Comcast Women in Tech Conference

“The Future of Women in the Tech Workforce”
March 21, 2019

As prepared for delivery:

Welcome. It’s wonderful to look out on a sea of women—colleagues and peers who have achieved on a level that will serve to strengthen the professional achievements of all women technologists. Congratulations on being Comcast’s top performers. Give yourselves a round of applause.

I also want to commend Comcast and its family of companies for having the commitment to stage a rigorous conference like this one, where women are truly seeing each other en masse—as peers in achievement and as sisters in a continuing and noble task. Thank you, Comcast.

I’m going to do something a little different today. I’m going to talk to you without PowerPoint and without slides. I know that as women in tech, you’re especially accustomed to seeing screens. So today, I want to push those to the side for a few moments and talk to you like this … woman to woman.

I thought it would be fun to start with a show of hands that underscores the geographical distribution of those gathered here today. Although I’m living in Philadelphia now as dean of Drexel University’s College of Engineering, I’m originally from California—are there any of my fellow Californians out there? How about from the East Coast? From the Midwest? And from the south?

(Show of hands.) Thank you for that—it’s good to see that we have women leaders hailing from all over the country. That is as it should be.

In my talk today, I would like to include in my terminology a broad muster of scientists. So when I say “tech,” I mean STEM, technology, engineering, computing, science … all those domains, interchangeably.

I want to start our conversation the way all relatable conversations are started—with a story. This one is about a Latina girl who excelled in mathematics. Let’s see if you recognize her.

By the time this young girl was in fifth grade, her talent outpaced most other students in her elementary school. People noticed. Her parents were advised to provide enrichment activities, which they did in earnest. She was encouraged to take the hardest courses in high school. Her abilities were nurtured throughout. After graduation, she got a degree in computer engineering. Rather than pursue a doctorate, she founded a startup in cloud computing for medical companies that would become one of the most successful on the West Coast. Venture capitalists competed to support her incipient company. Seed money was plentiful.

She was able to pursue this path because people were inspired by her ideas and her competence in communicating them. No one commented on her looks. No one remarked on her ethnicity, or her age. No one questioned her professional commitment. No one put their hand on her knee under a conference room table. No one asked if she was married or if she was single or if she planned to have children.

Today, she is the Chair and CEO of her own company. It’s comprised of 52% women. It offers flexible work schedules, two months paid family leave, and generous salaries based not on gender but on performance. She is preparing for early retirement … just as soon as she finishes grooming her daughter to run the company.

If anyone in this audience is wondering what “The Next Generation of the Tech Workforce” looks like, that’s it right there.

Dean Walker at the COMCAST Women in tech conference
Dean Walker addresses the conference at the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, it’s the future of women in tech. The present doesn’t look anything like this. This story is merely aspirational. It might have some glancing similarity for some women out there in the workforce—and I’ll talk about statistics in a moment. But we can be sure that almost no woman currently working in the United States followed such a seamless path to success in the tech industry.

So that’s why we’re here today—to commend and celebrate those of you who continue to blaze a trail for yourselves and for future generations of working technologists—our friends, our daughters, our nieces, our neighbors, the little girl down the street who smiles at you every time she sees you because you look like her, and because she hopes someday to be you.

Our job is, in part, to inspire each other to usher the story I told out of the realm of fiction, and make it a reality. Because that is the only “Next Generation of the Tech Workforce” that is acceptable from this point on. If anyone is in a position to contribute to the promise of that future, those of you gathered here today are among them.

It’s going to be a tall order, at least for the foreseeable future. Because the statistics for women in tech are pretty grim.

I want to inspire and challenge you to persevere in spite of these stats. I’m excited for you to have the opportunity to work together. I’m excited that you’ll be working on presentation skills, development planning, and team management. I want you to leave this gathering thinking there’s something we can do together about the future. Because this two-day forum is about developing your capacity. Which in turn will lead to a new generation inspired by your accomplishments.

Wherever one woman is ascendant, she is sure to bring her sisters along for the ride.

I want to emphasize the good news first: there is an undeniable need for a broader tech workforce. The United States will simply cease to be a player in the tech field unless it diversifies the demographics of those who practice in it. And this is good news for all of us. In this landscape, we should and will find room for everyone who wants a place in it: women, underrepresented populations, and the socioeconomically diverse.

The numbers under this rubric are promising, at least as far as job creation goes:

The management consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated in a 2017 online report that education has not kept pace with the evolving nature of work, so that employers are now struggling to find the employees they need with the skills the workplace demands. In their report, they describe:

  • that there will be a shortfall of 250,000 data scientists and statisticians within the next decade;
  • that one-third of the jobs created in the US in the past 25 years didn’t exist 30 years ago, like IT development, app creation, systems manufacturing;
  • that some 30% to—40% of the working-age population around the world is underutilized.

A Forbes Magazine story from 2017 reports that San Francisco alone has seen a remarkable 90% growth in technology jobs in the past decade, and a 36.5% increase in STEM jobs between 2006 and 2016.

The website Small Business Trends published a piece in December reporting that in April of 2017, there were 627,000 unfilled technology jobs across the country. Software, cybersecurity, and cloud computing professionals, in particular, are in high demand.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015:

  • the country logged 8.6 million STEM jobs;
  • mathematical science occupations are projected to grow by 28.2%;
  • and it projects that by 2022, there will be 4.5 million jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, up from 3.8 million in 2012.

And a recently aired “60 Minutes” program—which I assume many of you either watched or heard about—corroborated that there are over half a million open computing jobs in the United States today.

Believe it or not, this is good news. If there are jobs, and not enough people to fill them, the net will be thrown wider. Sheer necessity will drive diversity into the workforce. I wish it were not true that so many of our advances have been achieved in this fashion. But since necessity is the mother of invention, she may also be the mother of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Dr. Maria Klawe, the fifth president of Harvey Mudd College and a powerhouse among women in tech, was quoted in a recent interview in Wired Magazine:

“The reality is, if tech companies can’t persuade more women and people of color to major in computer science, they are not going to be able to fill the positions that they have.”

These statistics and figures shift and change slightly depending on where you’re reading them and what year they apply to. But they all point in the same direction: there are multitudes of jobs in the tech universe.

So … when I’m talking about the future of women in tech, what I want to know is, to what degree are we going to participate in this rolling tech revolution?

Now, I want to take a brief turn to the dark side. Because if we really want to look at the future workforce—and particularly the workforce for future generations of women—we have to see how bad the present is.

The New York Times a month ago carried a story titled “Stop Counting Women.” In it, the author Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote, “To count something is to see it, to understand it, to have the illusion of control over it.” She argued against the idea of counting women in leadership roles, and against using numbers to mark progress or to strategize.

I respectfully disagree. We’re not yet in a position to stop counting. That is what you do when the numbers are so good that you don’t have to keep track of them anymore. And sometimes, sheer tally sheets are the only thing that will convince a monolithic and resistant patriarchy. You brandish a sheet of numbers and say, “Look! You cannot argue with this!”

So what are we talking about here? Let’s count. And then let’s see what that means.

I’m using some of the same sources I quoted earlier. They are useful because they reflect the defining spirit and controversies of our times, and those are important densities:

  • A January 2018 story in Wired Magazine reported that in the tech industry, women hold only around one-fifth of technical roles.
  • The “60 Minutes” segment reported that while computing jobs are being created at the rate of 4x other jobs across the nation, women fill just one-quarter of them.
  • The Girl Scouts Research Institute found that 81% of girls are interested in pursuing STEM careers, but only 13% name it as their first choice of careers.
  • A recent MIT Technology Review story reported that women in 2018 made up only 20% of engineers at Google and Facebook, with an even lower percentage at Uber;
  • The National Center for Women & Information Technology’s 2016 report on women in tech said women were more than twice as likely as men to quit their jobs;
  • Two women sociologists—at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor and the University of California/San Diego—tracked child-free scientists over eight years to see how parenthood affects career trajectories. They found that more than 40% of women with full-time jobs in science left the sector or went part-time after having their first child. By the end of the study, 43% of the women had left full-time STEM employment;
  • the “60 Minutes” segment reports that only 75 teachers of computer science graduated in 2018 from all US universities and colleges.
  • in 2018, women make up less than 20% of US technologists, even though they comprise half of the US workforce.

But perhaps this is the most dispiriting statistic of all: Girls Who Code statistics were cited in a recent website story reporting that in 1984, 37% of all computer science degrees were earned by women.

That number today is 18%.

Gender isn’t the only concern, of course. If the percentage of female technical employees is below 20% at most companies, people of color are, in the words of Dr. Maria Klawe, In the single digits! Like, one-handed digits.”

The early big tech companies were incredibly equitable by comparison with today’s companies. Last century, IBM and HP by all accounts made great strides in hiring women and people of color. Then came Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Without denigrating their achievements … once they hit the scene, computing became a male-dominated terrain.

I am painting a picture here of what you already know, which is that the tech world is not supportive of women or people who want to have balanced lives, by whatever measure. And I want to emphasize—this is not just about finding time for our kids and our families. It’s about balance, for everyone.

I don’t mind sharing some details of my own personal story with you. They would include a thousand challenges that stem from my being a woman. Like the anecdote about how, in my eagerness to attend my graduation from a leadership training program three years ago, I planned to take a train across the US from California to Philadelphia since I was too pregnant to fly. I had gone to great lengths to identify and schedule friends to take us in if I went into labor during the train trip. I didn’t want to miss that ceremony! I had spent eight months working through that incredible program! But these kinds of challenges cannot be trifled with. I hate to agree with Freud who said that “anatomy is destiny.” But in some cases, as a woman, you simply cannot get around it. I had labor complications and I had to stay home.

… But I want to emphasize, the challenges we face in tech and in science professions are not just about kids, because this, too, has been a way to pigeonhole women. I don’t want to just focus on family. I want to focus on life, so that nobody’s left out. We really need to look at the fact that people deserve a better life balance, whether they have kids or not … whether they are women or not.

What is it about the tech industry, anyway?

Compare it with other fields—the film industry, for instance, which just had its annual, glittering Academy Awards ceremony. Several years ago, the hashtag “Oscars So White” became a rallying cry for people of color who had been rebuffed by the Academy. There’s always room for more equity, but to some degree, that cry was heard and it’s been reflected in the last two awards shows. In the world of sports, Serena Williams is one of the best-known and most accomplished athletes in the world. Women of color are dominating the prize lists in literature. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and the “Notorious RBG” stand watch over the US Supreme Court. In politics, we have several women running for president in 2020, including women of color. Incredible!

But I was just out in Silicon Valley meeting with a group of Drexel alums at an event, and I was struck by the homogeneity.

One of the very biggest challenges we face now is the lack of female role models culturally. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has a great tagline: “If she can see it, she can be it.” And yet … when we look for movies where women are crushing it in the tech field, we find only a handful of examples with national distribution:

  • there is the success of the movie “Hidden Figures,” which we hope will generate more such pictures;
  • there is the STEM genius Princess Shuri in the movie “The Black Panther,”
  • there is “Contact,” the 1997 movie in which Jodie Foster stars as an astrophysicist;
  • and the 2012 film and web series “Black Girls Code”;
  • and the episode of “Chasing Grace” you viewed yesterday;
  • and ducking back a little bit, “The X-Files” with Dana Scully—who served as a STEM inspiration for so many women working today.

These are part of a small, earnest collection of films focused on women in tech. Why is this the way it is? Why are there so few women examples, role models, and trailblazers?

The factors are myriad, and they’re pervasive. We hear that:

  • the work environment is hostile to women and to families, and to the work-life balance;
  • women are often shunted into areas where they’re executing projects rather than creating them, as if we are better at administration than innovation;
  • the pipeline has historically not been there, so that girls are not encouraged to go into computer and science fields, and since no one chooses in a vacuum, they don’t;
  • that we need more flex-time, more remote time, more on-site daycare.

The “60 Minutes” story reported that there are currently 4,000 job openings at Microsoft alone. It said the few women with degrees in computer science “are as heavily recruited as star athletes.” There are so few of them. There are not enough of them going into the field. The so-called pipeline is actually just “a trickle.” The field is so male-dominated that it doesn’t make women comfortable.

Why not?

Well, for one thing, there is the continuing menace of sexual harassment. I was both elated and aggrieved by the recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on sexual harassment in America released last year. That’s a big deal! I was elated because, yes!, the problem was finally acknowledged in a national survey, and because it highlights women’s persistence in the face of these confrontations. I was aggrieved because I thought, oh, how nice—the male authorities have discovered that women are being harassed! They have ordained it to be true, so now it’s true.

However, I do want to caution us—now that more men and progressive organizations are supporting the change, we don’t want to slow down their ally-ship. We need them as professional partners and as allies.

What does support look like coming from men?

When I got the deanship at Drexel, I was walking around my former campus at the University of California-Riverside with an associate dean, a friend of mine. He’s an older white man with gray hair. And another staff person came up to us with a very distinguished visitor and said to that visitor, “Would you like to meet the new dean of engineering of Drexel?” Now, this distinguished visitor was a woman. When she reached her hand out to shake my friend’s hand— assuming he was the new dean—he said, “Well, it’s nice to meet you, but I’m not the dean. She’s the dean. She’s the boss.”

This is one of my favorite examples of advocacy. He handled it well. He backed me up firmly and has just been a consistently strong advocate.

Shortly after that scenario, another one occurred. I was at a panel event where a professional photographer took a couple of photographs of those of us gathered beforehand. And the photographer said, “I was told that the dean of engineering was going to be joining us, and I need a photo. Shall we wait for him?” People had to point to me and say, She’s the dean.

This kind of thing happens all the time.

So here’s the challenge, and it’s quite simple: Draw. More. Women. In.

We need to evolve the culture of women in tech jobs, in science and engineering jobs, in academic STEM jobs, by focusing on creating jobs, training people while they’re young, and advocating as a society of influencers for the inclusion of ALL of us. So that you don’t leave every woman out there to face this on her own.

The challenge is not complicated. But the implementation is going to be hard, hard, hard.

Before I go on, let’s take the focus off of me for a moment.

I’d like to ask you to look at the row you’re sitting in this morning. You’re probably with work friends or at least acquaintances. But look beyond those closest to you. Look at the row ahead of you, three rows behind you, over in the corner, way off in the back. Your seats are organized a little bit the way life is organized. You know those closest to you and the relationships spiral out from there. We see the people on the fringes of our lives, but we don’t know them.

But here’s the thing: all the women in this room are your allies. You’re all not only Comcast’s top performers, you are women who have achieved in the face of considerable odds: doubts about your abilities in high school, personal challenges, divorces, competition, layoffs, promotions, cross-country relocations, college debt, aging parents. And yet here you are. Look around. Take a moment to appreciate the variety of sisterhoods here today.

Again, you are the future of the tech workforce. As allies for each other, you’re going to drive that future ahead of you and pull it behind you, simultaneously.

Keeping the focus on you, I want to ask a couple of questions. I’d like to have a show of hands:

  • How many of you loved math, science, and tech when you were young girls?
  • How many of you feel you were encouraged as young girls to pursue math and science?
  • How many of you felt you had a woman mentor to look up to?
  • How many feel you are satisfied with your work-life balance?

For every woman who raised her hand, I would like to task you with changing the work culture— creating a new one. I’d like to charge you and challenge you with setting a new tone.

At an October conference on women, Professor Jennifer Rexford, department chair of computer science at Princeton University and a veteran of industry, talked about innovating the inside of the Internet itself. She likened that process to “changing the wheels of a car while it is being driven.” I love that analogy, because I think it applies not only to changing the Internet, but changing the culture of the tech workforce. It’s already underway. We’re going to have to change a monolith that’s in motion.

What does it mean to create a new work culture in the tech world that can be supportive and inclusive of balanced lives?

For starters, I’ll take ownership of the fact that I’m tackling that in academia, because academia hasn’t done much better. I’m charging us … from the corporate to the academic, across the spectrum of tech … with the knowledge that we, as a group of women leaders in this room, need to be the ones to lead the change.

We have to recruit for these positions by emphasizing what works to attract a wider crowd of tech talent. We have to emphasize that we need people skills, communications skills, and above all, creativity—all of the qualities that define inclusivity, and that, in point of fact, appeal to girls and young women. I can say with all certainty that one of the things girls are encouraged to indulge from a very young age is their own creativity.

In addition, we need a new paradigm on how to relate to each other that doesn’t involve things that have been used to define us by those who are NOT US. It cannot include presumptive criteria or tolerate the old definitions of what achievers should look like, where they should be educated, what color their skin is, what age they are …

If we have a moment to speak later on, I would love to hear what you think those old, outdated definitions are, and how you think they have conspired to make the environment of technology and science so inopportune for women.

All of us, even in the way we engage, in our inclusivity, in our language, have to set the tone by a myriad of new approaches.

For instance, do you remember the “amplify” movement? This came about because when a woman would say something in a meeting, no one would respond. And then a guy would say the same thing and be applauded or acknowledged for it. The amplify movement said, if a woman says something, you step in and say, “As Jennifer says, we should do X.” The point was to amplify and advocate.

Things like that are enormously helpful in evolving the workplace. We should be looking to support each other, creating these professional networks, amplifying each other. And it’s not just about women, it’s about everyone— inclusion is so critical.

I was delighted to read the Comcast Newsmakers interview with Terri Brax, founder of Women Tech Founders, whose amusing and widely acknowledged acronym is “WTF.” You gotta love it! During her interview, Brax says that Chicago now leads the world in startups by women. She noted that only 2.7% of women-led startups were getting venture capital funding. So … she decided to lead the charge and build an ecosystem of financial advocacy. She found women investors who would put their money behind those startups. Brax said she is “building an army of role models” for women. So that when we’re looking around for the deep pockets of support, they are not originating under the old paradigm.

It’s a hard world. It’s a raw and in some places really uninviting place. But we have to do everything we can about advocating for each other and pulling each other forward.

Part of the really great news is that some of the most crucial skills for surviving and thriving in the future tech workforce are those that have historically been associated with women. I don’t want to limit our capabilities or accept the old categories on what women are good at. But these qualities are constantly being flagged as essential to today’s world. And they are shown to appeal especially to young women.

We need to frame the tech job market in terms of three important factors:

  • Creative intelligence
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Technology acumen

Historically, for example, engineering curricula have focused on technical skills and knowledge for fulfilling design- and solution-oriented roles in the work world. Today, we’re having to constantly revisit the education of 21st century engineers because the rules of the game are changing faster than anyone can codify them. And that means new streams of pedagogical influence so that young engineers can deliver on foundational skills. We need to thoughtfully work with our “Gen Z” students on these new skills sets—creative intelligence and emotional intelligence—so they can respond as fully prepared human beings to a range of social demands.

This is not a trivial task for a generation that hasn’t lived without an electronic device in front of them at all times.

So, why are skills like creative intelligence so important to inclusivity?

“60 Minutes” reported Microsoft research findings that 90% of girls identify themselves as “creative,” but when asked about computer science, they don’t see it as creative. That is important … Because if we know what draws them in and what repels them, we can work to build appropriate strategies. We can recast the requirements so that younger generations respond with their innate strengths. Tech jobs are not only about mathematical competence; they’re about creativity. That’s a great—and compelling—message. And it’s one that girls will respond to. To break that old, received wisdom if we have to, they’ll say, “My teachers say that math is for boys … but I am creative.”

There are so many smaller gestures, courtesies, and reinforcements we can practice that serve to strengthen confidence in the women around us.

Dean Walker at the COMCAST Women in tech conference
Dean Walker speaks with conference attendees.

When there’s a team and you see somebody who’s constantly providing for a broad and inclusive opportunity, thank them. If you’re their supervisor, reward them. Give them an honorarium to publicly celebrate good behavior. I still do gold stars! I still do certificates of merit! Darn it, good behavior and leadership-in-action deserve a trophy!

Then there is mentoring. You simply have to make time for it. Maybe it means mentoring a fifth-grader. Maybe it means judging a science fair. Maybe it means going into a school and doing a career day. And all of this is on top of very busy work schedules with high expectations of performance, and you have to keep performing because that is ultimately what we’re paid for and what we’re promoted for. You still have to get your work done. But you also have to be awesome.

So it’s just an added … well, one could argue that it’s an added burden. I’m mentoring four women at different stages in their career, and I fit in phone calls usually in my personal time in the evenings and early mornings. And I’ll admit it, it’s a burden. It’s not part of my job description. It’s not what I’m being compensated for. But I do it because it’s what I believe in and it’s the right thing to do. It’s a task we have to bear and take on. Support and elevate those around you.
For those of us who are in positions of influence or who will be, I would urge you to use your influence to oversee the kinds of changes that will one day make all these grim statistics obsolete. It is imperative that we advocate for those women coming up behind us—and not just women, but those who have historically been underrepresented in engineering and in the STEM fields.

I want to encourage you to participate in a little experiment while you’re here, along with all the other tasks you’ll have: find a mentor, and find a mentee. So that we keep it simple, ask the mentor one question: what kind of advice can you pass on; what’s your most important earned wisdom? And the mentee—do one thing for her; put her in touch with someone she should know to improve her career or make a phone call for her daughter or her niece or her friend who is out of work. Do just one thing. Who knows where it will lead?

Look, there’s a lot of good news about how adroitly women are contributing to technology. So let’s acknowledge that trend and deepen it and encourage it. First, look around at some of the great things that are happening for women in tech. These are just a few examples I’ve seen in recent weeks:

  • A Google employee named Emma just set a new world record for computing the most accurate value of Pi, breaking the former record by nearly 10 trillion digits. She computed Pi—a mathematical constant whose endpoint is unknown—out to 31.4 trillion digits. Emma told an NPR interviewer that she had always been “fascinated” by Pi and that she “liked computers” when she was a kid.
  • Last year, Dr. Mareena Robinson Snowden was the first black woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT.
  • Last year, the optical physicist Donna Strickland won a Nobel Prize in Physics, the third woman ever to do so.
  • Coding classes are showing up in elementary schools all across the nation. It’s just a matter of time. If a love of coding and computers and math takes hold at a young age, it will endure. Period.
  • Susan Wojcicki (Woe-jis-key), the CEO of YouTube, was named seventh on the Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. To put that in some perspective, the top two women on that list are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minster Theresa May.
  • An AI system, developed by IBM to demonstrate cognitive sophistication in robotics, debated a University of Oxford World Champion debater. They identified the robot’s gender as “female.” They gave it the voice of a woman.
  • NASA has just announced the first all-women crew to conduct a spacewalk at the International Space Station, with women astronauts, a woman controller at the console, and a woman lead flight director. It is scheduled to take place next week. These astronauts are from NASA’s training Class of 2013, half of whom were women.
  • And just Tuesday, Dr. Karen Uhlenbeck (You-len-beck), a professor and mathematician at the University of Texas, was named the first woman ever to win the Abel Prize, one of the field’s most prestigious awards. Uhlenbeck won for her work on partial differential equations.

There’s another, compelling reason for why women need to blanket the tech industry, quite apart from our own ambitions and the ambitions of the next generation.

Amid the rush to new, cutting-edge, staggeringly inventive technology, I think a certain amount of wisdom and prudence is required. I’m certainly not suggesting that these are solely the purview of women. But I do think empathy is one of our strongest suits, and I think women will make certain not only that our technology is cutting-edge, but that it serves our most commendable needs: the quality of life, diversity, equity of opportunity, access of opportunity.

Those of you in the audience today know better than anyone what’s on the horizon of technology:

  • the challenge of secure electronic voting, which is considered one of our electoral process’ weakest links
  • facial recognition technology that is not perpetuating unconscious bias
  • the management of social media that is often used to spread hatred and messages of violence, so that it to serves our best impulses
  • solutions to carbon sequestration
  • new options in grid-scale energy storage
  • solutions to dementia treatment
  • new ideas on ocean clean-up
  • energy-efficient desalination, something my own College of Engineering is working on now through a professor named Katya; yep, a woman engineer         

Before I close, a word on leadership. It’s customary for people in a position like mine to say that I never expected I would be standing in front of you as Drexel University’s first woman dean of engineering. But the fact is, I certainly did expect this. Or something like it. I knew from the time I was a young girl that I wanted to be in a position of leadership. I just knew I was wired for this.

I was also self-directed towards science. For my whole life, I’ve been a natural systems thinker. I’ve always understood the interconnectivity of people, things, institutions—all those organizational pieces that made me a good engineer and that I bring to bear today on my own position of leadership. But it was also very difficult to know exactly how to funnel my ambition into a clear path of advancement.

Conclaves like the one you’re participating in today helped me clarify and strengthen my sense of what leadership really is. I think of a leader as the person who exemplifies qualities that people follow because there is a desire and an understanding of what that person’s vision is, and it’s so well-articulated that you can’t imagine not following them. And when I say follow, I mean following their example, supporting their vision. It might be a vision for an engineering department. It might be a vision for a college, a tech company, or an entire culture of work. It’s that kind of long-term vision that has a more substantial impact.

This kind of leader is a service leader, and I really believe in this concept: people who take themselves out of the equation of self-interest. These leaders may have a good strong ego, and they have to have a sound sense of self. But they’re people who are motivated beyond their own outcomes. They’re motivated by a sense of the broader good. They’re motivated by empathy. I think this is a particular strength of women.

I also want to stress the idea of intentionality in mapping out a professional career. I love the idea of being resolved: have a resolution and intentionally plan where you want to go. You have to structure it in a way that makes sense for you, even if that structure doesn’t have a timeline affixed to it. You need to give yourself some framework, because in the tech world there’s often no positive feedback and no one who is going to say, “This is your next step.”

Just keeping your toolkit fresh is also terribly important. I have done several leadership programs over the past decade, including ELATES, CORO, and HERS. They’re all good, and they all provide that momentum. But you have to keep your skills current, and that’s on you. That’s part of the intentionality.

And this network of women here today! Do not let go of this network! In a world where we don’t otherwise have many peers, this network is one of your greatest assets. That’s ally-ship. That’s really something to think about when you’ve been isolated for so long. The network of like-minded women has been one of the biggest gifts I’ve had in my own career.

This is the challenge before us, ladies. I don’t wish us luck. I wish us a manifestation of what we already have as women in tech, in STEM, in engineering, in math … in command of our lives and our futures.

What I wish for you—for us—is something we already have as women, and certainly something that this group here today has … or you would not have attained this level of achievement:

… if you have ever walked into a boardroom where you were the only woman; if you were the only woman on a construction site or in a design classroom; if you were harassed; if you were ignored; if you were talked over; if you faced down a boy in the schoolyard who thought you threw like a girl; if you had to defend your decision or demand your right to be in sales, to get an MBA, to learn to code, to put on a lab coat … then you already have it.

So, I wish more of it for all of you tonight so that the tech field will not feel the need to question ever again whether we are fit to do the jobs we want to do.

What I wish for you is one bracing, abiding, unassailable shot of attitude.

Thank you.