How Women in Tech are Ctrl-Alt-Deleting Bad Career Advice

Women in tech are finally shutting out the constant flow of toxic advice and designing the lives they want.
Written by Tyler Holmes
December 9, 2021Updated: December 9, 2021

Picture this: It’s the beginning of your work week. Your calendar is decorated with confetti-colored banners indicating business meetings, project deadlines and the kids’ after-school endeavors with plenty of free time sprinkled in between. Gradually throughout the week, you accept little requests from managers and co-workers, filling up that precious white space into stained-glass chaos. 

“You’ve got this,” you confidently remind yourself. But when that once-distant project deadline rushes by, you suddenly feel like a failure after taking on more than you could handle.

It’s a position almost every woman has found herself in, perpetuated by the bad advice that you can accomplish anything if you simply work hard enough — disregarding the point that women often have to work exponentially harder for the same accolades as their male counterparts. But as the conversation of diversity and equity moves forward in the world of tech, it’s time to break past the myths and reshape the system to better suit a balanced life.

“In my experience, I’ve realized that we can’t have it all at the same time,” said Preethy Padmanabhan, senior director of product marketing at Freshworks. “But we can design our life by making strategic choices that align with our professional and personal goals.”

In order to conduct a hard reset and erase the unsolicited advice every woman has received during her career, Built In San Francisco caught up with Padmanabhan and Zscaler’s Nicole Bucala to find out the career myths they’ve chosen to ignore — and how they’re rewriting them into wisdom for the future.

 

Preethy Padmanabhan
Senior Director, Product Marketing

 

What’s a career “myth” that women hear a lot that they’d be better off ignoring?

“You can’t have it all — career, family, health.” Early in my career, I was told that if I sought a leadership role, I would need to sacrifice my health, work-life balance or family time. I am glad I ignored that advice and decided to pursue my career aspirations. I’ve had my fair share of lessons along the way, but I have not stepped back from pursuing my leadership journey.

Women leaders are superheroes — giving their best to their family, work and community. Current challenges like balancing remote work with family and other commitments have increased pressure on women.

When I had my son, I was conflicted about pursuing leadership opportunities. However, I chose to ignore the fear because I saw other women who were working moms who found their own paths for work-life integration. I learned how to optimize my home and work environments. Today this includes my “5 S” strategy of self-awareness, self-care, set boundaries, seek help and stretch yourself, which has helped me create a fulfilling life at a pace that works for me.

It is OK to say no to activities that do not align with your goals.”

 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

“You can design the life you want.”

In my experience, I’ve realized that we can’t have it all at the same time. But we can design our life by making strategic choices that align with our professional and personal goals. The first component in designing a fulfilling life is to be clear on what we want. I have found that a daily meditation practice improves creativity, reduces stress and enhances balance. I practice the SKY breath meditation which helps me stay centered and energized. 

Take time to set your top three annual goals and prioritize what is important for you. Some years, I have focused on family or health while in others, I’ve focused on career progression or volunteer opportunities. Once you identify your goals and priorities, create a weekly schedule to determine how you’ll spend your time and decide what you need to delegate or prioritize in order to focus on your top goals. This can be a tough exercise, but it is OK to say no to activities that do not align with your goals.

Finally, make personal time for meditation, reflection and connection. Finding accountability partners has helped me stay on track for both my personal and professional goals.

 

 

Nicole Bucala
Senior Director, Strategic Business Development

 

What’s a career “myth” that women hear a lot that they’d be better off ignoring?

“Fake it till you make it.” This is a saying that was made popular following a TED Talk by renowned Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy. Her original message was about encouraging professionals — women and minorities in particular — to have confidence in themselves and to ignore any doubts in their head about their own abilities, because doubting oneself isn’t helpful. Also, people look for confidence in others because confidence is recognized as a critical ingredient to success.

However, I have seen many interpret this advice incorrectly to the point that growing numbers of professionals exaggerate or outright claim false titles, job responsibilities and achievements. Even slight exaggerations snowball before you know it. Misrepresenting yourself and your abilities ends up being a disservice to yourself and to others you work with. Eventually all those misrepresentations will land you in a position that is not the right fit, where you ultimately will not perform and will end up unhappy.

Authenticity is a top trait in a leader, and you can go a lot farther by being real than by being fake.”

 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

True confidence comes with competence. It’s best to focus on gaining competence in order to feel confident, and not the other way around. Focus on determining your strengths and developing an area where you shine naturally. Also, authenticity is a top trait in a leader, and you can go a lot farther by being real than by being fake. When you get the top leadership position of your dreams, it will feel even more fulfilling because you’ll know you got there by being true to yourself.

 

 

Jobs from companies in this blog

San Francisco startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Top Software Engineer Jobs in San Francisco
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in San Francisco
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Tech: San Francisco Bay Area
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Sales Jobs in San Francisco Bay Area