The Rocket City is known for its high-tech, digital-driven businesses and engineering.
But, if you’re a woman in those industries, there are challenges that male counterparts don’t have to face.
So, Urban Engine Executive Director Toni Eberhart stepped in to help women answer those challenges with a panel discussion called “Her-Story.”
“We decided to do a panel discussion for Women’s History Month which featured women who were making waves,” Eberhart said. “The panel was designed to open the discussion of the unique challenges faced by women. It was important to us to find women that were relatable and accessible.”
Founded in fall 2016, Urban Engine is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, small business incubator that governs, nurtures, and sustains.
“Urban Engine facilitates aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s collaboration,” Eberhart saidr. “We started a meetup and a place where people work on their side projects. It’s geared toward those interested in startups leveraged around mobile technology and software, the industry disrupters.”
The meetups soon gained momentum, and what began as a group of six to 10 people grew to 100 people and morphed into what is now known as “Coworking Night.”
The “Her-Story” event was moderated by Carly Seldon, host of “Let Me Tell You Something.”
“I’m really excited about the panel,” Seldon said. “Toni and I have worked on this. We wanted to have an honest conversation about the struggles and to be able to pass along some knowledge.”
The panelists were: Jessica Barker, entrepreneur, owner of Affluent Business Services; Joanna Broad White, government affairs liaison, Huntsville Area Association of Realtors; May Chen, computer engineer at Adtran; and Emilie Dover, owner of Rocket City Digital.
Seldon started the panel discussion by asking Chen about the challenges faced as an engineer, which, traditionally is considered a male-dominated field.
“There are (few) females in research and development or management,” Chen said. “It’s hard to have a female voice. I see myself as a capable, confident engineer.
“Customers and clients don’t see you has having the answers. Is it because I’m female? Because I’m Chinese? It’s hard not to question. I try to see things objectively and say what I think.”
Women also have to face certain “stereotypes” compared to men in the same position.
“I’ve never heard a man be referred to as ‘pushy,’” White said. “I think men lack some of the qualities women have. Men are reticent to express passion. If a woman is really jazzed or really angry about something, men are going to get uncomfortable.
“Assertiveness is valuable, and paved with passion that men will grow to appreciate. My male mentors were afraid to be assertive, which allowed me to push forward. It’s also important to back everything up with really good work.”
Climbing the ladder also brings its own set of challenges for women.
Barker brought up the “crab” effect, also known as “Crabology.”
“Something that a lot of black women know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Like a bucket of crabs, as you’re climbing up, trying to get up the ladder (out of the bucket), your friends are pulling you back down. At this point, you start to lose friends, or your friendships change.
“The problem is not limited to the black experience. How to circumvent it is to change your own mindset. Keep in mind that they (your friends) might not be in that same mindset. You can’t be talking about travel and new car purchases, you have different conversations with them and don’t bring up certain things.”
Did Someone Stifle Your Growth?
“It’s a huge reason why Rocket City Digital came into being,” said Dover. “I had several bosses who would give me more work. I would take on more jobs, more responsibilities, all along realizing I could do this for myself.
“One day I told my future partner, ‘I’m quitting. So, if we’re going to start this business, we’re going to start it today.’”
Seldon posed another question: “How do you make sure you don’t stifle someone else’s growth?”
“I’m very self-aware, my partners and I have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Dover said. ‘We strive to provide a safe, healthy, fun workplace for our employees. At Rocket City Digital, we strive to provide a workplace where you want to be there.”
What are the traits a woman needs?
“You really have to know what your passions are. You have to love STEM, or at least like it. You have to have the courage to pursue what you want,” Chen said.
“Whatever you wake up in the morning yearning to do,” said Barker. “Put your passion to a purpose. Whatever it is that’s burning inside you. Someone needs what you have the passion to do.”
What lessons are you passing on to your children?
“Make sure you find out what they are passionate about,” said Barker, a mother of four – ages 1-14. “Follow what they like to do. Let them be free to live their lives.”
White, also a mom with four children, said let the children know what is important.
“That the world doesn’t revolve around them, we are not the only things in mom’s life,” she said. “Husband, faith, friends, they are all very important. We celebrate our friend’s successes. They have them ask themselves ‘How can I make a difference? Do I have compassion?’”
“I want to make sure that my son knows that life isn’t always fair,” said Dover, mother to a 3-year-old son. “Time and dedication, it will ultimately pay off for the future.”
What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?
“I love confrontation,” said White. “When you live in the present, it’s so important to deal with these things because they will fester. You cannot please everyone, you are not pizza. Not everyone is going to like me, but they will respect me. I just need to make sure that I back it up with good work.”
“Show them real value and you’ll be respected,” Chen said.
What would be the advice you would give your younger self?
“You need to become ‘numb” inside,’” said Dover. “Business is business and business owners see things differently. You can’t take everything personally when it comes to business. Then, it becomes a vicious cycle. Find ways to do your job better and more efficiently.”
“I have an amazing group of friends,” said Chen. “I have a lot of good friends, male, female. Find your support group, it helps.”
“Energy is not created nor destroyed,” said Barker. “Whatever you put out there is what you will get back.”
“Take a minute, stop and eat,” said White. “Nothing is as dramatic as you think. There is a time when you need to take time for yourself.”
What do you do to get motivated?
“In the office, we do slow claps,” said Dover.
“I listen to local Huntsville music, like Judy and Josh Allison on Spotify,” said White. “I nerd out about Huntsville. Stuff to keep me focused and to remind me why I am here. I also focus on big projects. Huntsville is a small pond. So, if you work hard, you’ll be a big fish really quick. Maybe things are ending for a reason. Be sure there’s a good examination, find a network.”
Barker, who listens to New Orleans jazz music to get motivated, said, “When things look bleak, I go back to my network, go to networking events, and make sure I’m staying current.”
How does one learn to say ‘No’?
“I’ve often weakened my ‘no’ by saying ‘yes,’” said Dover. “If you are doing the hard work, they will respect your ‘no.’”
“Make sure you’re personally aligned with your mission,” said White. “Develop your personal mission so you know when to say ‘no.’”
“Build relationships and rapport,” said Chen. “When I say no, they know I have a good reason.”
“To them, your ‘no’ may look like doom at first,” said Barker. “But it just might be your victory.”
For more information on Urban Engine’s Coworking Night and other programs, visit https://www.urbanengine.org/