Inside Airtame
4 min read

Women in tech: introducing ‘salons’ at your workplace

Alexandra Protsenko
November 1st, 2018

How can you unite the brightest women in tech at your workplace? Introduce ‘salons’, as Airtame’s technical recruiter Alexandra Protsenko suggests

I’m happy to be a part of Airtame’s #WomenInTech community.

We have professionals with an engineering background that are leading the development of our hardware; we have sharp marketers that make our brand distinctive around the world; and amazing customer success representatives that can resolve any tech problem. Then there’s my closest colleagues from the People team, who are making sure we continue to grow in a diverse and scalable fashion, all while making sure the team is happy.

We have so many high-achieving ladies on board, but it can be hard to exchange lessons learned during a busy workday. We’re swamped with our daily routine and barely could find time for a chat and share ideas, concerns and discuss vital topics.

I wanted to arrange a small event for our women community that will help us to work on our professional development together, or just talk about the most prescient topics on our minds, and all in-person – a new Slack channel is not enough.

Salon … like a beauty salon?

I stumbled upon an interesting article from First Round’s former Head of Knowledge, Anita Hossain. She was sharing tips on how to make social work events successful and pitched the idea of ‘salons’.

Salons have been known from the 16th century, when intellectuals and socialites were gathered by an inspired host, committed to sharing knowledge and enlightening the community. Hossain sees the Salon as an event that “allows people to get to know each other’s goals and challenges quite well — especially when the same people are brought together repeatedly — unique bonds form.”

While salons aren’t gendered by definition, it was tempting to gather all talented ladies and discuss the most relevant questions.

My colleague and I started brainstorming issues we could cover, and we decided our first session would focus on the hefty subject of professional and personal development.

Ahead of the meeting, I communicated the subject to all attendees and asked them to prepare actionable examples and thoughts on the topic. The more prep, the better!

Our first salon

The day came for us to unite for a two-hour session. We tried to make this event as informal as possible, so it was “hygge” atmosphere (which is, in effect, Danish for “cozy”) that encourages people to open up and share their main concerns. We had some food, bought some wine, and very much considered the session as down-time away from the workplace. 

We went around the room, and everyone presented at least 2-3 stories on how they perceive personal development, and what it means to them as individual women within tech.

We all agreed that being reflective made us slightly vulnerable, but through this, we were able to build self-awareness and team trust – a foundation that has helped us define our workgroup.

The value of feedback

The second important discovery was about the value of quality and constructive feedback. It also helps us to define our shortcomings and master our skills. We talked about ways of asking for feedback and sharing it with our peers in a direct yet customary fashion.

It seems like most of us tend to overthink some work situations, mostly for the worse, and worry about upsetting a colleague if we are critical. Again, this is where constructive feedback can step in – the fear of offending is more demotivating than receiving that critical, and perhaps severe, input in the first place.

We defined how we would like to receive constructive feedback from our managers and peers, in asking:

  • What do you think about X situation?
  • What do you think about my approach? What would you do differently?
  • What are your concerns about X?

This may seem simple, but actually providing a framework for giving feedback is crucial for transparency and personal growth within the tech industry, and beyond.

As further homework, for those curious around this subject, I recommended reading leadership coach Kim Scott’s book, Radical Candor, which does a great job at disseminating use cases around the feedback-leadership paradox; on how to be a great, constructively critical boss and still humane in your approach.

Constructive learning

I shared a concept that I’ve heard about in my previous company, it’s called the 70/20/10 model for learning and development. The methodology can be broken down as follows:

  • 70% of our personal and professional learning is from experience; the challenging tasks we take on, and the mistakes/wins we make.
  • 20% of our education is coming thanks to our colleagues, friends and role models. It’s essential to observe others and learn from them.
  • 10% of our learning and knowledge base is coming from books and courses.

I emphasized to the group that it’s important to be surrounded by people who you can learn from. This could also materialize in the form of mentorship.

Reflections

Women in tech is a growing force globally. Here, in our tiny corner of the world, we are a small but growing group and voice at Airtame. We come from 10 different countries, all with myriad education and professional histories, and yet we share a lot of common truths. This was the big learning for me in conducting the salon.  

We face the same challenges, we worry about the same things, and we all try to find the right way to develop ourselves. Now, acknowledging the similarities, we are a stronger collective force.

I hope that this continued move towards transparency and allowing for dedicated time to reflect – in something as enlightening and fun as a salon – can encourage positive change to the broader tech world, across Copenhagen, Scandinavia and globally.

Want to join our diverse team? Check out our open positions on the Airtame jobs page.
Alexandra Protsenko
My destiny is to find the best talents in the world and bring them to the most wonderful team. A fun fact: I spend about 67% of my day on conversations with people.