Women Working Wonders: how four panelists inspired one new Yahoo (By Mara Berg)

Jackie Reses kicks off WWW event

As a recent graduate navigating my first “big girl” job on Yahoo’s PR team, the Women Working Wonders event hosted by Yahoo Women in Tech was nothing short of inspiring. While my department is female dominated (seriously – we only have two men on the entire US team!), I recognize that girl power is not as abundant in most facets of the tech industry. Learning how influential Yahoo women transcended obstacles motivated me to carve my own career path.

The evening started with a team-building icebreaker, where we were instructed to break into groups and craft a structure using nothing but raw spaghetti, tape, string and a marshmallow. Though silly, the task was a challenge. Combined with the open wine bar, attendees loosened up while chatting with peers from companies like Google and Zynga.

Next came an introductory speech by Yahoo Chief Development Officer Jackie Reses, which seamlessly transitioned into the Women Working Wonders panel. Moderated by Eileen Fernandes, principal consultant at Deloitte, discussion focused on carving a career in the male-laden tech industry. The panel consisted of four (fierce!) Yahoo women: SVP of HR Kristen Robinson, VP of Corporate Applications Olga Braylovskiy, Director of Mobile Engineering Cynthia Maxwell, and Head of Yahoo Studios Anna Robertson.

Fernandes asked the panel if they ever found it hard to speak up in the presence of men in the workplace, to which Robertson – who came to Yahoo after winning Emmy and Murrow Awards as the senior producer for ABC’s Good Morning America – responded: “While it’s sometimes intimidating to walk into a room full of suits at first, I use being a woman to my advantage. And I wear great shoes while doing so.”

Diversity was the most striking feature of this group of women. Each of them holds such different yet crucial roles within Yahoo, and their career roadmaps took them all over the place – both company-wise and geography-wise. In her welcome speech, Reses recalled her first job as a Goldman Sachs analyst. At 23, she was one of only five women working at the company. However, she never thought of her femininity as a deterrent. “What we think is our biggest weakness can actually be our biggest positive,” said Reses.

When asked how to appear confident without bragging about your accomplishments, Maxwell, who worked at Apple and NASA prior to Yahoo, boldly stated, “Who cares if you’re bragging? Men brag all the time!” To which Braylovskiy – who previously held Finance, HR, and IT positions – raised the point that too often, women downplay their achievements and take too much ownership when things go awry.

My previous internships were in female-dominant industries, so I luckily have never encountered gender-driven roadblocks. However, listening to the panelists speak about problems they’ve combated opened my eyes, and the advice they relayed was invaluable. All four women stressed the importance of building a personal brand, taking initiative, and making connections that count. Robertson noted, “There is such power in a group of women. Just stay away from people who bring you down.”

After the panel, attendees mingled over finger food and watched product demos presented by Mona Chitnis for Hadoop, Cindy Li and Anna Thomas for Flickr, Simanti Olive and Catherine Tai for Yahoo Weather, and Autumn Victor for Yahoo Maps.

One quality I admired most about these woman was their fearlessness. All four panelists switched careers many times – often uprooting their families to new cities. When signing my contract with Yahoo, the permanence of having a “real job” hit me like a pile of bricks – I’d had nine internships during the course of my college career, in cities ranging from Boston to Dublin to New York City. The gravity of being anchored to Sunnyvale made my head spin. The panelists emphasized the importance of challenging oneself, and assured the crowd that varying your career path is not a sign of weakness – it’s sometimes a necessary stepping-stone to success.

This advice made me excited for the twists and turns my future will inevitably take, but it also oddly eased my fear of commitment. I firmly believe that I have the best first job ever, and these women solidified that notion. There are so many career opportunities within Yahoo that I cannot wait to explore. Hopefully one day, they will lead me to a seat next to Robinson, Braylovskiy, Maxwell, and Robertson on a Yahoo Women Working Wonders panel.

To view all the photos from this event, please visit our Women in Tech Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yahoo_women_in_tech/sets/72157635478705633/

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