What is some practical advice for women in tech from experienced leaders in the field? To find out, we hosted a STEMinist discussion at Sift Science where we invited four panelists to offer their advice. We brought together industry leaders from the social, hardware, and enterprise software industries to talk about how they’ve navigated their careers through rocky startups, co-founding their own companies, and moving from being individual contributors to managers.

We got creative with the format of the discussion. Oftentimes, listening to other people’s experiences has only limited impact. But more importantly, we all have our unique experiences to contribute to this discussion. We started with a short panel with tough questions. (For example: What is the most extreme thing you’ve asked your mentor to do for you? What is the right and wrong way to negotiate salary?) Then, we rotated participants through four breakout sessions for in-depth discussions on four topics. Below are our learnings from each of the breakout sessions.

1. Imposter syndrome can be a self-fulfilling prophecy

Helpful tips: Counter self-criticism with compassion. If you find yourself spiraling into negative thoughts, take a moment to refocus and remind yourself of your strengths. And if you continue to worry that you’re not performing up to your team’s standards, don’t be afraid to solicit feedback from your mentor or friends. Use concrete strategies like turning concerns into a to-do list and checking off them off as you’ve worked through them.

2. Individual contributor vs. management

Helpful tips: Some employees mistakenly believe that you must take on a managerial role to advance in your career. That’s not true! You can still advance in your career and find worth in your job as an individual contributor. Management isn’t for everyone, so don’t push yourself into a role in which you don’t feel comfortable and can’t contribute productively. If you want to be on an individual contributor track, focus on the things you need to do to succeed there — but if you are interested in advocating for others, then take on responsibilities and tasks that put you on a managerial track.

3. Both startups and enterprises present challenges and opportunities

Helpful tips: There’s no right choice! Depending on where you are in your career and how you’re looking to grow, it may make sense to work at a startup or a larger company. But remember that both have their challenges. You may have more opportunities to broaden your skillset and diversify in startups, while you can hone a specific skill at enterprise companies. Larger companies tend to come with more bureaucracy, while the future of smaller companies can sometimes be more uncertain.

4. Workplace politics happen, and they can be used for good or evil

Helpful tips: Avoid politics in the workplace by giving credit where credit is due, being generous with your praise, and not assuming the worst of your colleagues. Don’t put yourself (or your team) before what’s best for the company; do what’s best for all of you. Approach colleagues with curiosity and respect — don’t assume someone’s intentions are necessarily political.

Stay tuned for future events, and if you have ideas of what you would want to discuss and hear more about in the future, reach out to us directly at meetup@siftscience.com!

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