Women in technology: We are all stakeholders

Since its inception in 2017, OCLC’s DevConnect series has been focused on library technology. Over the years, we’ve shared presentations that focus on the things that drive library innovation—specific APIs, projects, and code. However, the team that produces the DevConnect series is co-ed, and this year we wanted to focus on the people who move the field forward.

The three panelists who participated in our Women in Technology panel discussion:

  • Binaebi Akah Calkins, Manager, User Experience Design
  • Rebecca Bryant, PhD, Senior Program Officer, OCLC Research
  • Lori Pearson, Executive Director, Application Services, Global Information Technology

have three very different roles at OCLC, but I found that the perspectives and advice they shared were complementary. I invite everyone to take the time to watch the recording of our panel discussion. In addition, I’d like to share some of the most valuable insights that I came away with after our conversation.

“Have imposter moments, but not an imposter life”

Over the past few years, imposter syndrome has been widely and openly discussed. Online, you can find lots of tips for dealing with imposter syndrome, while others have argued that the real problem lies in how women are still treated in the workplace. Because there is still so much discussion around the topic, we felt that it was important to discuss imposter syndrome as a group.

All three women said that they’ve struggled with imposter syndrome at one time or another, whether they were up for a challenging new job, leading a team of application developers, or participating in a workplace project.

  • Showcase both your strengths and weaknesses: As a leader in OCLC’s Global Information Technology division, Lori has found value in sharing both strengths and weaknesses with colleagues. Building authenticity with your team will allow you to highlight your own strengths while still making room for others to contribute. Organizations succeed when employees have complementary strengths, rather than homogenous skills.
  • Give yourself a chance: Looking back, Binaebi still regrets talking herself out of big opportunities. If you’re up for a promotion or inclusion in an important project, it’s likely that people will listen to you if you tell them that you’re unqualified. Be honest but emphasize your skills and look forward to opportunities for growth.
  • Lead with curiosity: Even though Rebecca has felt imposter syndrome at various points throughout her career, she moved past it with curiosity and ambition. Natural curiosity and the learning that follows can build confidence.

“I am large, I contain multitudes”

We should all appreciate the value of what we bring to the table at work. Binaebi emphasized that women should not shrink at work, diminishing our own contributions and accomplishments. She quoted Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” when talking about advice that she’s received from previous mentors. If we shrink from opportunities in the workplace, we aren’t allowing our colleagues to benefit from our perspective and abilities.

Valuable insights from a recent #OCLC “Women in Technology” panel in this #OCLCnext overview from Anna Jones. Click To Tweet

In a mostly virtual world, it can be especially hard to be seen and heard by colleagues. Luckily, there were some great suggestions for how to be heard:

  • Find your ally: In meetings, it can be a challenge to match our cadence to other meeting participants, particularly when the discussion is lively. In this case, Binaebi recommends finding an ally ahead of time. If there’s a peer in your meeting who seems to have an easier time breaking into the conversation, you may consider speaking with that person ahead of time. Ask your colleague to help by drawing you into the conversation if they notice that you haven’t had a chance to contribute. If you notice that your colleagues haven’t had a chance to speak up, consider doing the same.
  • Use the chat feature: Chat is helpful during fast-paced meetings. Rebecca recommends a short message in chat to indicate that you have something to add. Some folks may feel more comfortable with chat messages, so pay attention for messages from your colleagues, too.
  • Everybody has something to contribute: Lori reminds us that it is important to trust in yourself and your ideas. Take a moment to ask ourselves why we’re doubting our contributions.

“It never occurred to me to ask”

Early in Rebecca’s career, she found herself doubting her path, and she asked a mentor how she might get a position that interested her. The mentor’s response was revelatory—ask. Even though she hadn’t considered asking for the job she wanted, it worked, and she was given a position when one became available.

Rebecca’s experience is hardly unique. Women often fail to ask for or negotiate things like job offers, benefits, and pay. We fear appearing pushy or ungrateful, even though negotiation is an important part of the hiring process. It may be daunting, but there are some steps we can take to be better advocates for ourselves:

“We all are stakeholders in this”

When people think about leadership, most people think of something specific, possibly a coach, an admired supervisor at work, or a politician. But we all need to work together to create a workplace that is truly equitable.

  • Leadership can be nurturing. Lori shared a powerful story of a colleague who passed away in the workplace. Through shared grief and compassion, Lori was still able to successfully lead her team. This is an important reminder that traditional leadership may not be the only, or even the best, way to lead.
  • Build out support systems for one another. Binaebi talked about the importance of a “found family” at work. Even though we aren’t all in supervisory positions, our close network of colleagues can help us to better succeed at work. These are the people who we can count on when we need to talk about a challenge or ask for support in meetings.

I’m so grateful that I work for an organization with people like Binaebi, Lori, and Rebecca, and to count them as members of my network. I can think of no better way to close than by sharing a quote from Rebecca:

“We still have a retention problem for women and for people of color. We all are stakeholders in this.”

Rebecca Bryant, PhD, is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research, where she leads and develops areas for the OCLC Research Library Partnership and for OCLC Research related to research information management (RIM), research data management (RDM), and institutional scholarly communications practices.

Binaebi Akah Calkins is Manager of User Experience Design at OCLC. She has a trained background in human computer interaction design, computer engineering, English, and the arts, making her comfortable with multi-disciplinary teams and multiple stakeholders. She is known as a “disruption for good,” advocating for inclusive, user-centered experiences whenever she walks into the room.

Lori Pearson is Executive Director for Application Services, Global Information Technology at OCLC. She is a results-driven executive with a highly successful career directing global teams. She works to inspire teams through a shared vision and positively influences individuals to achieve goals.

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