On Returning to the Workplace After Becoming a Mom, Traveling Solo, and Dealing With a Cancer Gene

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We had a great lineup of speakers at our February She+ Geeks Out event hosted by edX. The presenters opened up about their personal lives and shared anecdotes of empowerment and strength. Keep reading to find out what returning to work after becoming a parent can feel like, why you should plan your next travel adventure today, and what it takes to stay positive in tough situations.

Why being assertive benefits you and your company

Nimisha Asthagiri, a Principal Software Engineer at edX, came to the U.S. from India when she was three years old. She went to MIT to pursue her intellectual passions, geeked out about programming, and embraced the empowerment the school offered. She also found love in her personal life through her husband and two wonderful children. After giving birth, she decided to take some time off. “One year became two and became three,” Nimisha shared. But she missed working, getting paid, and coding. So she decided to jump back into the workplace.

In the meantime, the industry had changed dramatically. Even though Nimisha hadn’t done any cloud computing and hadn’t heard of DevOps, she was full of motivation and knew she could overcome these technical hurdles. To her surprise, the biggest barrier was social and cultural.

“I was 10 years older than everyone else and was surrounded by men. It was a bit tough to fit into the conversations at lunch, but I tried not to let these moments get in the way. I was engrossed in the work.”

Then she was asked to lead a team of engineers. “In order to lead, I had to establish myself as someone who people wanted to follow,” Nimisha shared. Around that time her manager sat her down and told her that others didn’t feel like she conveyed confidence with her language and demeanor. “His feedback made me even more self-conscious than before. And I repeatedly felt myself having to prove my confidence time and time again.” Even though Nimisha felt like she could have quit, she was pulled back again by her love to work.

She figured out how to correct people if they didn’t acknowledge her for work that she had done. She also learned to put her own ego aside when entering a meeting. She found that being assertive benefits both the company and oneself, making individual contributors better problem solvers and less stressed. And guess what? She eventually found a culture around her interests while staying true to herself.

What keeps you from your next adventure?

Beth Santos, founder and CEO of Wanderful, shared a fascinating piece of data with the She+ Geeks Out crew. According to a Booking.com and Yahoo report, 72% of women express interest in traveling by themselves. Travel, Beth pointed out, has become more and more a part of people’s lives thanks to technology (think: the effect of social networks like Facebook and Instagram), accessibility (think: Airbnb and ridesharing services), and price (think: airfare deals).

Even though so many women express a desire to travel the world on their own, few actually do it. Why? They have to deal with scheduling flights, booking hotels, packing bags, planning activities, and figuring out operational tasks such as money exchanges and cell phones. If they overcome these hurdles, then they have to face the fear of dining alone, figuring the cultural norms abroad, and even navigating the political landscape there.

That’s where the concept of the village comes in. We get inspired to do something simply by seeing others doing it. Wanderful is about creating a network of women who travel by themselves, so it gives you a chance to surround yourself with others who share the same interest. Now all you need to do is ask yourself, what keeps you from your next adventure?

Positively positive: applying design to life

Emily Rawitsch, Head of Design at Invaluable, started out her talk by sharing the three key principles of UX design: empathy, usability, and delight. Interestingly, Emily found a way to apply these principles not only in her professional life, but also to life outside of work.

Emily lost her mom to cancer when she was very young and tested positive for BRCA, a gene that increases your lifetime risk of developing cancer. She was scared but chose to look at the situation from a different, positive perspective. Yes, she was born with this gene, but she was aware of it. She could take action, and she did so by going through all the preventative surgeries.

She applied the same design principles she used at work to this process. First: empathy. Emily let others in on her news and, as a result, met others who were going through the same journey. Second: technology. Emily used Google sheets to keep her family up to date on medical check ins; the app Lotsa Helping Hands provided support after her surgery; and she consolidated all important information using LastPass. Last: Delight. How did she add delight to such a stressful situation? Emily decided to throw herself a party right before the surgery. She was focused on what to wear and bake, and how to decorate instead of focusing on what the next day held… She invited family, friends, and coworkers all of whom offered help, warmth and distraction. Looking back, Emily feels empowered through this experience. “I’m happy and I’m healthy, and that’s mostly by design.”

Find these stories inspiring? So do we. And we hope to see you at the next She+ Geeks Out event in March for more inspiring stories.

About the author: SGO Ambassador Maggie Georgieva is a Product Manager at HubSpot focused on facilitating existing user flows and creating simple and prescriptive paths for navigation. Learn more about HubSpot.”