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Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: Portraits and Stories in the Age of #metoo

All portraits and interviews by John Davidson

johndavidson-photography.com

Chelsea Collier

Chelsea Collier

 
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Chelsea Collier

Job Title: Founder, Digi.City; Editor-at-Large, Smart Cities Connect; Co-Founder, Impact Hub Austin

Company Website: http://www.digi.city

Years working in the Tech Industry: 12 (working across and with the tech sector, which is a bit different than working in it).

On the Digi.City mission:

Digi.City is a platform I created to connect people, share information, and advocate for more evolved approaches to Smart Cities and the Future of Work, especially on the policy level. I publish content, host events and speak around the world hoping to inspire the civic and innovation communities to come together and build solutions in service of residents and visitors. We are living in a time that is characterized by rapid change enabled by innovation. Traditional organizations aren’t always ready, or may not know how to prepare for this new era - so I showcase communities who are leading as a way of inspiring others that this kind of digital evolution is possible and can be a positive thing.

On whether modern cities have a role to play in the struggle for gender equality:

All communities — whether cities or not — have a role to play. If you see a lack of diversity, look deeply as to why that is the case. Be open about it. Ask for help. And pay attention. A colleague made a comment recently that people group to likeness. You can see it at conferences, in public spaces, reflected in corporate cultures. When you see women or ethnic/racial representation in powerful positions it is inspiring. And when you don’t, it tells you what you need to know. Most of the time, that judgment is silent.

And here’s a little history lesson for you:

In many ancient societies, women were (rightfully) considered equals and their feminine qualities were known to be an invaluable part of making strategic decisions. It is only in more recent times that women who spoke out and were powerful were labeled ‘witches’ instead of ‘healers’ and a gentler nature was seen to be a weakness.

Personally speaking — on being passed over for career advancement, based on gender:

Absolutely. There are some incredibly obvious examples (being paid half of what my male coworkers were paid even though I had more education and relevant experience), and others more subtle. Earlier in my career, men with (my perception of) power saw my ambition and my energy and tried to transact that for their own personal gain. I have constantly had to keep one eye open, do a double step, always needing to watch for when the uncomfortable moment, discussion or blatant ask would come. That is exhausting and no person — and no woman — should have to deal with it. It’s hard enough to listen to what’s calling you, identify your strengths and learning opportunities, select the right job, the right degree, the right mentors, the right allies and support systems without always having to watch out for men with unfortunate motivations.

I have been sexually harassed at every single employee position I have ever held. Isn’t that such a shame? I’m sad that I had to deal with that as a young woman. I still hear ridiculous comments from men but I’m much stronger now and so I deal with it differently.

On sexual harassment:

I have been sexually harassed at every single employee position I have ever held. Isn’t that such a shame? I’m sad that I had to deal with that as a young woman. I still hear ridiculous comments from men but I’m much stronger now and so I deal with it differently. When you’re young and navigating power structures, that is when it is much more pervasive and damaging. I’m disappointed that other young women still have to deal with that.

On having to deal with offensive remarks, then and now:

I still let a lot go. When a male colleague calls me, “Sweetie.” When I hear a male speaker use a sexual reference during his presentation. When women are treated differently in the conversation. I always wonder if I’m letting myself and other women down by not addressing it at the time of occurrence. I now know how to educate men without shaming them. But when you’re in a group, when you’re in public, when it derails an important conversation… these are all things I weigh relative to the overall. And sometimes I just get pissed that I have to — once again — take my time and fly the flag of justice when it’s really just basic manners about how to treat other people. I get really tired of that.

On ‘man-splaining’:

Man-splaining is a real thing and on more than one occasion I’ve had to (gently) let someone know that they were speaking to me differently than other people in the group. Or that they failed to look at any women in the conversation. I can’t tell you how many meetings I have been in (and even convened!) where the men will only talk to men, especially when talking about building a deal or financial relationship. I’ve learned how to redirect and “get in there” but it’s still maddening.

On masculine/feminine value:

Particularly as Americans, we celebrate the masculine and downplay the feminine. Masculine traits (physical strength, aggression) are valued across sectors — in K-12 and university sports are rewarded over academics; in our news cycles shouting and crisis is rewarded over thoughtful discussion; human care professions like teaching, nursing, child-rearing are perceived as less economically valuable. Look through a magazine or a paid ad feed and count the number of examples where women are either sexualized or shown as “caring home makers” while men are portrayed as smart, professional and opinion leaders. We all have a responsibility to point it out, talk about it and try to affect change.

On the #metoo moment, and changes in the culture:

I am optimistic. When you take things that are hidden and bring them into awareness, it isn’t always pretty or pleasing. I’m so inspired by the strength and creativity of this movement. I know that men feel uncomfortable in this new reality and that’s okay. Welcome to how that feels.

On why it’s happening now:

All things eventually find balance. We have all participated in contributing to a society that is way out of whack. I think it is happening because it’s gotten out of hand. And we have technology and social media that break open the power broker dynamic. When victims find and use their voice, the world changes. It’s messy and bold and that’s great. If we treat everyone with respect as we go through these movements, we can get heard, hear others, adjust our own behavior and come to a center ground. Then it will be time for the next messy movement. That’s just how it works.

On positive role-models:

I have benefited tremendously from some key women — Carol Thompson, Susan McDowell and Adrianna Cruz. They are all in different industries and professions but they had and still have similar traits that I admire: integrity, intelligence, a commitment to community, wit and a spirit of adventure. They shoot straight. They tell it like it is and when they see an issue that isn’t up to par, instead of complaining, they get busy. Watching how they handled their careers, their lives, their colleagues and their challenges gave me great confidence that you can be a good person and still get big things done.

On the give-and-take of mentorship:

I mentor one woman and, by the way, she teaches me right back! Time is the least available resource I have so it is important for me to really focus and invest more deeply in one relationship than spread it out over many. The challenges she faces are the ones I have historically and still do face. (1) How to balance doing it all, wanting to do even more, and taking care of your whole person and honoring that you are an important project, too (2) Being generous with your time, your ideas, your talents and staying that way even when people take advantage of that for their own gain. It can be tricky to know how to be your best self while protecting yourself at the same time. (3) Navigating “what’s next” and evaluating partnerships and opportunities (4) Growing confident in yourself and your abilities despite being a part of the minority. Being different is a strength, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

I’ve also learned how to say “thank you” when someone gives me positive feedback instead of passing it off as “oh it wasn’t me, it was a team effort.” These are little things but the source is something much deeper which is an internal lack of permission to simply be and be seen as your real, true, powerful authentic self.

On how woman can contribute to lasting change in work-based gender dynamics:

Talk about it. Support each other. Be watchful for ways to recommend each other for leadership roles whether public speaking opportunities, fellowships, (paid) board roles. Also by educating men with a spirit of kindness.

Women can serve each other by raising attention about how our language (verbal and non-verbal expressions) translates. And then it is up to us to adjust our own behavior and communication patterns.

I notice women (including myself) apologize a lot. We say “sorry” in a casual way. (Of course there are times when there is a need to apologize profoundly and deeply — that is different.) What I’m referring to is “Sorry for the delayed response.” Or opening up my opinions by saying “Sorry, but….” Now I treat it as a creative exercise. Every time I write or say “sorry” I pause and try to flip it into a positive. Instead of saying “Sorry for my late reply” I”ll say “Thank you for being patient.”

I’ve also been called out (in a kind way) by my male colleagues for making my accomplishments appear minor by saying “It was a total accident that I ____”. I’ve also learned how to say “thank you” when someone gives me positive feedback instead of passing it off as “oh it wasn’t me, it was a team effort.” These are little things but the source is something much deeper which is an internal lack of permission to simply be and be seen as your real, true, powerful authentic self. That can feel very strange.

Our gender does not mandate that we apologize, shrink and shrug off our success. We can be bold without being braggarts. There are times to be gracious and there are times to own it. We can do both.

On the project title, Women Who Tech Are Dangerous:

I don’t think women are dangerous. That sets a false alarm so no, I don’t love this title. Instead of dangerous, try powerful, formidable, badass…. that would be better.

 
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Laura Bosworth

Laura Bosworth

Dana Callender

Dana Callender