together.

Erika: 06:03 Oh that's great. So really kind of, I suspect that what happens, cause I've seen this with a lot of groups is it kind of three dimensionalizes people's understanding of each other. They see each other more holistically rather than just 'this is the job that you do.'

Sherisse: 06:16 Right, right. And even talking about things like there are a lot of tools for neutral hiring practices. And so if this is an area that you really want to improve, maybe use one of those lunch conversations and talk about how can we have neutral hiring practices and people can bring forth what they've learned and read about those, which ones could they implement and why? So there's a little bit of a purpose to the conversation, but there's this openness of being able to have a discussion about it as opposed to a presentation or readout or a very structured meeting.

Erika: 06:49 Oh, I love that. Interactive. That's great. So then what about women who are already in tech careers and companies, what can they do to help other women think more about considering careers in technology and also to welcome women as they come into their organizations?

Sherisse: 07:06 Oh, I have a lot to say about this. So to help me not forget all of them, I'll list them out. The first one is I think how you, what sort of organizations you support and conferences that you support, for your team, and another one is the mentorship, and the way people engage, and what sort of structures you can put in place for that. So I'll talk about those two and then there's a third one that might be helpful. I think it's really important when you're doing continuing education and when you're sending people to conferences, especially those that you sponsor to, insist, or withhold your sponsorship if you could be so bold, to groups that will commit to having a diverse slate within the conference itself. So what does the speaker list look like? Are they all the same, age and stage of career, gender, background, et cetera, and then making sure that you're supporting organizations that have taken, you know, bringing, diversity of thought into their conference. So that's one way you can kind of vote with your dollars and also send people to conferences that meet that criteria. It's a simple thing, but it definitely, you know, kind of raises people's awareness. And then what are the types of systems that you put in place for mentorship within the organization, either formally or informally. But the last one, I know it was true in my career. I didn't really understand the power of how to be a very strong advocate. That can be how do you write a really compelling, intro to someone in your network or send something through LinkedIn that gets people's attention. How do you take someone by the elbow at a networking event and make sure that they've been introduced or at least exposed to key thought leaders in that space? Another thing that we talk about very often. It can be very powerful. And I know, maybe more as a woman, I didn't hone those skills or understand the importance of them until later in my career. And I wish that I had understood that earlier and now I spend some time helping others in those with those skills.

Erika: 09:15 I love that. I think it's really important and it's something I've actually thought about a lot because I think a lot in terms of, you know, men have been in the workplace for literally thousands of years and we are now just starting the third generation of women in the workplace, in the Western world, which is brand new, right? And so we're having to find this stuff out all by ourselves. And I think that thing of, informally mentoring and advocating for younger proteges is something that men have literally been doing forever. And so, you know, sometimes men do it for women, but it's great for us as women to start going, Oh, wait a minute, this is something that I can do to really help young women succeed.

Sherisse: 10:00 And there's not a lot of resources I found, and so I started to literally keep a list of fantastic, intros that people have made for me, or you know, phenomenal LinkedIn snippets, there's some great ways where you put your reputation on the line basically.

Erika: 10:21 Yes.

Sherisse: 10:21 And those are the ones that get people's attention. You've got to meet this person because of X. There's an excitement. Let's let that excitement come through.

Erika: 10:28 Yeah. That's great. And then finally, what tips do you have for the women who are trying to find jobs and succeed in the tech sector, what are some of the things that you've learned that you could tell them to help them be more successful?

Sherisse: 10:43 Well, there are quite a few resources, in terms of helping people, particularly people that are reentering the workforce, do that in a way, kind of leap forward or catch up to what's been happening. Maybe some say, some took some time off, so I think definitely, you know, checking those resources is important, understanding and getting to be a part of the community, before you want to actually do the job search. You know, they always say you need to know people before you have the ask. So meetups, conferences, volunteering at conferences is an amazing way to, in a nonthreatening way to get, connections. Because at the end of the day, I think the best jobs are jobs that are not necessarily, pre posted. They're not necessarily on on job boards, but understanding what an organization needs, what your unique strengths and talents are to bring to their matching those, makes for the win win on both sides.

Erika: 11:44 That's great. I love that. And I remember reading a couple of years ago that some remarkably high number of jobs happen because of personal connection. I think that's great, what else? If you had to give one last tip, like I'm a young woman looking for a job in tech, what would you suggest that I do?

Sherisse: 12:05 Well, a couple of things. I do think that organizations like NC Witt and those that are getting data associated with why diversity matters are things to become versed in. And the additional advantage of understanding those organizations is that they highlight companies that are best in class. So there's no reason that you shouldn't go for the organization that already have a culture that you want to be a part of. But again, the initiative and understanding what are some of your unique skills, maybe some of your creative skills and talents that you can bring to bear. Women are notorious for not applying for a job if they don't meet every single criteria on the job description list. And, studies have shown that men will apply for a job where they might only have 50% of the criteria. So keep some of those things in mind and, you really have to go for it. One of my favorite jobs was when I got to be a Walt Disney Imagineer. I became an intern after I'd had a full time job and I took a risk and kind of took a pay cut and didn't necessarily have all the job - I know I didn't have all the criteria for that job - but you know, kind of jumping in and being a little bit fearless, is something I think helps to get to the places that you really like to be.

Erika: 13:34 Oh, this is great. Well thank you so much. It's wonderful to get your insights and as always, I wish we had another hour or so. So listeners, if you're interested in finding out more about Pagedip, you can go to their website at So thank you so much Sherisse for joining me.

Sherisse: 13:53 I enjoyed it. Thank you and happy, happy new year. Thank you.

Erika: 13:57 And for more resources about building your own career, you can go to and click on managing your career. So thank you for listening. And until next time, here's to creating the life you truly want.