This guest post is a part of Technical.ly's Women in Tech month.
I’ve achieved many female firsts in my six years at Navy Yard-based RevZilla, an online retailer for motorcycle parts and apparel, where the majority of our customers and staff are male.
I was one of the first female Gear Geeks (customer-facing product specialist) and the first female team lead, customer service center manager and video host. Some of that growth is typical in a startup — we’ve grown from 50 to more than 400 employees since I started — but a good deal of it came from sheer persistence, passion, independent research, and advocating for myself and our female customer base. I’ve tried to integrate my beliefs into everything I do, and it’s committing to those values that has helped me get where I am today.
Lesson #1: It’s not my responsibility to prove myself to detractors.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry was something I was always aware of. As a Gear Geek, I had men hear my (clearly female) voice over the phone and ask to speak with “someone else” before the conversation even began. Some even hung up on me. Over time, I learned to call it out. I’d tell them that I could help them but that we had men available. I decided I would acknowledge their prejudice, but ultimately it wasn’t my responsibility to prove myself to them or to change their opinions about women. Contrarily, when I spoke to female riders, they were so happy to get a female’s perspective on fit and function, and I truly enjoyed helping them out.
Lesson #2: People will notice and appreciate that you’re making a difference.
After a year as a Gear Geek, I became a team lead and managed a team of six. Because there were so few female riders on the team, I still fielded most questions from female riders and became passionate about doing what I could, when I could, in whatever meeting I could, to improve their experience. Even though they’re a small portion of our business, I knew it made a difference to them, and their gratitude continued to encourage me.
Lesson #3: Believe in yourself and let the work you’ve done guide you.
Two years after becoming a team lead, I applied to be a service center manager and now lead a team of 30 at our Philadelphia HQ. A year after that, RevZilla sought a woman to host our video product reviews for the first time. They had trouble filling the part-time position, and knowing how passionate I was, they eventually asked me to fill it.
These were pivotal moments that led to lots of personal growth. With the manager position, I was up against great candidates, some more experienced than me. With the host position, I was apprehensive about getting on camera and balancing the work with being a manager full-time but knew I was a good fit. Believing in my ability to help the female segment ultimately made me say yes.
I was both excited and scared to embark on these changes. I had pushed myself to the next step in my career and was able to make more of an impact with customers and my employees, but the road was not without its bumps. Even at a positive and supportive company like RevZilla, there may be naysayers who doubt you’re up to the job or question if you only got it because you’re a woman. Hearing that was discouraging, and I felt pressured to prove myself. And online, seeing sexist comments on YouTube from men, for whom the videos weren’t even produced, hurt. To be honest, I had to sit with those feelings for a little while.
But just as I had done as a Geek, I decided that it wasn’t my responsibility to prove myself or change their mind. It was my responsibility to do my best and be proud of the work I was doing. It was really that mentality, the feedback I got from women, and the employees excited about working together that gave me the confidence to push forward. The others, well, many of them came around, and some of them didn’t. I’m OK with that.
Despite being aware of imposter syndrome, being the first to do anything comes with worries and fear of failure. But there will always be someone who questions your value or worth. Believe in what you’re doing and accept that you’ll get criticism along the way, some constructive and some BS. Know that you won’t be perfect at anything off the bat and that failing and starting over is part of your evolution. Work hard for yourself and for the people who will actually appreciate it.
The most rewarding part of being a first is paving a path for others, helping your audience (be it customers or staff members), and the feeling of limitless that comes with knowing you’ve done something you (and others) didn’t think could be done.
Celebrating women’s contributions to the tech industry, in Philly and beyond
4 questions startups and people managers must ask in light of COVID-19
Existential panic and stress are normal. Here’s how to deal, according to wellness experts
A Penn engineering professor’s take on what the women behind the ENIAC would think of today’s tech
Sign-up for daily news updates from Technical.ly Philadelphia