Ben Silbermann, the founder of Pinterest, has given keynotes at Alt Summit a couple times now. I remember people gushing about his talk the first time he spoke there, even though I wasn’t in attendance.
So I was really excited to see that he was back on the Alt Summit schedule this year as the closing keynote. He had a lot of really wonderful things to say, and I did enjoy his talk, despite being pretty exhausted from the previous three days packed full of really great content and new friends.
I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime towards the end of his talk or at the beginning of the Q and A session afterward, I got a sinking feeling in my gut. Why? Because I thought of a question to ask him. I knew if I didn’t ask it, I would regret it for a long time. I’ve never spoken into a microphone in a room full of that many people and I was shaking. But I had to do it. So I stood up and Ellen handed me a mic.
“Hi. My name is Lisa. I have a background in the humanities, but I’ve made a career transition into tech and I just accepted a position as a front-end web developer at Urban Outfitters. Do you have any advice or wisdom for people like me as we transition into an industry that isn’t necessarily welcoming, and at times can be downright hostile, towards women?”
Now, I know this was a Q and A session at a women’s blogging conference. He wasn’t prepared to talk about the massive gender gap in tech. To be honest, I don’t really remember his answer because I was so stunned that I had opened my mouth in front of so many people, but I do remember being mildly unimpressed. It boiled down to something about reaching out to other women in the industry and that changing social norms takes time. I do remember that he congratulated me on my new job, which was pretty surreal and awesome.
But, like, duh. Of course I’ve been networking. Of course I’ve worked really hard. I was a little disappointed he didn’t say something super brilliant. But to be fair, he wasn’t prepared to answer questions like that. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter.
The real reason I wanted to ask that question was to bring more attention to the issue. I wanted to bring it up in front of that audience. I wanted to bring it up in front of the founder of a huge and massively popular tech company. I wanted to be visible as a female web developer.
Social change is slow, it’s true, but visibility helps.
In the spirit of showing up and being seen, I applied to speak on a panel at the 3rd Philadelphia Women in Tech Summit, and I was accepted. I decided to apply at the very last minute, without worrying about rejection, just to see what would happen. I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m a little nervous. If you’re near Philadelphia and even vaguely interested, I’d love to see you there.
Is there any area you’d like to be more visible in? Have you taken any risks, “just to see what would happen?” Do you have any public speaking advice?