Key Takeaways from Atlassian’s Inaugural Girl Geek Event

Two weeks ago we hosted our very first Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner. Typically these events feature a series of lightning talks by several of the hosting company’s female engineers on a range of topics from new coding tricks to product demos. But we held event brainstorming sessions with Atlassian women and we heard over and over that they were less interested in discussing company-centric material and instead, wanted to know more about how to tackle bigger issues – from sexism in the workplace to mastering change in a high-growth company.

So we decided to mix it up. We invited a diverse group of women tech leaders to participate in a panel discussion covering broad, industry-related gender topics. What resulted was an energizing night of debate, conversation and some interesting sound bites.

In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap of the top tips and tricks our panelists revealed (you can also check out photos from the evening here).

Women need to get more comfortable with “making the ask,” and not underestimate themselves

It’s an issue frequently highlighted in today’s media, and our panelists agreed that the problem persists. Patricia Nakache, general partner at Trinity Ventures, said she thinks part of the reason why less than 5 percent of VC funding currently goes to women is due to stylistic issues – she said that sometimes she sees “women on the margin appearing more deferential and maybe a little less confident in what they’re pursuing.”

Poornima Vijayashanker, founder and CEO of BizeeBee, suggested that “women just need to get more comfortable with making the ask – ask for what you want and what you think you deserve.” That’s one of the key reasons why she was able to raise nearly a half a million dollars for her startup.

Small, high-growth companies offer amazing career opportunities – if you’re ambitious

Audra Eng, Atlassian’s vice president of product management, said the benefit of working for a smaller, high-growth company is that it offers employees the opportunity to take on a variety of roles and responsibilities, learn quickly, and have an immediate impact. In contrast, Director of Corporate Communications at Atlassian Catherine Norman explained that larger companies tend to be more focused on getting everyone to agree, and are largely dominated by politics.

“If you are really passionate and really hard core, and really good at what you do, there’s no better place to be than a high-growth company,” said Sarah Lacy, founder and editor-in-chief of PandoDaily. “Ask any entrepreneur – hiring is the single biggest challenge we have. If someone comes in and they have the metabolism and capacity to absorb lots of pain, and deliver no matter what it takes, you will not let that person go. Whereas if you’re kind of lazy, you should probably be at a big company.”

Build a support network – before you need it

Two-thirds of the women in our Girl Geek survey cited a lack of training and mentorship as a key roadblock to their success. All of our panelists agreed that finding mentors and building a strong support network—before you need it—is extremely important. “You don’t need to find your one Mr. Miyagi,” said Poornima. Rather, she suggested finding three or four different mentors who can coach you on different aspects of your life. “Even if they’re not in your specialty but they’ve just been around the block, they can have such great advice,” added Catherine

The panelists agreed that any woman who’s had any level of success has a massive responsibility to give back and become a mentor. Poornima noted that mentoring relationships tend to be beneficial for mentors as well, as mentors can continue to learn from their mentees.

You don’t need to diminish the fact that you’re a woman to succeed – in fact, embracing it can help

Sarah said she doesn’t buy the argument that sexism is working against women in the Valley. In fact, she said there’s a lot of pressure in the industry to find companies with female CEOs. Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, for example, came to the valley to raise capital and found “that, on the contrary, everyone was so hot over the thesis of a woman doing an e-commerce company, she felt like her gender was almost something that had people frothing at the mouth.”

Sarah took her newborn baby to investor meetings while she raised $2.5 million for her new business. She said never tried to downplay the fact that she was a woman and a mom, and instead made it a part of her story, integral to how she runs her business. (Sarah currently runs her company out of her house and brings her baby with her to many business functions).

Sexism still exists – you can choose how to deal with it – but what about “ageism”?

The panelists discussed how there are things that women will encounter that men perhaps never will, but that everyone has a choice in how they react to adversity. Whether someone becomes a victim or they use it to make themselves stronger is a choice. “Some experiences can be frustrating,” added Patricia, “but I think at the end of the day, perseverance pays off.”

Interestingly, “a bigger issue than sexism in the Valley right now is ageism,” said Patricia. “There’s kind of this implicit assumption that as you get older, you get lazier, you might want to work fewer hours.” And unfortunately, “it’s even worse for women.” Audra said the best advice she’s received in the last year is to “not take anything personally,” and instead, “focus on your goal and the rest won’t matter.”

There’s no one right way to do it

In regards to the ever-popular debate of balancing work and family, all of our panelists agreed that the key is to set boundaries and stick to them, whatever they may be. Patricia, for example, draws a clear line between family and work, making sure to leave work at the office and spend time with her family in the evenings. Sarah, on the other hand, believes in complete integration of all aspects of her life.

Sarah acknowledged, however, that her lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and the only reason why she’s able to pull it off is not because she’s “some magical multi-tasker, it’s because [she] has really great help.” Patricia agreed, stressing that everyone has different compositions and therefore different boundaries. She recommended that everyone just focus on doing what’s right for them, and in turn, not judge others for their choices.

All in all, the evening was a complete success and we accomplished exactly what we set out to do – bring women in tech from around the Bay Area together for a night of networking and enlightening discussion. A big thanks goes out to all of our panelists for providing interesting food for thought; to Rebecca Buckman, our moderator extraordinaire, for keeping the debate lively and relevant; to the many Atlassians whose contributions made this night possible; and to the more than 200 attendees for supporting such an awesome organization.

We’re stoked to host more Girl Geek events in the future!