Fast Breaks: How These Tech Leaders Pushed the Pace as the Only Woman on the Team

Being the sole woman on any team poses unique challenges — allyship and a healthy dose of confidence can help.

Written by Kelly Ballhorn
Published on May. 10, 2022
Fast Breaks: How These Tech Leaders Pushed the Pace as the Only Woman on the Team
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At 5 feet 2 inches, Tori Miller is a visual anomaly among the basketball players she manages: men who tower between 11 and 16 inches above her. 

Far more notable than her small physical presence on the court is her looming position as the first woman general manager in NBA G League history. Miller did not achieve this lofty quadruple-double — as the first woman and first Black woman general manager for both the College Park Skyhawks and the NBA — by chance. She set herself apart with her keen scouting abilities, razor-sharp acumen and assertive networking tactics. She once introduced herself to an NBA executive by emailing him from across the court at a game.   

“I saw it as a way for me to create my path,” Miller, who routinely sent unsolicited monthly ranking reports to all 30 teams in the G League, told NBA reporter Shaun Powell.

In short, Miller honed a skill universal to the “onlies” of the world: persistence. 

While contract negotiations set to the shriek of rubber soles and the metallic sting of the whistle are a far cry from the lo-fi music and AngularJS-versus-React debates that might fill a tech professional’s day, the two have plenty in common. 

Built In Boston sat down with four leaders in tech — all of whom have been the sole woman on the team at one point in their careers — and discovered that well-placed confidence was a key motif. 

“You can’t look at yourself as the only woman on your team,” shared Lyndsey Cohen, Developer at RapDev.  “Look at yourself as the powerful and smart person you are. Have confidence, speak up and go above and beyond.” 

Tufin’s Pamela Cyr, who serves as senior vice president of business and corporate development, echoed a similar sentiment. For women, finding a seat at the tech table often requires some light elbowing. 

“My advice is fairly simple: Remember why you are there,” Cyr said. “You are capable and you belong.”

We spoke with professionals from RapDev, Hydrow, Tufin and Dynatrace to learn more about how being the singular woman on the team shaped them as leaders — and hear their advice for women hoping to shoot their shot in the tech industry.

 

Sandi Larsen
VP, Security Solutions • Dynatrace

 

Dynatrace is a unified software intelligence platform that uses AI to automate cloud operations, deliver software faster and more securely, and ensure flawless digital experience

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

Throughout my career, I have been the only woman in my role or on a particular team at almost every company I have worked. One of the biggest challenges is being able to show confidence, but also balance how assertive to be. Women have the unique challenge of being viewed as too aggressive when they are assertive or too soft when they are nice. We need to feel confident enough to speak up and use our voices to get ideas heard. 

I stopped second-guessing if I should speak up. I have learned to trust my instincts and communicate clearly. Sometimes we think we need to shrink ourselves to seem non-intimidating. I think it is more about using a tone of confidence and showing openness to others’ ideas rather than being overly assertive. I try to make my presence known as a leader and as a collaborator.

Women have the unique challenge of being viewed as too aggressive when they are assertive or too soft when they are nice.”

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

One of the most important lessons I have learned is to let go of perfectionism. Women tend to be very critical of themselves and sometimes less forgiving. We can even get paralyzed by perfectionist tendencies. This has happened to me many times, whereas I would see my male counterparts have a growth mindset and not be so worried about how they are perceived.  

I have changed my thought process to focus on excellence, not perfection. By letting go of perfectionism, I find myself to be more creative. It has also helped me to understand to fail gracefully, take the lessons learned and start again. Adopting more of a growth mind set allows you to work hard, excel and be the best you can be. Your contributions do not have to be perfect to be valuable. 

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

Do not underestimate how important your presence is.  Companies with greater diversity are better, stronger and more productive. The intuitiveness and emotional intelligence that women naturally possess are beneficial to an organization. Such characteristics are never signs of weakness. But rather, they complement our business smarts and acumen. 

 

NOTHING BUT NET: MANTRAS FOR SUCCESS 

  • Be your authentic self.
  • Never conform to meet others’ expectations of you.
  • Know what you want and be relentless in your preparation.
  • Your ideas are worthy.
  • Your voice is important.

 

 

Lyndsey Cohen
ServiceNow Developer • RapDev

 

RapDev is an information technology company dedicated to helping organizations improve their development and engineering processes using infrastructure-as-code. 

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

When I started my first job out of college as an IT analyst at a civil engineering firm, I was the only female on my team of 12. The role involved a lot of interaction with other IT teams within the firm. There were times I wasn’t taken as seriously as other men on my team, even though I was just as qualified as them. 

I worked very hard to prove I was a valuable member of my team by always being prepared, knowledgeable and organized. I took on tasks no one else wanted to do — and showed I was more than capable of everything required to get the job done.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

Speak up and strive to be a valuable member of any team. 

As the only woman on a team, I have felt overpowered by the opinions and experience of my colleagues. In order to avoid rejection or being ignored, I’d often lay low in meetings — even if I had a suggestion or idea that I thought was better. 

Gradually, I started speaking up even if there was a chance of it not going my way. By speaking up, I offered new perspectives that were not once considered — which resulted in better outcomes. Your voice as a woman is powerful, needed and appreciated. 

Over time, my teammates came to value my opinions, and they knew I was someone they could count on. While building confidence within myself to speak up, I was also building the confidence my team had in me. 

Your voice as a woman is powerful, needed and appreciated.”

 

What’s the most important piece of advice you would offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

Have confidence, speak up and go above and beyond to prove you’re not any different than the rest of your team. 

I would also add: Trust yourself and your work and own it! Don’t be afraid to make yourself known.

 

 

Erin Chadwick
Head of Post Production • Hydrow, Inc.

 

Hyrdow is a fitness and e-commerce company that delivers on-river experiences at home with workouts led by world-class athletes in the form of a rowing machine equipped with outdoor reality technology.  

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

Not being heard. I’ve been talked over, interrupted or ignored when communicating in one-one-one and group settings because I am not the loudest person in the room. At first, it caused me to lose confidence in myself and my ideas. I wanted to trust my gut, but my perceived lack of faith by others made me second guess my instincts. 

I’ve learned to overcome this challenge by directly asking people to not interrupt me so I can complete my thoughts. In a meeting when I’m talked over, I will not allow the conversation to move on without — politely, of course — requesting to finish the point I was making. I have been very lucky to work with teams that did not write me off as annoying or emotional when being vocal, which has allowed me to hone these skills.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

I can be the driving force behind change in the environment around me. If I don’t advocate for myself, my perspective is stifled. 

When I started making a conscious effort to get my ideas heard, I found a lot of people didn’t realize they’d been speaking over me until I drew attention to it — which was surprising at first.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know it’s not so much a reflection of my worth as a professional, but the way people are conditioned to be. I try not to initially judge it as intentional — though it can be difficult. 

By being persistent in my communication and making space for myself in conversations, I am able to contribute to each team in a meaningful way. I’ve carried this new self-confidence forward in every new position and project I take part in. I trust my gut and am often rewarded for it. When I’m not rewarded, I learn and grow from it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience both.

 

What’s the most important piece of advice you would offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

Find your support system! It can feel alienating and lonely to be the only non-male person on a team, and finding people within the team who will directly support you can be difficult. 

I have been lucky enough to work in male-dominated environments with people who understood those fundamental challenges and supported me in combating them. But finding a support system outside of that space was vital for me. 

Look for ways to connect with other people in the field to retain a connection to the work you care about outside of your work environment. Whether it’s meetups, conferences, volunteer work or even a Facebook group, building a community of like minded people who understand your experiences will carry you forward.

 

 

Pamela Cyr
SVP, Business and Corporate Development • Tufin

 

Tufin is a network security policy management company that manages and automates security changes across modern firewalls and network devices. 

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

When I first started working as an engineer after graduation, I was working for a large defense contractor in Massachusetts. Not only was I the only woman on my team, I was one of the only women in the entire division. I was working in a sea of men and was seen as a bit of an anomaly.  

It was clear: I needed to be exceptional as all eyes were on me. I was very focused and driven, and also a bit naive. I just pressed forward and did my job without giving the lack of diversity too much thought. I did seek to build a support system of colleagues and senior leaders who could help me navigate both how to progress as an engineer as well as how to thrive in the environment. In particular, I found a manager and a senior engineer who were proactive in supporting me and being a sounding board.  

They kept their eyes out for me and understood that my situation was difficult. Having them there to discuss issues and challenges was game changing for me. I didn’t realize at the time how important that was. My advice would be to ensure you build your support system with allies who care about your career and you as a person.

Ensure you build your support system with allies who care about your career and you as a person.”

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

I have been the only woman in so many scenarios. Undergraduate graduate school, first job out of college, first startup, and more. During all of this time, I never felt that I was out of place or didn’t belong right where I was.  

I have always had a healthy amount of confidence, and it has been imperative for me to thrive — especially early in my career. My advice is to appreciate that diversity of thought is integral to the success of teams and organizations.

 

THREE POINTERS FOR WOMEN IN TECH:

  1. Be confident.
  2. Create a support system.
  3. Don’t shy away from bringing diverse thoughts and ideas to the team or company.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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