There’s a lot I didn’t know in my early twenties. I didn’t know I was “allowed” to negotiate higher than what I was offered. I was in the dark that women typically fail to pursue a role they don’t feel 100 percent equipped to do. Did I find it odd hearing stories about male peers being paid more than their female counterparts for the same role? Absolutely. But I did not know this was a common occurrence. I lacked the vocabulary to describe phenomenon like imposter syndrome or glass ceilings.
This all changed when I started building a community that is close to my heart—Stellar Women. The community is dedicated to elevating female leaders in tech. Over the past four years, I’ve made wonderful friendships, learned a ton, and started to form my own opinions about what it means to be a leader in 2022.
This Women's History Month, I’ve had time to reflect on how this community has shaped who I am as a female leader, and the potential the community has to bring others into our ranks.
Stellar Women Becomes a Thing
I joined Relativity, a Chicago-based software company, in December 2017. I was, and you may argue still am, relatively junior in my career. I was coming off of my first job as a healthcare reporter who was well versed in things like ambulatory surgery and spinal fusions. It is safe to say, e-discovery was a whole new world.
My manager at the time knew I had a passion for writing. She asked if I wanted to help out with something she was working on, a project she named, “Stellar Women.” The goal was to increase the number of female thought leaders in our content. We floated the idea of doing a blog series, a social campaign, and then we struck gold. Why not do a podcast? This was in the days well before the pandemic when many of us had long commutes and podcasts were really taking off.
We worked with our Creative team to develop a logo to reflect our goal of championing women in our industry. Then, we put out a form asking our industry to nominate women they deemed stellar. And we waited. Nominations started coming in with remarkable stories about women who had dedicated their careers to mentorship and uplifting their teams. We set up a few interviews and started recording.
From a Podcast to a Community
After a season or two of chatting with female leaders, we really started finding our groove. For one, I stopped cringing every time I heard my voice when editing episodes. I brought my colleague and friend, Mila Taylor, on as a co-host. Not only did she elevate the brand with her Australian accent, but Mila’s ability to listen intently to our guests and respond with such wonderful insight has allowed us to build substantial relationships beyond the 45-minute recordings.
Together, we really developed the voice of Stellar Women—one that is, well, human. I described it in a presentation the other day. When I do a Stellar Women podcast or moderate an event, I don’t have to try and be super polished. I can show up and just be Mary. That’s precisely how we want our community to feel and show up at our events.
So far, we’ve released more than 60 episodes. We’ve chatted with women about how they’ve advocated for their teams, picked themselves up after an obstacle, articulated their value to achieve their goals, and built diverse teams.
And we’ve evolved from a podcast to much more. We now host events every quarter where we have the opportunity to hear from our community. Every year, we celebrate one all-star female leader dedicated to mentorship and elevating emerging talent through our Innovation Award for Stellar Women. Our lead writer, Blair Cohen, produces content for and with our community to discuss tips for overcoming burnout and how to squash the “Sunday Scaries.” And, we have a LinkedIn group where we all come together to post our highlights of the week, network with one another, and really, just have that support to fall back on when we need it.
After an event, a colleague of mine relayed the following message from a customer: “What Mary and Mila have done is build a solid group of women professionals who are now sticking together.”
When brainstorming with my manager a mere four years ago, I would not have imagined being able to accomplish such an amazing feat. But with the help of Mila, Blair, my colleagues, and our industry, we are sticking together and seeing how to chip away at the barriers that hinder a more gender equitable industry.
From Host to Thought Leader
I once got great advice about what it means to be a successful moderator. Your job is to allow your panel to shine in the spotlight. This is what I strived to do when hosting a podcast episode, moderating a Stellar Women panel, or really doing anything related to Stellar Women.
This past year, I was approached to be a panelist on a couple of opportunities related to making diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a business imperative. At first, I thought, “Me? Who am I to tell a manager the first steps to diversifying their teams?” I thought about politely declining, saying there was likely someone more qualified to speak on this topic.
And you know what? There is someone more qualified than me to speak on this topic. There likely will always be someone with that much more experience. I quickly recognized and acknowledged what I was feeling as imposter syndrome. I told myself that I have learned a ton about DEI through my conversations with our community, my time as co-chair of Relativity Women of the Workplace, and the research I had done over the last three-plus years. I am passionate about the need for diversity, inclusion, and belonging and want to share why this is imperative.
The panel went well. I found myself contributing thoughtfully and also learning from my fellow panelists about ways they’ve integrated DEI into their organizations successfully.
Whether talking about DEI or why you have to advocate for yourself, I am more confident now sharing my opinions. I thank the Stellar Women community for that.