You've done a lot of work in the networking field, specifically honing in on technology. How did all of this start? What brought your work to the success that it has today?
My first job before I went into the high-tech industry was working with sports marketing in Asia. While I worked in Asia I was not allowed to travel with the men's sports teams. They said that women can bring bad luck if they go to their sporting events. Fortunately, my father was pretty connected in the field, so I had a lot more opportunities that other women didn't have.
After I came to the states and started working for Microsoft, I realized that I was facing a different set of challenges as a woman in the tech industry. I saw women around me struggle - they were stressed out and seeking mentors. I was not aware of these challenges; I was just excited to get into technology. But pretty soon I started experiencing gender bias. I jumped into all of the resources that Microsoft could afford. I joined the mentoring program and company-wide women's initiative programs. I took workshops and started meeting more women in tech who supported each other.
Women have always had challenges with earning equal opportunities. What would you say has been the biggest personal challenge in setting yourself apart for success?
I put a lot of overtime into my career, but I realized it was not serving anyone - not me, not my employer, not my team. I found out that I was one of the few Asian women in the 1990s working in marketing. So one day my team was sitting around a conference table discussing ways to divide a new project assigned to us. One of my team members turned to me and said "Hey, you Orientals are analytical, why don't you pick up this task, etc."
I realized that that stereotype represents a set of expectations that society has for me. For example, I need to be good at analytical things. But, I was actually always looking for ways to improve my analytical skills, like taking classes provided by my company. It made me unhappy that I wasn't able to live up to the expectations of Asian people.
The best advice I can give to other young women coming into the tech industry is to find out what you are good at and what you love to do, regardless of what others expect of you, and use that skill to serve people to the best of your ability. That creates a winning situation for everyone.
What kinds of creative avenues does your network use to stand out?
We want to be okay with people contributing, however, they want to, and however much they can. A lot of our women are very preoccupied with their families and personal lives, so we're lucky to get contributions from them. What the Seattle network wants to instill within our own values as a team is open-mindedness — always ready to accept contributions, but also being understanding of other people's personal commitments.
What is the mission statement that you and your organization would like to impart?
We want to know ourselves and what we can do, but also always be looking to make improvements. As people in the tech industry, I think it's important that we go beyond our immediate network. We need to promote ourselves to all different types of people by providing technical education for children, particularly girls. We can leverage our network by getting perspectives from men and women who coach for the tech industry. There are a lot of jobs and skills in our industry. It's not just technical jobs and technical skills that are needed. To be a good network we need to be open to representing all aspects of the tech field so that we can influence various types of people.
How do you think more women and girls can be encouraged to pursue a career in technology? What would you say to inspire them to take advantage of opportunities?
There is not just technical work in the high-tech industry. There are tons of opportunities. As I said previously, find what it is that you do best as a person, and find ways for that to translate over to the tech field. See what you can do with that special talent in this industry. There are tons of opportunities, which is why people need to keep open minds when considering a career in tech. There is so much that you can do.
People are more likely to find success in a field that interests them. Why is technology of interest to you?
I'm better at marketing and business development, and I love working with people. Those things really interest me. When I moved to Seattle I could live and breathe technology. The industry was booming, and it was contributing a lot to our local economy. My friends who work in the tech industry were full of energy. Those friends inspired me to join the industry, as well. I believe that technology is, ultimately, just a means to an end. At the end of the day, it's the people in technology and what you can do for them that interests me the most. It's about assessing your problem and finding a solution.
Rae brought 20 years experience in the high-tech industry to managing several dynamic businesses today. She is the managing director of a technology consulting firm etbworldwide.com, also runs an active blog about women in technology.
Over fifteen years ago while working at Microsoft, Rae was one of the ten women, selected company-wide to have a round table discussion with their CEO Steve Ballmer about women's issues at Microsoft. That meeting gave birth to the 1st annual Women's Conference at Microsoft the same year.
Today, passion for technology and love for people brought Rae to WITI. She wants to thank all the women and men mentors in her career by giving back to this important community, and help WITI grow in the Pacific Northwest.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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