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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

Sarah Sharif

Sarah Sharif

 
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Sarah Sharif

Job Title: Founder & CEO of Experimental Civics; Event Director of ATX Hack for Change

Company Website: http://www.experimentalcivics.io

Years working in the tech industry: 3

On parents as entrepreneurial influence:

Being the badass immigrants that they are, my parents left their home country (Pakistan) to build lives in both the United Kingdom and the United States for our family. So yes, in some sense, the go-getter-ness has always been there from watching them.

I will say that some of it has been ingrained in my personality since the start.

I used to ‘play’ business when I was younger…massages for payment, chores for pocket money, producing artwork for donations… my darling parents and grandparents knew the drill.

I’ve gotten to the point of curating my social media more closely due to inappropriate comments and gestures from certain participants. This is a part of larger cultural problem of which we all have to mindfully evolve from…

On facing challenges as a woman, and as an ethnic minority, in overcoming stereotyped pre-conceptions in day-to-day professional life:

I wear my skin, my spirit, and my truth boldly. I have no other choice.

Walking into a room where you are the only representative of the many identities you hold: Millennial, Pakistani, British, American, Female…has always been daunting.

Beside the challenge of appearing “different,” being in tech and running high-tech hackathon events, I’ve gotten to the point of curating my social media more closely due to inappropriate comments and gestures from certain participants. This is a part of larger cultural problem of which we all have to mindfully evolve from…but I’m not the only person who has faced this.

Allies (and dear friends) are important in this space. I’m grateful to have phenomenal women and men who have carved space for me to talk, to teach, to share, and to be unapologetically myself.

On ignoring gendered traits as a pathway to success:

I think the question of whether I have been passed over for opportunities based on being a woman is rooted heavily in gendered traits, and which ones are admired per our roles. I won’t be too repetitive here, but the classic example being “aggressive” vs “assertive.” In my younger days, I mimicked my male peers since I knew if I acted a certain way I could get the advancement I needed.

It wasn’t until I had the freedom under certain supervisors or running my own company where I realized I didn’t have to be anything else than myself. These gendered traits do more harm than good and are learned at such a young age. I’m a social entrepreneur…empathy and heart is at the core of what I do. My business is personal and it’s what makes me successful in my client relationships.

My confidence to elevate my voice actually came from both male & female mentors who have loved, supported, and encouraged me to voice any injustices. As Eleanor Roosevelt shared, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

On whether the #metoo movement has empowered her and other women to push back against inappropriate comments and behavior:

Yes and no. The movements have become a platform for women to share their stories and find solidarity with what is happening. But the problems are embedded in society and systems which need to be reimagined completely.

My confidence to elevate my voice actually came from both male & female mentors who have loved, supported, and encouraged me to voice any injustices. As Eleanor Roosevelt shared, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Sharing stories is just the beginning, but I want so much more change: more programs to support female politician campaigns; better maternity provisions; accessible funding to female entrepreneurs.

But, I do appreciate the coverage on a larger scale…we need champions at all levels.

What policies and procedures can start-ups and established tech companies create to encourage an inclusive culture?

I want to see companies and groups approach this conversation from the humanist point-of-view and to operate diversity & inclusion initiatives with love.

Yes, love. I said it.

I want us to focus on how we’re all humans. I can’t think of a single being who doesn’t deserve a chance to live a fulfilled life to live out their purpose and passions.

I want all to recognize that we are more similar than we always recognize. Most of us have taken a bite too big, sung karaoke in the car on full volume, eaten way too many tacos, cried to Adele, or been nervous about face-planting in public. I mean, I could go on forever…

Now we’ve established that we’re all humans and deserve to be part of the conversation. Who is missing from the conversation? Who are you not including?

Invite them. Act. It’s very easy to break down these barriers and they don’t need to be tracked like another metric report. I want to see action.

Women have been juggling identities and responsibilities throughout history. We have always been made to choose between our different ambitions, wants, and desires.

On the historical moment:

Women have been juggling identities and responsibilities throughout history. We have always been made to choose between our different ambitions, wants, and desires. The conversation is not new to me and I’m beyond ecstatic that more folks have joined the efforts to truly change.

There is nothing more powerful than to discover your own voice — but to also have the experience of not being alone and shouting with others alongside you, is revolutionary. We all have the agency within us to do better in this world for the humble moment we exist on it.

On the importance of mentors:

I have always asked for a mentor at every place I’ve worked. Even in college, I was always the student going to office hours. I always want to learn and having the right teacher just adds to the experience.

In my recent role in technology here in Austin, I asked specifically for a woman who could grow me both personally and professionally. I needed coaching and guidance from an individual who could understand the deep aspects of who I was, where I wanted to go, and to be my guide as I planned to start my journey to get there.

My current coach, mentor, cheerleader, part-time therapist, Scorpio sista and backstop: Chelsea Collier. I consider my meetings with her to be my safe sanctuary where I can share my #MeToo stories; I can vent about anything from heart break to Wi-Fi problems to the best places for vino. The strength she brings to my life as a true champion of my deep, restless vision to change the world has been a pillar in who I am today…and why I am driving forward to do more.

On women contributing towards lasting change in sexual politics in their chosen industry:

You matter. Your story matters. Your experiences matter. Your feelings matter. Lasting change comes from not staying quiet. I would say that continuing to find your own roar and elevating your wants is what will help bring us to a brighter place.

 
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Christy Carroll

Christy Carroll

Leigh Christie

Leigh Christie