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I Really Got Asked This Question

March 12, 2012

I get asked a lot of questions about being a woman CEO, a woman in high tech, a woman executive. For years, this rankled me.  Yes, I am a CEO, and yes I am a woman. I founded this great company based on an idea I had and that I believe in. But I never spent one minute thinking about myself as a female CEO – just a CEO; just Sara, and yes, female (high heels, long hair and lipstick definitely in tow. I’m all girl).

Yet again recently, a journalist asked me the following question:

Do you feel pressure to conform in order to fit in with the guys, or is this outdated thinking? What have your experiences in the (high-tech) industry been like? Is it an industry that’s welcoming of women?

To which I responded:

Every time a woman in high tech (or any industry) conforms to “fit in with the guys,” the only thing that happens is the loss of a good woman. Everyone loses: the woman, if by conforming she is not true to herself; and the company, which won’t have the advantage of that woman’s unique gifts and perspective.

I am strongly against conforming. I believe each person has genius to offer the world (and their jobs) and only by developing and embracing who we are will we ever truly shine and offer the world what we have to offer.

The danger of conforming, and I do believe it is a danger, is two-fold. First, each day of our lives that we are focused on conforming, we are robbed of part of our energy. To sustain a façade of being someone we’re not, we have to think about it, weigh it, act it — constantly. It takes energy to repress who we are. If I am spending my time and energy conforming, I am robbing myself and my company of what I truly have to offer in terms of innovation, ideas, human spark.

Second, conforming is not sustainable. Sooner or later something in us will rebel, will demand that we let our true selves out. This can take the form of burnout, depression, major stress – or worst of all, regret. Will we look back on our lives and be thrilled by years spent conforming?

I certainly have felt this pressure, so I understand the question.

The tech world is a great place for women — for everyone — to bring their unique strengths and talents to the table.

What about you? Have you felt the pressure to conform in order to fit in and succeed in the high-tech world? How did you stay true to yourself?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gary Cole permalink
    March 13, 2012 9:24 am

    I think that each of us feels pressure to conform–it’s part of our nature as social animals. Your response is deep and wise–you answered as an individual and about the value of the individuality, rather than addressing the question as it was framed: boys against the girls.

    Your stance is inspiring: conforming robs us of energy and denies the world the spark of genius or insight that each of us carries. The trick would seem to be for each person to find (or learn to find) the right spot.

  2. March 23, 2012 10:35 pm

    Hi Listeningtoit,
    This might be off topic, however, Do you have trouble starting conversations with new people you meet, or even with friends? There is nothing like asking questions to get a conversation started. Here are some tips for using questions to get a conversation started, or keep it going when it hits a lull.
    Keep up the good work

  3. April 2, 2012 4:08 pm

    Wonderful answer from your side. In my view the question asked was not such a good one.

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