six female panelists standing in front of the Girls in Tech sign
Moderator Christiana Russell and panelists, from left to right: Marites Lucaben, Susanna Faruque, Courtney McDonnell, Bijal Hopkins, and Sofia Quiroz

“I still have PTSD from my last job, like I’m walking on eggshells when I don’t have to,” said Sofia Quiroz, Design Technologist at Housecall Pro and one of five panelists who shared their insight at Girls in Tech San Diego’s most recent Speaker Series event: Changing Company Culture from Within. A ripple of energy moved through the room, along with murmurs of understanding and agreement from the women – and even a few of the men – in attendance. In fact, this was a common thread throughout the night. A panelist would share her experience, and almost everyone in the audience would instantly connect. Maybe it happened to you, maybe you experienced something similar, maybe it happened to a friend, or maybe it’s just plain old-fashioned solidarity – if you were there that night, you couldn’t help but feel it.

On Thursday, October 10th, Measurabl generously opened the doors to their absolutely gorgeous downtown office to members of the San Diego tech community and hosted an event in Girls in Tech San Diego’s Speaker Series, in which a panel of women with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints share insights and advice on a topic pertinent to our community. The topic for this most recent event was Changing Company Culture from Within – that is, how can an individual, one not necessarily in a position of power, affect positive change within their company. It is of particular note that reusable dishes, silverware, and napkins were provided by Measurabl for this event. When it comes to sustainability, Measurabl truly lives up to their mission and sets a positive example.

If you’re one of the lucky few who is fortunate enough to have only had positive experiences with company culture, you may be wondering why change may be needed in the first place. There was no shortage of reasons represented on our panel. Susanna Faruque, Systems Engineer at Northrop Grumman, shared her experience as a mother in the workplace, where her basic needs as a parent were overlooked or ignored. Bijal Hopkins talked about starting a new job and attempting to initiate communication and social interactions with new colleagues, only to be repeatedly shut out. Over and over we heard the sentiment echoed: “I had a good idea, and it was continually met with resistance. My company didn’t want to hear me, and they didn’t want to change.” Some panelists mentioned that despite a company’s claims about inclusivity and diversity, they were still the only woman at the table, and moderator Christiana Russell, Owner of Mendedwing Consulting, LLC and COO of We Tha Plug, shared, “I’ve worked in many organizations where I was the only person of color or the only woman, and it was literally like I didn’t have a voice.”

So, how do you go about changing your company culture? Several of our panelists confirmed that the first step is admitting you(r company) ha(s)ve a problem. It can be daunting to come to terms with the fact that there’s an issue with your company culture, especially if it looked like a dream job going in. Acknowledging the problem is the best way to start fixing it. Which brings us to step two, from Marites Lucaben, Senior Technical Project Manager and QA Team Manager at Measurabl: speak up. You can’t wait around for change to happen on its own, you need to be prepared to lead the charge. She added that you never know until you try, and support may come from unlikely places as others may be having the same issue. Bijal Hopkins raised an important point, which is that when you’re speaking up, it’s important to consider your audience. As much as you may hope the top brass at your company will support your initiatives because it’s the right thing to do, you may need to give them the “dollars and sense/it makes you dollars so it makes sense” version of the outcomes you plan to achieve.

Sofia Quiroz reminded us that action is important, but so is inaction. Do your best to remove yourself from the harmful aspects of your company’s culture by refusing to participate in conversations or acts that are non-inclusive or demeaning. On the flip side, be inclusive in your words and actions, and advocate for others. As several panelists stated and audience members echoed, you are at your most powerful and productive when you’re fighting for a cause that is bigger than yourself. Creating real, lasting change takes courage and persistence, both of which are easier to come by when you know that the initiatives you’re advancing will benefit your colleagues, your company, underrepresented individuals, and maybe even other folks in your industry. Maybe this sounds like a heavy burden to shoulder, but the good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Courtney McDonnell, Director of Customer Success at Measurabl, reminded us that “The fastest path to help is usually just to ask.”

Courtney also pointed out that you are not required to remain in a situation that isn’t serving you. If you’ve tried everything, you’re met with resistance at every turn, and you just can’t or don’t want to keep going, it is perfectly okay to leave and find yourself a better fit. If you don’t have the means to leave an undesirable situation right away, that’s okay, too. Our panelists also had some advice for when you’re searching for that next opportunity. Don’t bother asking about company culture outright. Instead, ask about communication styles, attitudes toward collaboration and asking questions, mentorship opportunities, and why some past employees weren’t a good fit (spoiler alert: if the last person who quit was considered a bad fit because they asked too many questions, and you also prioritize gaining clarity over making mistakes, you probably won’t be happy at that company).

If you’re feeling inspired and empowered after hearing (or reading about!) the wise words of our panelists, I have good news for you: the Speaker Series will continue! To make sure you don’t miss the next one, or any of Girls in Tech San Diego’s other events, clear your schedule on the evening of the second Thursday of each month and follow us on Instagram and Twitter (@GirlsInTechSD) so you always have event details at your fingertips! 

Girls in Tech San Diego would again like to sincerely thank our amazing moderator, Christiana Russell, Owner of Mendedwing Consulting, LLC and COO of We Tha Plug, for guiding our panel with astute observations and thought-provoking questions. We would also like to thank our incredible panelists for sharing their stories and wisdom: Bijal Hopkins, Lead Software Engineer at Q-Centrix; Courtney McDonnell, Director of Customer Success at Measurabl; Marites Lucaben, Senior Technical Project Manager and QA Team Manager at Measurabl; Sofia Quiroz, Design Technologist at Housecall Pro; and Susanna Faruque, Systems Engineer at Northrop Grumman.