UNO-associated fellows present at the Women Innovators Fellowship Showcase

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Samantha Weideman
DIGITAL EDITOR

The three Do Space fellows answer questions from attendees. Photo by Samantha Weideman/ the Gateway

The Do Space hosted the Women Innovators Fellowship Showcase, which featured three University of Nebraska alumnae on Wednesday, July 31. The event highlighted the accomplishments of local women in tech. We sat down with them and asked them about their experiences in the technology field.

Answers edited for length and clarity.

April Goettle, founder of Remoter.tech

April Goettle. Photo by Samantha Weideman/the Gateway

Weideman: What advice would you give to women starting their education in technology or entering the field?

Goettle: I would say, find a mentor right away, that works in the business. Find other people that are in the same boat as you are. So whether that’s as a student–reaching out spending some time with other female students and understanding what they’re going through, or students that are the same year or whatever, it makes it a lot easier knowing that you’re not the only person that’s struggling, or, being able to just have somebody to talk to about class. And I think the same thing with work, as well. It’s intimidating coming into your first job, especially if you’re in a junior position, or you’re coming in as an intern.

Find somebody at your work that you can have a little bit of a mentor relationship with. Also find somebody outside of your job that’s in the field that you can talk to about work that you maybe can’t talk to within your own company so you have a better understanding of how you’re being treated at work, or how you’re being paid at work, how that is different. You can start to really see where it falls and have a better understanding of, “oh, maybe this is not what it’s like in other places,” and you have a better feel for whether it’s the right place for you to work at. It also gives you a lot more of an ability to negotiate when it comes time to negotiate salary, and benefits and things like that. You really have to know from other people what’s going on at other places within the same area.

Weideman: What would be your advice to women about advocating for themselves?

Goettle: Always leverage experience that you have from other jobs or other life experiences or projects. I think women really undervalue things that aren’t directly tech-specific. [They] also undervalue people skills, because I think that we think of tech as really just coding or designing or, these really narrow parameters, and there are so many other positions that really need people skills. So that’s a high-value item that a lot of people don’t think about when they think about their portfolio.

Weideman: Tell me about your own experiences with mentors.

Goettle: I was in the Mentor Program my first year. I had a mentor, Victoria, who’s on the board here, which was great. She really went out of her way to help me with that. Stepping back a little bit, before that, I had done some classes at Interface and Shauna, who’s also a board member here, wasn’t necessarily my mentor, explicitly, but she was always there as a point of reference and gave me some really great advice when I was going through a couple of classes at interface, and really helped me motivate thinking about applying for UNO and finishing my degree. So, I think Omaha has a really great community of women that are totally willing to help each other.

Weideman: Is there anything you’d like your male counterparts to know or understand?

Goettle: I see a lot of times where women will get hired, and then they won’t speak up to get a raise. They won’t push for those kinds of things. I kind of feel like there’s a little bit of a tendency towards hiring women because they know they won’t be challenged, and people feel like they are easier to manage in terms of expectations. I think that that’s something that maybe needs to be opened up a little bit.

It goes back a little bit to women being able to advocate for themselves. So I think that, you know, really, the ask would be that male counterparts would recognize that that’s maybe not necessarily a trait that’s really dominant for women is to be forceful in asking for what they feel they deserve as far as their experience and their salary goes, and trying to help the people that they work with, or hire, and not take advantage of that.

Bianca Zongrone Jefferson, women in tech researcher

Bianca Zongrone Jefferson. Photo by Samantha Weideman/the Gateway

Weideman: What keeps you in your field even though women leave?

Jefferson: I love the problem solving that I get to do in my job. It is fun and challenging and I get to touch a lot of different areas. I love going to work knowing that I get to solve a puzzle every day. I have been in meetings where I’m the only woman in the room or I’m, you know, one of two or three. In some of those situations, I’ve felt supported. In others, I’ve felt kind of like, “Oh, we don’t have enough chairs in the room. So, you’re gonna have to stand over by the door.” But that doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was younger.

Weideman: How did your attitude about that change over time?

Jefferson: Some of it was having support from other women. So, I had an advisor, I had a couple of advisors, who were just strong, kick-ass women. I don’t know if I can say kick-ass, but I will. Like a strong, kick-ass women who were just unapologetically awesome. They had worked really hard to get to where they were at. And I suffered with, and I still do, I think a lot of women do, still suffer with imposter syndrome, where you think, “how did I get this position of all of the different people who could have had this job? Why me?” I had strong people to look up to and say, “oh, they’ve done it, they worked really hard, just like I did, and they are not saying sorry. They’re not saying, ‘oh, let me step aside.’ They’re taking the spotlight, and they’re saying, ‘I have something really important to say.’” I learned how to do that over time by watching some of these women do important research or present at conferences, or just do what they love to do.

Weideman: Can you tell me more about your experiences with your mentors?

Jefferson: Yeah, absolutely. I had two mentors, who are currently at UNO, and they taught me how to ask good questions. Like, how to be curious, and how to seek creativity instead of structure. I think one of the things that I struggled with when I got out of college and I went to grad school was, I had been so trained to be like, “Oh, these are the instructions. And then this is what you do with it afterwards.” Not having instructions, I kind of panicked. I was like, “Well, how do I know what to do?” One of those mentors said to me, “you know, you’re not going to get instructions all the time. And sometimes it just means that you get to problem solve, and you get to interpret this creatively. And then you get feedback on it.”

It is mind-blowing that no one had introduced me to that concept earlier. I am so appreciative that she shared that feedback with me, and that she cared enough about me to want me to be better and do better. The women that served as my mentors were really free-thinking. Like very, again, very smart, very hardworking, cared a lot about the work that they did and the people that they served.

Weideman: What advice would you give to women starting their education in technology or entering the field?

Jefferson: I would say, don’t ever discount yourself. It might be foreign to you initially, but one thing I would say is, figure out what skills you already have that make you really good at this. So, maybe you don’t know a programming language, but you know how to be creative, and you know how to problem solve and you know how to Google. Right? That is, that is, a skill to have. Knowing how to find out what you don’t know is a really strong skill. I think you may run into times where someone tries to make you feel less than or tries to make you feel like this is an exclusive club to which you don’t belong. And they have no right to do that.

Weideman: Is there anything you’d like your male counterparts to know or understand?

Jefferson: Yeah, I would say ask me questions, like, ask me what my experience is instead of assuming it. The one thing that was really powerful about this project that I did was asking women to share their stories. There were several women who said, “You know, I don’t want the gift card compensation. I just want to thank you for doing this research. And I just want to thank you for asking to hear my story.”

We don’t do that enough to actually try to understand the experience, not necessarily try to match it and say, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about because I was rejected from a job once.” Like, that’s not the point. It’s not to say, “I truly know what you’re talking about,” because you can’t truly know another person’s experience, but to empathize and to say, “what can I do to help?”

Find ways to help. Speak up if you see something wrong or stick your neck out for another woman at work who is doing a great job, but maybe doesn’t get all the credit that she needs, or deserves, rather, all the credit that she deserves.

Carina Glover, developer of the mobile app, HerHeadquarters

Carina Glover. Photo by Samantha Weideman/the Gateway

Weideman: What keeps you in your field even though women leave?

Glover: I actually just entered my field. My company, HerHeadquarters actually launched in May of this year, but I have been working on it since fall of 2017. For me, it wasn’t so much about being in the tech industry or the label of the tech industry, I saw a problem that, coincidentally, a tech product could solve. I’m driven by the impact and it being bigger than me. And so that’s what’s going to keep me in this field.

Weideman: Tell me about your experience with mentors.

Glover: My biggest mentor, I would say, has been Erica, at the Startup Collaborative. I joined in the early spring of 2018. I was an event planner, and I owned an event planning company. And, you know, I went to UNO, graduated, I never saw myself being in the tech industry. I was more so like, I’m starting this event planning business, I’m going to move to LA and have this huge company for high profile people. I don’t even know how I got here to be honest sometimes.

I would credit Erica with really helping me believe in myself but cover my groundwork first. She’s like, “Well, how do you know anyone wants this product? I’m like, “I just know. What do you mean?” And she goes, “Well, that’s great that you believe in it. But at some point, you’re going to need money. And if you sit across from someone and ask them for $450,000 and they say, ‘Well, how do you know?’ and you say, ‘I just know,’ they’re probably gonna laugh.” That has been the thing that’s helped me the most. When people maybe underestimate the need for a product like HerHeadquarters, I can say, “Well, actually, I surveyed and interviewed folks, over 150 women, and this is what they have to say. So, there is a need for my product, and I didn’t just pull this out of my ass.” That came from Erica’s guidance.

Weideman: What advice would you give to women starting their education in technology or entering the field?

Glover: I would say don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. It’s really a big perspective thing. And I had that issue. My issue was, oh, I went from the top of my game and an expert as an event planners in this whole new industry, where I’m literally at the bottom experience-wise and knowledge-wise, and I instead of embracing all the things that I can learn, and the challenges of head, I was intimidated by them. And so it made me make decisions based out of fear and intimidation. So looking at the things that you can learn in the knowledge that you don’t have yet looking at it as a great opportunity and being excited about growing and learning and evolving.

Weideman: Is there anything you’d like your male counterparts to know or understand?

Glover: Your biggest competitor is the one that you underestimate.

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