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When I first heard about Claim Academy’s idea to host a panel event at Covo STL, I thought, this could be good.
The team from the St. Louis coding bootcamp visited Covo just weeks before laying down plans for the panel conversation. On the tour, they commented on the space, mentioning that it felt right to host the event there. “There’s something about Covo,” Claim’s marketing head told me. “It’s has the right kind of energy we’re looking for.”
I could go on about the history of the Mississippi Valley Trust building, and where that energy comes from, but that story has already been covered on EQ.
Claim had already decided on a panel theme: Women in Tech.
They wanted the panelists to talk about how badass women (and men) can help level the playing field in tech and entrepreneurship. After the tour, Claim teamed up with Covo and EQ to put on this panel, the first in a three-part run called the “Building Blocks Series.”
The three of us working together just made sense. First, as Claim’s mission is to close skills gaps in tech, they see the problem on display 24/7: women do not enter into technology-focused roles as often as their male counterparts. EQ, created in 2015 to raise the visibility of the St. Louis startup scene, is passionate about sharing the journeys and best practices of startups and entrepreneur support organizations in the St. Louis startup ecosystem. And Covo, well, Covo is all about equity and equality across the board.. But we have a soft spot for tech and entrepreneurs, especially in St. Louis.
The Women in Tech Panel Discussion
So here’s what actually happened that evening, on July 18th.
I sat as a panelist with two other badass women: Emily Kraft, graduate of Claim Academy and Web Developer at Financial Network, Inc., and Laura Walter, Director of Marketing at United Access. The moderator threw some good questions our way, such as, “how can we get more young girls into STEM focused roles?” and, “how do you know when to accept management roles?”
That last question about accepting or denying management roles immediately sparked a dialogue between members of the audience and the panelists. From there, two things became obvious to me: first, the audience really wanted to join in on this discussion, and second, the subject of leadership was foundational to the overarching dialogue about women in tech.
Perhaps it was the pre-panel happy hour that got the audience jiving together, but in any case, the discussion from there on out was as intense as it was engaging. Women and men alike weighed in with their personal experiences, describing moments in their careers when they had to strike the balance between working in their comfort zones and exploring new terrain.
As I reflect on the conversation, one particular thread stands out to me. I threw out a commonly cited statistic from a Hewlett Packard study: “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
Phew. Each time I hear that stat, it stings a little bit more. We hold ourselves back so much and so unecessarily.
Hands shot up in the audience. Some women agreed, yes, they only apply to jobs for which they are 100% qualified. Others said they got over that hurdle a long time ago. Several men in the audience admitted they had applied to jobs well above their qualification level, just to see what happened.
When we asked the women who had overcome that barrier, I mentioned the phenomenon of imposter syndrome.
By definition, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
As someone who has grappled with imposter syndrome for years, I found it fascinating to hear everyone chime in with their own stories of how, at times, this internalized fear slowed down their professional and personal success.
Open Conversations Help Us Find Common Ground in St. Louis
To be honest, it made me think of St. Louis in general, especially the innovation and tech community.
After a nationwide search, my team at Covo chose St. Louis very intentionally. STL has the fastest-growing startup scene in the country, a ton of incubators and accelerators, and the most female owned businesses per capita in the country.
The biggest thing we need to work on is our confidence.
Easier said than done, right? When you consider that this lack of confidence stems from all sorts of intangible things, like negative media attention surrounding the Ferguson event and its fallout, the feeling that we’re a “flyover city,” or Amazon’s decision to strike STL from its list of potential HQ hubs, it’s not hard to find the root of that imposter syndrome.
And maybe it’s not a matter of identifying the root so that, in theory, we can resolve it. Maybe it’s a matter of simply talking about it.
Even after the Women in Tech panel concluded, it took some time for the buzz to die down. I watched guests exchange business cards and cell phone numbers, take pictures of the event space and ask our moderator how they can stay engaged with the Building Blocks series.
That’s the collaborative and supportive energy we need. That’s what is going to help abate imposter syndrome among St. Louisans. It’s all about people coming together, sharing their stories and finding common ground.
The next Building Blocks Series topic is “Diversity & Inclusion”, taking place Wednesday, September 19th from 5:30 – 5:30 PM at Covo (details here). I hope you will join in the conversation!