Written by: Regina Cristobal
In the words of Pat Wadors, Head of HR at LinkedIn, “When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become a wiser, more inclusive, and better organization.”
Such ideologies have always been the cornerstone of Mika Reyes’ plights in the field of technology – specifically, as a project manager. Her journey started after she graduated from Wesleyan University, Phi Beta Kappa, and summa cum laude equivalent with degrees in Economics and Psychology, minor in Data Analysis. After which, she founded Kai Entrepreneurship, an organization that promotes diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship.
Through an internship at MedGrocer in the Philippines, she was tasked to be hands-on with this craft by talking to several stakeholders in order to push their company forward, and, ultimately, impact the lives of their consumers. Here, she realized how technology may be utilized to solve problems, especially in current emerging markets. This drove her forward, and her ambition undoubtedly flourished as she worked for Ripcord, Kumu, and, at present, LinkedIn.
However, breaking into the tech scene was a hefty challenge. As an international student from a liberal arts background, working in a globalized field of technology initially seemed like a distant reality. To top it all off, she was a woman of color trying to make a difference in a predominantly male industry.
When asked if her background had any effect on her endeavors, she shared:
“One day at work, I was in a casual meeting with some teammates on a Friday afternoon. In that room were four men and myself. The work-related agenda was covered and so we were in that room chatting and passing around some wine. The topic of conversation shifted in all directions – we talked about cars, whiskey, and this famous boxing figure I hadn’t a clue about. For the life of me, I could not contribute at all to these conversations. They saw my confused face and so took it upon themselves to explain some of the things they were talking about. Later on, I go back to my desk and think about how I can be a better conversationalist and more adept in social situations, something a product manager like myself should already naturally have.”
Reyes concluded that this situation was undeniably the result of prevalent issues in the tech industry. For one, she was the only woman in the team. More often than that, she would find herself to be the only woman in the room; and though, at times, this can feel empowering, this can more so feel alienating. As the only person with this marginalized disposition, she was often mansplained – something she did not even register at that time. Like an outsider to her own experiences, she wrongly attributed her feelings to simply not being enough. She soon realized the damage that implicit biases can create in the workplace and how they are inadvertently harmful as they are difficult to recognize and eradicate from our psyches. Thus, she longs for more diversity in all decision-making circles; where more perspectives can contribute to more inclusive and better products.
Nonetheless, Reyes reminds us to not lose hope – the struggle should never overpower the solution. To those who wish to pursue careers in technology, she recommends to:
1.) Join or Create Communities: For marginalized groups, one of the best ways to rise up is through supporting communities. Within these communities, engage with members, find mentors, and, above all, give back. A piece of advice or service to another member will go a very long way.
“If it weren’t for the support of these communities and the phenomenal people from these groups, I would not have broken into industries, gotten advice about career and life, and overcome challenges I would have not thought possible to get through.”
2.) Dream Big and Take Risks: Women, and Filipinos in general, can benefit more from overcoming this self-created mental barrier. Do not be afraid to ask for help from that person you resonate with. Take that risk of investing in that piece of land you’ve been betting on for a while. Dream big and start that startup you’ve been longing to start.
3.) Take Advice with a Grain of Salt: This may seem ironic, but eventually all these articles and pieces of advice are bound to sound the same. Mold everything you’ve learned into the philosophy that resonates with you the most. Do not let others dictate your path and disposition. Rather, inspire them.
In the words of Mika Reyes, “If we can start encouraging these [diverse] perspectives from the very top of the funnel, I hope it trickles out to the rest of the industry.”