Better Allies

During my 7+ years in tech, I’ve encountered sexism, but I’ve also had the good fortune to work with some really great guys. These guys cared about me and my work, and lots of the small things they did to help me (sometimes without realizing they were doing anything!) added up to big things for my career over time.

In hopes that others can follow their example, I’d like to share some of the things that “good guys in tech” have done to help my career:

Sharing positive feedback (with my boss)
Over the years, some of my consulting clients made an effort to praise my work *in front of my boss*, which directly helped me to get promoted.

Each promotion has meant more experience, more skills, and higher compensation — in addition to helping to set me up for the next step(s) in my career.

Recommending me
I got my last job because a guy on my future team recommended that his boss take a look at my resume. My resume got screened out through their recruiting process, so I know that I literally would not have gotten the interview if it weren’t for his recommendation. It’s hard to understate how important that recommendation was for my career.

Similarly, many former coworkers and clients have also written formal recommendations for me on LinkedIn, which helps to build trust in my work and establish credibility beyond a single job or boss.

Sharing salary information
I had a male coworker who started in the same position as me, was promoted to a manager role, then switched to a new company. Before he left, he shared his salary in my position, after being promoted, and at his new company.

This helped me to navigate salary negotiations (both internally and externally), ensure that I was being paid fairly, and to evaluate new job offers. Knowledge is power when it comes to salaries and a little bit of “extra” information can go along way.

Sponsoring me
My last company had a highly selective quarterly awards program. My boss put time and effort into my nomination, then went to his boss to ask that he throw his weight behind the nomination as well to give me a better shot at getting the award. I got the award, and I’m positive that having the extra backing had an impact.

This is the difference between mentorship and sponsorship — a mentor might help you gain the skills to earn an award, but a sponsor will nominate you, then go to bat to personally advocate for you. A sponsor has skin in the game. Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored, and we need people with social and political capital to promote us and help us to advance.

Asking about parental leave policies publicly (and lobbying for better ones!)
During an HR / benefits session, a male coworker asked about parental leave so that I wouldn’t have to. It can be quite awkward to have people assume that you’re pregnant (or soon to be) if you’re talking about parental leave policies, and this saved me from having those uncomfortable conversations.

The same guy also wrote a letter to the CEO citing his experiences and how a flexible schedule helped him and his family during pregnancy and beyond. Parental leave helps everyone!

Promoting my work (even Twitter helps!)
When someone references things I’ve written or retweets the things I’m working on, it helps to amplify my message and build my network.

This also provides potential for new opportunities and conversations with people I may not have reached otherwise. (Plus, it never hurts to have people supporting you and talking about your work!)

Supporting women-focused groups
Before launching R-Ladies Austin, we had several men reach out to see how they could help us grow. They offered time, training materials, books for raffles, advice, meeting places, sponsorships, speaking opportunities, and more. This helped a lot as we were getting established.

Similarly, our local Austin R User Group goes out of their way to promote R-Ladies events without me even asking. This helps us to expand, reach new members, and makes us feel supported and welcome in the tech community.

Empathizing (and humor doesn’t hurt!)
I’ve been lucky to have male coworkers who at least try to “get it” when it comes to gender in tech, and who have had my back during tough moments. Some of my favorite coworkers have made laugh out loud after being frustrated by something casually sexist that a client said. That stuff is the worst, and a little bit of empathy and humor can go a long way.

Working to improve gender ratio at tech events
Quarterly, our R-Ladies group teams up with the larger user group for a joint meetup, and recently we asked for volunteers to give lightning talks and ended up with more speakers than slots (a great problem to have for an organizer).

I was prepared to step down to give my slot to another woman in our group. Instead, the male organizer chose to give up his slot so that the event would have a higher women-to-men gender balance. To me, this small action speaks volumes about the type of inclusive tech community we’re working to build here in Austin.

Being a 50/50 partner at home
My husband has picked up domestic “slack” while I study, organize meetups, attend workshops, and travel to conferences (among other personal pursuits). I’m all about being a hashtag-independent-woman, but the dogs still need to go out even if I’m doing back to back events after work.

The balance of responsibilities shifts from week to week, but in the end, we’re partners and teamwork is what makes it all work. The fact that my husband supports my career and is happy to help out at home makes more things possible.

Asking what men can do (better)
A former boss tries his hardest to promote women in tech, and one of the things he’s done best is ask for specific ways that he can be most helpful. This has lead to lots of productive conversations around things like hiring and mentoring.

The act of asking also lets me know that he’s open to feedback and questions. This list started in large part because he’s constantly asking for concrete, actionable ways that he can help women in tech, and I appreciate that.


But wait, there’s more!
All of the above are things that good guys have done for me personally. I asked my network on Twitter whether they had any personal experiences and got lots of feedback. Here are more great (concrete and actionable) ways that men in tech have helped women in my personal network:

  • Helping brainstorm talk proposals (via Stephanie)
  • Offering training to help women build their skillsets (via Susan)
  • Literally just saying “well done”, “that was great”, “I’m impressed”, etc. (via Alexis)
  • Fixing a salary discrepancy after investigating and realizing a woman is underpaid (via Angela)
  • Letting women know that you have confidence in them (via Mara)
  • Supporting women while they are out on maternity leave (via Elana)
  • Asking point-blank, “What is holding you back?” and helping (via Alison)

One more thing
Ladies, if there’s a concrete action that someone has taken to help your career, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on Twitter [I’ll update this post with any new suggestions].

Also, it’s worth mentioning that none of the above actions are gender specific — plenty of women have helped my career as well (in similar and different ways) — or specific to tech. Anyone can make a big difference on someone’s career — these are just a few ways that some good guys  have helped mine, and I hope they help illustrate small, concrete ways that we can all be better allies to one another.


One Year of R-Ladies Austin 🎉

Today marks one year of R-Ladies Austin! The Austin chapter started when Victoria Valencia and I emailed R-Ladies global (on the same day!) to ask about starting a local chapter. It was meant to be — the ladies from R-Ladies global introduced us, and the rest is history.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of R-Ladies, we are a global organization whose mission is to promote gender diversity in the R community by encouraging, inspiring, and empowering underrepresented minorities. We are doing this by building a collaborative global network of R leaders, mentors, learners, and developers to facilitate individual and collective progress worldwide. There are over 60 R-Ladies chapters around the world and we continue to grow!

Here in Austin, it’s been a busy year. So far, we’ve hosted 16 meetups — including seven workshops, two book club meetings, two rounds of lightning talks, a handful of happy hours, a movie night, and a visit from NASA.


To celebrate our first R-Ladies anniversary, I thought it would be fun to answer some questions with Victoria around our journey so far:

What has been the best part of working with R-Ladies?

Victoria: The best part has been connecting with women in our community that share similar passions and interest in data! It has been so fun. Also, the R Ladies hex stickers are pretty awesome. 🙂

Caitlin: It’s been great to be a part of such a supportive community and to meet so many brilliant women, both here in Austin and in other cities. Since joining R-Ladies, I’ve built a great network, learned cool things, and had a lot of fun along the way.

Have you had a favorite meetup so far?

Victoria: My favorite meetup by far was our book club for Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. We started by discussing the book and the types of visualizations and data Giorgia and Stefanie shared with each other. Some were funny and some were sad but all of them were inspiring! We followed by creating our own visualizations in a postcard format of the beer list at Thunderbird Coffee. Who knew a beer list could be so fun to visualize and that each of us would think to do it in such different ways! It was a blast.

Caitlin: I love the book club meetups too — it’s a great space because we can do anything from have deep discussions on the ethical impacts of algorithms in society (I’m looking at you, Weapons of Math Destruction) to getting really creative and using colored pencils to dream up artistic ways of visualizing data. I also loved having David Meza come down from NASA in Houston to talk about knowledge architecture. It would be an understatement to say that he’s been supportive since day one, because he actually reached out to us long before our first meeting. (I guess “supportive since day -75” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it’s true.)

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned after one year of organizing R-Ladies?

Victoria: That managing a meetup is a fair amount of work, but certainly worth the effort! I have also learned that the R Ladies community is strong and close knit and super supportive! It has been great connecting and learning from them.

Caitlin: I agree with Victoria’s take — managing is a lot of work but also *very* worth it. I’ve learned a lot about building community through collaboration. Working with other local meetups has helped us to expand our reach and provide more opportunities for the women in our group. It’s also been very cool to learn more about the tech community on Austin. We’ve been fortunate to receive lots of support from local companies and other tech groups, and it’s been nice to get more plugged in that way while building a distinct community that adds something new to the mix.

How has R-Ladies helped you (personally or professionally)?

Victoria: R-Ladies has helped me by allowing myself time to learn about cool R stuff I did not know before! It has helped me to learn more efficient ways of coding by going through all of the chapters of R For Data Science, how to relax with colored pencils, data, and beer, and that opened my mind to different perspectives from fellow R-ladies about the continually evolving and expanding world of data that surrounds us.

Caitlin: I can’t say enough good things about the R-Ladies community. The individual chapters help to build local communities and strong networks of highly-skilled women, and the global chapter works hard to promote the work of R-Ladies to the larger global community, including people who might not see that work otherwise. Especially since a lot of women are one of few women on their team (or the only woman on their team), it’s great to have a network who can relate and provide feedback and advice (on all sorts of things) when you need it. On a personal level, I’ve built relationships with amazing women (both in real life and virtually) through R-Ladies, and it’s opened up some opportunities that would have taken a lot longer to find on my own.


The next 12 months

We’ve grown a lot this first year (we’re over 275-strong!), and we’re hoping to grow even more in the next 12 months. If you’re in Austin and haven’t made it out to a meetup yet, we’d love to meet you! We’re beginner friendly, positive, and dedicated to promoting gender diversity in the R Community (and tech in Austin more generally). And even if you are just interested in data and maybe learning more about R we want you to join us as well!

If you’re not in Austin, but want to support R-Ladies, I’d encourage you to check out R-Ladies directory the next time you’re looking for speakers or for local women to reach out to — there are lots of women out there doing amazing things, and R-Ladies is making it easier and easier to find and connect with them.

The two biggest things that we’ll need in the next 12 months are speakers and space. If you use R and have learned a cool thing, discovered a neat package, done an interesting analysis, or have anything else you want to share, we’d love to hear from you. And if you have space available, we’re always looking for new spaces to host the various types of meetups we put on. Please get in touch with us; we’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for a fantastic year, and looking forward to the next 12 months!

Caitlin and Victoria