What I've Learned From TKS Boss Ladies

From empowerment to self-love, you name it!

I haven’t worked with guys in over four years. I attend an all-girls high school and work at an all-girls tech program. Pretty much all of my friends are girls.

So, when I first stepped into The Knowledge Society (TKS), a human-accelerator program designed to teach teenagers about emerging technologies, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, boys actually do exist!”

Despite the gender ratio of the actual STEM industry, the gender ratio at TKS is pretty good. There are about 25 girls in TKS NYC Boss Ladies out of the total 65 kids in TKS NYC, meaning that we’re about 38% girls.

Sure, maybe it’s not the perfect 50–50 gender ratio, but that hasn’t made me feel excluded or different from everyone else. I’ve built great relationships, many with the girls as well as some of the guys!

After all, regardless of our gender, we’re all just kids who want to impact the world.

However, among all of the new things I got exposed to at TKS — emerging technology, entrepreneurship, and working with guys again — Boss Ladies was a huge comfort for me.

Let’s look at the journey of BossLadies over the years at TKS.

Timeline: A Year in TKS

Sunday, Nov 3 — First Boss Ladies Session

Picture of everyone at the first Boss Ladies session
The beginning of Boss Ladies.

Okay, I have a confession: I couldn’t actually attend the first Boss Ladies session. I know, shocker. But it was the start of everything, so I had to include it!

But from what I heard, everyone discussed the goals of Boss Ladies, future events, and played fun games with each other. Pretty great beginning, but it only gets better.

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Monday, Nov 18 — WE NYC Summit

Group photo at the WE NYC event last year in November
Group photo at the WE NYC event last year in November
TKS ladies at the WE NYC Summit!

In celebration of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, we attended this conference full of female founders disrupting the healthcare industry. Speakers included Jeanne Pinder, CEO of ClearHealthCosts, Nina Tandon, CEO of Epibone, and Peggy Wallace, Managing Partner at Golden Seeds, whom we got to personally meet ourselves!

It was my first professional conference, I got to network with a bunch of women doing incredible things. Everyone we met was so encouraging to us and TKS!

I realized that there’s truly an amazing community of women entrepreneurs here to support women and bring diversity to the field. Despite what anyone else may say about you being a woman in STEM, never let people tell you what you can or cannot do — just trust yourself and go for it!

Saturday, Feb 15 — Having Boss Presence Workshop by Alana Podreciks, Head of McKinsey New Ventures

A group photo of everyone at the Boss Ladies workshop with Alana
A group photo of everyone at the Boss Ladies workshop with Alana
A great group photo together with TKS ladies and Alana.

Alana Podreciks, the Head of McKinsey New Ventures, came in and held an entire workshop about being a boss! She taught us to lead and speak with presence so that we won’t be mistaken as the secretary in the workplace. I learned about presenting, having your superwoman pose, and being intentional with how you walk, making you feel and look empowered!

Monday, Apr 13 — Q&A With TKS Female Directors: Noel, Hayley, and Kelle

With all of the girls in TKS, we were able to hear the directors’ takes on major topics including gender bias, discrimination, and confidence! They taught me the importance of finding your community in the workplace, there to help and support your ideas. Every single one had experienced or witnessed gender biases at play, but having that support group encouraged them to fight against it and move forward.

Monday, May 4 — Self-Love Session by Hayley

Hayley, the TKS NYC Director, hosted a session all about building self-love. She spoke about her own journey to self-love, the importance of being your own cheerleader, and ways to practice loving yourself through affirmations.

Tuesday, May 5 — Start of the Global Boss Ladies

People came from all over to the self-love session, thus giving rise to Global Boss Ladies, a community of women from every TKS location. With a hundred and sixteen members, we’ve already bonded through ice breakers and baby pictures. What happens afterward has yet to come, but I have a feeling it’s gonna be awesome.

So, What’s the Point?

Wow, we’ve sure done a lot. But so what? What does any of this mean? Well, besides the fact that TKS Boss Ladies is amazing, it all boils down to one, fundamental lesson.

Having a community of women to support you is essential.

For me especially, I find it’s easier for me to become friends with girls rather than guys. That’s why in new situations or communities, I’d immediately make an effort befriending the girls.

This community of females can be the ones to support and empower one another, especially as a minority in the tech industry. Because they’re the ones that understand what it’s like to be the only female in the room. To doubt yourself because technology isn’t “womanly”.

In TKS, there’s a famous saying we’re introduced to at the very first session. It goes something like this:

To reach unconventional success, you must follow an unconventional path.

— Navid Nathoo, Co-Founder of TKS

And here’s the truth: for women, technology is not a conventional path. In the U.S., about 25% of people in computer and mathematical occupations are women. Even less are engineers and architects, with only about 15%. Luckily, these numbers are increasing but the gaps still exist.

Source: AAUW

These gaps are due to a variety of factors, including gender stereotypes, male-dominated workplace cultures, and fewer role models of women scientists and engineers to look up to.

Just think about it: famous male scientists? Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Alexander Graham Bell. The list goes on.

Okay, how about famous female scientists? Uh, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin. The three women from Hidden Figures: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mark Jackson. Don’t forget the most famous one of all: Ms. Frizzle. Of course, there’s way more, but they’re not nearly as well-known as the male scientists.

It’s little things like this that make a huge difference. In that case, what can we do to combat it? How do we encourage women to pursue this unconventional path of STEM?

Tips on Empowering Women in STEM

The next Rosalind Franklin is out there and quite possibly, here in TKS.

1. Make them feel like they belong in tech and in the community.

Host bonding events, connect with women professionals in the field, etc. Game nights, movie nights, whatever it is. Build that community of women and give them opportunities to connect!

And remember, it’s not all about having a 50–50 gender ratio. Having a few women who you can rely on, especially when dealing with gender-related issues, can be more than enough support to remind yourself that you belong.

2. The purpose is never to exclude but to empower.

Women’s empowerment is never a way to bring down other men or women. In TKS, I became great friends with some of the guys as well, as we worked together on recommendation decks and the moonshot challenge.

The point isn’t to just stay within the Boss Ladies community exclusively, but rather use the community as a way to lift you up, strengthen you, and give you a sense of belonging among a bunch of guys.

The way I see it, the women in Boss Ladies have given me a sense of comfort that at first, I worried I wouldn’t find at TKS. Being among a group of amazing women challenges me to be my best, empowers me to do better, and encourages me to stay on this unconventional path.

Key Takeaways

  • BossLadies did a ton of awesome stuff, from attending conferences, learning about self-love, and so much more!
  • There’s a huge gender gap in STEM, due to things like gender biases, a lack of role models, etc. Just think of how many more male scientists are well-known and get recognition compared to female scientists!
  • Yet, having a group of boss women brings a sense of belonging and encouragement while empowering you to do more.
  • STEM is not a conventional path for women. It’s all the more reason we need to continue.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to follow me on Medium, LinkedIn, or shoot me an email to hear more. Until next time…

Email: alexiswang55@gmail.com

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A Caltech student who likes to tell stories.