Poornima Vijayashanker at the 2016 Tech Inclusion Conference
You don’t have to be a history buff to know that women have not been given equal opportunities to share their voice throughout America’s existence as a country.
In a powerful talk at last fall’s Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco, Poormina Vijayashanker, Founder of Femgineer, an education startup focused on helping tech professionals level-up in their careers, spoke about our country’s less-than-stellar track record of granting women the same rights and liberties as men.
She highlighted how the founding fathers (yes, they were all men) excluded women from the discussions that led to the Declaration of Independence, how it hasn’t even been 100 years since women have been able to vote, and how the condescending sentiments of powerful men in the 1960s and 1970s ushered in a new wave of feminism, spearheaded by people like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.
“Part of the problem,” Poornima says, “was that during this era, nearly 38% of the women who were working had occupations that were limited to being nurses, teachers, and secretaries. Only 6% were doctors, 3% were lawyers, and 1% were engineers.”
But Poornima was not at the Tech Inclusion Conference to complain. She was there to inspire women to get out there and speak, just like she did in 2008 when she was the founding engineer of Mint.com.
“I decided that I wanted to speak at a local code camp,” she remembers. “I wanted to share experiences about building the app, launching it, scaling it,” Poornima said that her talk was well received, but she didn’t give it much attention after the fact.
Then, just last year at another conference, young women in the audience came up to her and said, “The talk you gave back in 2008 inspired me to join a startup. I thought if you could do it just being a couple years out of college, then I could too, and I did.” Poornima’s little talk at a local code camp inspired one woman to embark on a new journey in her career and it gave her the courage to do it.
“Imagine what would happen if we all went out there and we spoke,” Poornima says. She encourages women to not scare themselves out of the opportunity to speak publicly, and to not worry if you’re not an expert. “Don’t worry about it being groundbreaking or earth shattering. It’s important to just get out there and speak because your voice may resonate with somebody.”
Furthermore, while Poornima recognizes that far too often women are the token speaker, this should not deter women from accepting the challenge. “There are going to be those moments where you’re going to have to be a token on that panel, or at the event, or in that boardroom,” she says. “Be the token and be proud of it.”
Poornima knows that public speaking is really scary, and admits that even she gets nervous sometimes. But she also knows that to not speak is too dangerous a risk to take. “I don’t want to be known for having lived in an era where the female voice stagnated,” she says, “where the female voice ended up undoing all the great work that our foremothers have done to get us the freedoms that we enjoy in the western world today.”
So, ladies, share your wisdom, share your insights, share your experiences. The world — especially the tech world — needs to hear your words, your ideas, your perspectives. Be a catalyst for change. Get out there and speak.
Watch Poornima’s full talk here.