On Thursday, December 7th, 11,000 women attended the 2017 Massachusetts Conference for Women at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (just a 20 min walk from our Boston office). Carbon Black sent 43 women to represent our company and learn as much as we could from the largest women’s conference in the world.

The purpose of the conference is to provide “connection, motivation, networking, inspiration and skill building for thousands of women each year” (see more). What I got out of it was an incredible sense of togetherness, a reminder that we’re all on the same team, and that we should support each other. It also rekindled the feminist fire inside me to do more, reach for more, and take on new challenges.

Actress Viola Davis gave a heart-wrenching opening keynote about coming to terms with being ashamed of her impoverished past, having reached her goal of becoming a famous actress and still feeling like a loser on the inside because she had been keeping all of those struggles bottled up inside her. By trying to appear invulnerable, she left herself broken on the inside. It powerfully resonated with us. She laid it all out on the table, allowed us to see her cry at the podium while telling her story, and in doing so left an incredibly strong message that I was about to hear many times throughout the day: Courage and vulnerability beget the same.

I never expected to hear so much talk of letting yourself be vulnerable at this conference. I thought it was going to be all about Girl Power and how strong we can be on our own. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the breakout sessions I attended, the message over and over was to be open with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that we can grow and be open to improvement. As a woman in the tech world, I have always opted for the opposite so that I could appear as confident and self-assured as possible. I am a representative of female engineers, and I feel the need to make that impression a strong and good one. I don’t want to cry at work and have someone think, “Typical.” I need to prove that because I can do it, women can do it, otherwise this will happen:

And there were times when that just didn’t work. I hesitantly admit that I have cried in the bathroom when I felt completely helpless, when I was the only UI engineer on an entire product for a month and a half, and the number of bugs coming in was greater than my output fixing them. I luckily had an incredible manager to talk it through with when I was ready to, and he explained that of course nobody expected me to take on the full weight of the product, just to do what I could. After talking more about it, that’s when I felt the release of the burden. If I hadn’t talked with him, the weight of that false responsibility I felt would have become unbearable. I feel very grateful to have such caring, supportive managers at Carbon Black.

Growth through Sharing our Weaknesses

In one of the breakout sessions I attended called “The User Manual: Instructions for How you Work as a Manager”, Abby Falik talked about how she published her yearly performance review to her team; a team of over 2,000 people. She laid out all of her weaknesses so others would be aware of what she needs to improve on, and asked everyone to keep them in mind and give her feedback. It opened up a channel for those who were too nervous to say something to do so in a constructive, judgment-free way. I love that idea! And better yet, her peers and colleagues started doing the same. Soon many had their performance reviews published internally, and in sharing those weaknesses with each other, they grew closer as a team. They were open and honest with each other. Courage and vulnerability beget the same.

I got to practice a little courage when my other breakout session asked for two volunteers to get up on stage and role play using some advice on dealing with difficult people and office politics. I got to be the arrogant, over-demanding boss!

There is so much more that I learned at this conference that I didn’t mention here, but I want to thank Amy Robinson (our Chief People Officer) and everyone involved in making the decision to invest in women at Carbon Black.

Diversity at Carbon Black

Seeing so many women in one place reminded me that we still have a long way to go in terms of increasing gender diversity at Carbon Black. BUT we have also come very far. I love seeing the increasing ratio of women in our “Welcome to the Team” posts. We are slowly improving.

In the last year, our Boston office has gone from 2 women out of ~20 to 6 women out of ~44. The ratio hasn’t increased dramatically in terms of women to men, but it is nice to have more women around in the office. I also recently had a remote meeting with Sarah Greenberg and Tania McCormack the day after the conference, and was so excited to be making decisions for the product with other women that I took a screenshot of our faces in remote chat. I want to see this happen much more often, until it’s not a novelty at all. We’re getting there.

We still have a ways to go, but I am very proud of all that our company is doing to make that happen. Thank you for supporting us, this event has fired me up!