Dear Young Women,
I am often asked in interviews, “What advice do you have for young women?” There are 2 pieces of advice, when absorbed and applied to your life, will create a meaningful shift for a woman’s perception and approach to her career. First, don’t let anyone make you choose between art and technology. One reason for the lack of women in STEM fields today comes from women not knowing this truth: Technology is creative. My daughter loves to create. She loves to draw, paint, sew, and craft. She also loves building circuit boards, designing lego roller coasters, and flying drones. Her current goal is to attend a STEM middle school next year that also has great art and drama programs. When I mentioned to a close female relative who has run organizations that my daughter applied to STEM school, the relative commented, “but don’t you think she’s more artistic than technologically inclined?” This idea that technology isn’t artistic or creative is pervasive in our culture; and it’s total BS. We do our young men a similar disservice in encouraging them to build structures and learn about computers but not to draw, paint, dance, or design. All of the best software, tools, and inventions we use today occurs at the intersection of art and technology. The second piece of advice is TAKE MORE RISKS! As women, we tend to be more risk adverse, and the truth is greater risk always comes with greater potential reward. This is so well known in our culture that it has become cliché. How can you take this advice and make it actionable? I find most risk-taking advice is geared toward men. Take the common risk-taking analogy “burn the boats,” which originated from Alexander the Great burning his boats when he arrived on the shores of Persia. By burning his boats, Alexander committed his men to victory over the Persians, who far outnumbered the Greeks. Women tend to be more practical. Most women I know would have never burned the boats. However, practicality and a safety net don’t have to be at odds with risk-taking. You can have a backup plan AND give yourself permission to take more risks. So women, don’t burn the boats. Build a boat before you start. For example, build up a fund of 12 - 24 months personal savings on which you can live before trying to start a business. If you aren’t starting your own venture, build up a 6 month fund as your peace of mind while you pursue other risky career goals. If you’re committing to a risky endeavor of any kind, make sure you write down what you will do at what point in time if it doesn’t work. Once you have that backup money saved and a backup plan written down, take the risk. Commit to your goal and see what you can accomplish. It’s okay to keep the boat waiting just in case you really need it. Most of the time, our fear of taking risk is really about ego, fear of failure, or fear of being less than perfect. Don’t let that stop you. Women have incredible potential. We are often different than men. This doesn’t mean we’re better than men, and it doesn’t mean men are better than us. It just means we occasionally have to approach or frame things differently, and our culture isn’t geared to do that. Choose to follow advice which resonates with you, regardless of gender.
Co-Founder & President, MJ Freeway
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