When she stepped on the stage



A presentation among friends. A presentation to share insights about the company. A presentation to help us make better decisions as leaders. This was the theme when the engineering managers gathered around for a few days to help propel the company into a better future.

I couldn't help but notice that there was only one woman in the room and she fit in like a hand in a custom made glove. She conversed with everyone, laughed at jokes, and teased the new guys.

One at a time, the managers stepped on stage and made their presentation. They called each other names, dropped f-bombs, sprinkled jokes left, right and in between slides. The audience was asking silly questions. It was fun, it was entertaining, but I can hardly tell you what the meat of their presentation was.

Most were friends before they joined the company, they knew each other outside of work. They were comfortable. They played well together. They were friends. But then the girl stepped on stage. The one and only girl in the room. Was she going to follow in the same tradition? Was she going to be entertaining? After all, she was also friends with everyone. She was part of the crew.

The moment she stepped on stage and opened her laptop, her eyes narrowed. Her facial expression dropped like she had been wearing a mask all along. The crowd was silent and focused as she made her exposé. She was interrupted a couple times with questions, but handled them with grace. She broke down the problem, repeated the argument, then explained how it can be solved with the method she was presenting.

In other words, she killed it. Unlike her colleagues, she was not trying to test her comedy routine on us. She didn't make a single joke. It was entertaining because we learned a lot from her. It was fun because she offered a solution to a problem we were facing as managers. It was professional because she didn't feel the need to drop f-bombs.

In the past, I've spoken about the challenge of being the only black person in every team I join. I recognize that women also face their own set of unique challenges. Especially in Tech. But I was grateful for this change of pace, for this simple yet new take that my colleague offered. While all of us were used to the comedy routine presentation, a fresh take brought us back to basics. If everyone in your team looks and talks just like you, it may be time to start changing your hiring process.