Three Impressive Women in Tech from the Toptal Talent Network by Petra Grundler

Petra Grundler
Talent Coach
Catherine Conaghan
Project and Product Manager
Jessica Souza
Visual Designer
Yolanda Correia
Expert Developer

Video Transcription

Hello, good day. Thank you for joining us at our meet and greet session. This is a part of the women Tech Global conference sponsored by Toptal.I'm Petra Grundler talent coach at Toptal and I am so pleased to welcome to the virtual stage, three, incredibly impressive technology professionals who are part of our Toptal talent network. We are honored to have them here today to share their experiences as women in tech with you.

So please welcome Catherine Conaghan project and product manager. Hi, everyone. Uh Jess Souza, visual designer. Hey there and Yolanda Correa developer. Hi. Hello ladies. Thank you so much for being here today. You are one dynamic group of experts all from different countries who share similarities of being women and working as freelancers taking on projects around the world. And you also have sometimes faced similar challenges. So I want to jump right in today so our audience can learn through your experiences, many of which I'm sure they can relate to. So, Catherine, let's start with you. Please. You mentioned to me previously that you wish more women knew about the opportunity that working in tech offers. Can you elaborate that a little bit more for our audience.

Yeah. Well, I think things are definitely improving the last few years. But I think for a lot of, like, younger women tech kind of has, is this broad vague thing? Is it apps, computers? What like, you know, um, and it is a broad area. Um, but I think, uh, it would be good for like more younger women to know that, that offers a huge opportunity. So, like you can have tech in basically any industry, like any sort of area that you're interested in. Education, medicine, finance, sustainability, and you can change within that as well. You can spend time in one industry and then in another. So say you're interested in medicine, you don't necessarily need to become a nurse or a doctor and be, you know, kind of in one location.

Uh to, to do that, I think with tech, there's just like a huge opportunity to work on the forefront of like these um amazing industries. And then also to give you the flexibility that comes with working in tech, maybe like remote working or freelancing, for example, uh that you don't get with more traditional jobs, I would say in that area.

Yeah, that's amazing. Thank you, Yolanda. I know you also spoke about young women and how they don't necessarily get exposed to tech enough in a way where it becomes part of their identity. Tell us a bit about that, please.

Yeah, I think even before we get to, to tech when you're in your formative years. Uh There's a, a big lack of role models and not just at the scale of, let's say, like Elon Musk or Bill Gates, but just overall around you. Um And also there's a, a big gender bias towards stem related fields as in uh it's not like too feminine to pursue technology or mathematics or engineering or things like that.

Yeah, I agree with that. I also did read some kind of study that uh girls actually share the same um interest uh like boys to tech and to it in general. But then at the age of 14, it kind of wears off due to all the different kind of influences. So definitely great to have these great models in you ladies. Thanks so much for sharing this. This is something that I'm also personally really invested in um Jessica. You also worked in a lot of uh tech and I know that through Topel, you gotten great experience working with international clients. How has your experience with international business specifically helped you support your skills and career development?

Uh Yeah. So working with uh international clients, helps me a lot to understand different markets, different target audiences and learn a lot about different industries. As Catherine was mentioning, we can work with a lot of different types of industries and each company will have its own target audience and to work on a project and be able to deliver a good work. I need to understand their market. I need to understand their product. I need to understand their target audience. So it helps me a lot to learn and evolve as a professional. So it is definitely a great thing that we can also always leverage to be better professionals.

Yeah, that sounds amazing. I'm glad you had these great experiences that allowed you to grow. On the other hand, being a woman in tech is not always the easiest Yolanda. Prior to today, you shared that you learned a lot about navigating uncomfortable situations that objectify or even disregard women. What advice would you give to fellow women, how to navigate these types of situations, especially in the tech world?

Well, I I it's hard to come up with a single piece of advice. I I do feel that becoming a freelancer has allowed me to remove myself from a lot of these situations. Um But yes, II I don't know, I guess the, the advice I would give myself would be to be more truthful for to, to my own identity, not, not always trying to fit in. Um Yeah, I I think that's it.

Yeah, that's I'm sure we can all relate if any of you ladies would like to add on something to that feel free. Is it different in freelancing where you compare it to non freelancing

found is um not necessarily this is a good thing because um with freelancing, you don't have to get involved in the politics. I would say as much you have a very focused role that you're doing with the company and that's what you spend your time on. And as a freelancer, you know, you're generally billing hours and you want to be really sure that, you know, you're doing the task at hand so you don't get caught up in maybe other things around that and that you do maybe in traditional kind of office 9 to 5 job. Um And that includes, you know, maybe issues that you might run into as a woman or dealing with people, like dealing with people who maybe don't appreciate your value. I think when you're freelancing, you, you're there to do a role that you want to deliver and it's, you're running into that less. That doesn't, that's, that's easier for me as a freelancer. It's not really helping solve the problem because it still exists in the traditional uh kind of work environment. But for, for me personally, I definitely find it easier. Um going into a company, a clear role showing, you know, I add value and not have to deal with maybe other things around that.

Um So yeah, that would be my kind of experience the last few years I would

say. Hm. That amazing. Thanks so much Catherine Yoland up. Feel free to add on to that. Yeah,

I think in a way uh in the beginning especially I, I felt uh and when we were having these conversations, I felt a bit a bit guilty to say, yeah, there's a problem and I just removed myself from it. But at the same time you by participating in, in these uh events, uh we get to have a more active role uh in trying to solve or create awareness about the problem and not necessarily having to deal with it in a quiet way uh every day like uh from 9 to 5. Yeah. Mm

Yeah. And Catherine, you mentioned before that the majority of women you worked with have been high achievers and outstanding performers. Why do you think that is? Yeah. Is it connected with what we discussed?

Yeah, I almost, yeah, I, I like almost exclusively every woman I've worked with if I see women on my team, I'm like, yes, OK. They're going to get stuff done basically. Um And I think there's an element of like it's, as we were saying at the start, it's not a traditional career choice for women. So I think you have to have a certain maybe additional interest that maybe some men don't have, they just kind of fall into it. Um So I do think that there is more of kind of maybe a natural ability in the area and an interest to get into tech first of all. But then, yeah, I do think there's a, you know, there's an element of women trying to prove themselves that they can deliver. I think, saying yes to everything is something I've noticed a lot and I've definitely done it myself just like I can do that. So I'll say yes and take it on and, and, and, and, and generally get things done. Um, so, yeah, I think it's kind of a combination of a combination of that. Um, definitely women, I think, feel that they need to kind of prove themselves more in the area um which means great for getting work done. But yeah, it's not, not necessarily fair. Yeah.

Yeah. Can definitely relate with that. Mhm Yolanda, you also mentioned that you can relate with women being high cheers too.

Yeah. II I do feel like uh I, I need to perform higher than my, my male peers in order to be perceived at the same level. And so every time I start a new job or I, I integrate a new team, I feel like I there's that component of having to prove myself that I feel like my peers uh don't, don't uh feel so present. Um So, yeah, definitely there's that and there's also the, I mean, there's um and I, I there's studies and I've, I've seen myself do this which is women often only apply to jobs uh if they feel like they check all the, the requirements in the job description. Uh And II I, there's something I try to think like, OK, no, I, I don't need to take all of these requirements. I can, I can learn on the job or, but I feel like that's something that women do a lot. So if they fall into a job, they're probably are going to be high achievers.

Definitely, Jessica, is there anything you've experienced as a woman in tech that you believe male colleagues have not? And have you found a way to reduce strains from such experiences? Help us to do it?

Yeah. So in my experience, I have seen a lot of uh different things because I'm a designer. And when I work on the design project, oftentimes, I will have male colleagues and oftentimes uh their rates will be higher and they will deliver the same type of work at the same level of work that I do. This happens a lot even when sending in um sorry quotes to the clients, it will happen because like if I send a quote in uh X value, the client may question, try to negotiate and stuff things that they would not do with a male designer because if the they received that, that's ok.

If that fits their budget, they will just pay. But when I send this, I feel like sometimes they kind of need to try to lower my rates to fit their budgets um with something that should be like if you have a budget and you're looking for a professional, you should look for the same level of work and rates uh and not try to lower the one that you feel like it is easier to manipulate and to kinda um yeah, anyways just lower the rates.

Uh And also I feel like often times um the feedback is a little bit harsh with women a little more than with men. Of course, there are different people giving feedback, but I have seen clients sending feedback in a way less aggressive way to male colleagues than they send to females. So this is something that I also needed to learn and understand that. OK, this is not a problem with me.

I need to just like be professional, do my part and not take it personally.

Has that kind of harsh feedback impacted how you feel about your work and capacity. I know that we all sometimes feel that the imposter syndrome is very real.

Yeah, definitely. And it still affects me today. I have nine years of um working as a art director and graphic designer and it still happens to me when the client is like a bit too aggressive and the way they give the feedback, I'm like, OK, I'm the worst designer ever. Uh But that's not true. And that's something that I try to remind myself that my work doesn't define me as a person, first of all, and second, uh the quality of my work is not defined by one project. If the client didn't like that, there are lots of different reasons uh that, that this could happen. So I should not take this personally. I should not think that I'm last just because someone gave me bad feedback or because someone don't know how to give feedback because there is that too. And that's something that we cannot control, we can control how people behave in professional environments. So the thing that I always try to remember myself is it's not you, it is work. And if someone said that they didn't like your work, it is just one project and I did many other projects that were a success. So I try to remind myself of that.

It's amazing. We talent coaches also try to always remind talent who are we coaching, that you cannot influence other people's behavior. You can only influence your own feelings and your own thoughts and your own behavior. And if you know that you did the best work you could um and you performed at the highest capacity, that is what counts. Thank you so much, Jes Exactly. Uh Yolanda, tell us your thoughts about whether these kinds of experiences can impact your professional or personal identity.

Well, I think Jessica put it really well. Um but yeah, in terms of personal identity, now it uh steering away a bit from the, from your work performance. I think when you, when you are inserted in, in an environment with the lack of diversity and you're trying to fit in, then you just become sort of cornered. So I think women uh deal a lot with. Am I, am I too feminine or am I feminine enough? Uh Like do I wanna be the cool girl or do I wanna be assertive? And this being assertive, make me come out bossy and, and yeah, in terms of personal identity, I think those are the biggest factors that, that we deal with in the work environment. But um again, I, I also try to remind myself that I can be all of these things. I don't have to uh pinpoint myself into one singular behavior and, and the reality is that if, if there is a lack of diversity, then you're not the problem you're never gonna fit in if everyone uh is sort of going towards a specific pattern, so might as well just stop trying, I suppose.

Yeah, definitely diversity is the key and uh sometimes we, we can try, but we not, cannot always influence that. Thanks so much Yolanda uh Catherine for you did freelancing, make a difference with some of what we are talking about or, or we can also ask what aspects of freelancing do you love.

Uh Yeah, there's a lot. Um I'm really glad I um switched to freelancing a few years ago. I made the kind of crazy choice to do it in March 2020 when COVID was happening. So it wasn't like, and I was just like, if I don't do it now. Um I'm not going to. So, yeah, II I love the flexibility of it. Like obviously freelancing is, is um you can, you can like just do like very small projects for clients or you can do part time, full time. Um And then you can just the ability to ramp up hours. So like I've often worked on multiple projects at the same time and I'd be working crazy hard, a lot of hours for seven months and then I can take some time off when projects finish up so you can fit it more within your lifestyle, do you know? And that's, that's one aspect that I really like about it. Um And then also one of the main reasons I actually got into it was I've been working in sustainability for like 10 years and I wanted experience in other industries. Um I didn't want to get kind of pigeonholed. Um So that's definitely something that uh freelancing helps with you very quickly get to work in a number of different industries.

Um So I've been working in like events, I've done like fintech um and different things like that, that would have been harder to get a traditional role in, I guess. Um because I didn't have as much experience in those industries necessarily. So um and you can work on multiple projects at the same time. Um So very quickly you can get experience in different areas. Um And then, yeah, kind of just touching back to what I said, it's, you're not getting caught up in the day to day. You're not sitting in meetings just for the sake of being in meetings that can happen in, in more traditional jobs. It's like you're getting paid a rate to do a job. It's very focused and it's like, make sure you're doing that thing. You're as a freelancer, you have to be very conscious of your own time, make sure you're adding value. And I find it's much more rewarding in that way because you're focused on getting added value to a client and then, you know, move on, do something else outside of work or, you know, you're working for someone else and doing that as well. So a combination of all those things, I really, really enjoy it as um kind of.

Um and this comes with stresses as well, like it's not, you know, you don't have the, you know, there's a trade off, you don't have, um you know, the reliability you have with the traditional job. Um And that's, that's um kind of like part of the trade off to get the flexibility. Um So yeah, there's that aspect to it. Um And then the reason probably I didn't do freelancing earlier um is you're finding clients and like you have to kind of sell yourself and that's like selling myself is not something I'm good at. It's just not like selling anything is just not like I can do all the other parts, but the sales part is not where my, you know, my forte is. So I was like, how am I going to find clients, that sort of thing? So that's why actually joining, getting onto the top top platform helped immensely in that. Like, I probably wouldn't have done that in March 2020 if I hadn't gone on to the top top platform because that kind of overcomes a lot of barriers. Um So yeah, there's definitely tradeoffs.

Um But yeah, I can happily say that it was the right choice for me to go freelance and it's given me a lot of flexibility now. I've got two kids under two, so I'm trying to balance a lot. Um That's, and it's really helped me in that respect. So, yeah, it's been a positive experience for sure.

That's amazing and inspiring Catherine. Thank you so much for sharing and yeah, I'm the moment uh uh uh in time where you went into freelancing was, yeah, definitely challenging. But uh you, you, you did an amazing job and look at you now. So really, really, really great to hear this positive experience. Um Thank you. Um Yolanda, I'm also wondering, you experienced both. So what would you say are the biggest differences between working in a traditional 9 to 5 tech position versus the freelancing work you're doing now?

Is it impacted, did it impact something?

Um Yeah, so I guess besides what Catherine mentioned already which have more control over your hours and over the work that you're doing. Uh One thing that I, I think surprised me the most was uh how my social interactions have become more, more meaningful. Um So it's, yeah, I think at the beginning of uh of your career, you're normally pushed into this uh one size fits all work environment with uh I don't know, like open spaces and never ending snacks and ball pits. And then you might not, I mean, this, this happened with me. I I didn't really understand why this was not making me happy and it wasn't until I changed into freelancing that I realized how uh the social interactions at at the workplace can be so draining and were actually having a negative impact uh on my work performance and overall on my mental health as well.

So I think I would say, yeah, besides everything else uh that, that was probably the, the biggest um the biggest, the most positive thing about starting to freelance for me personally.

Yeah, that's amazing. Jessica, do you want to add on this? Um I'm also wondering if you have any great tips for anyone looking to start their own business as a consultant or a freelancer.

Uh Yeah, I think for me, the best part of being a freelancer uh is the freedom to select my hours to work because as a creative person sometimes uh I don't feel creative for some projects at the moment. So I take my time, I go out to walk my dog. I would just like stop working and take a moment to breathe and think a little about a little more about the, the project or about anything else. And this helps me a lot and it is something that I would not be able to do if I was in a regular 9 to 5 because you are there, you need to be working, kind of not always working because a lot of times when you're in the office, you are talking to someone, you are just browsing the internet because you are not being able to focus.

Um, but then at home I can do everything I need to do every other stuff that I need to do in my house. Anything I need to do, like go to doctors, um, visit friends, do stuff and then I can work and meet the deadlines because that's what matter when you work as a freelancer is that you will meet the deadlines for the project and not delay anyone. So if you can do that, you can do that like from midnight to 4 a.m. if you want to because it is your time and you can organize this. And also it is amazing for taking like last minute vacations. Um because I can schedule with my clients and say, oh, I will be on vacation in a month. It's not like in an office that you need to kind of set your vacations in the start of the year and stick to it. Um So it is amazing, uh that part and tips for anyone that's starting freelancing. The main one is know your value and don't work for free because this is something that we end up doing when we are starting because we think we need to build um clientele, you need to build relationships and I definitely understand that.

But remember that working for free is not good for you because your value, it still is there and you are just not charging. So you, you will feel more stressed about the project. Anything that the client wants to rework, you will be like, oh, but I'm doing this for free. So it's going to be stressful for you and the clients will not necessarily respect you more because you didn't charge. Um And always try to remember that even if you had one bad feedback doesn't mean that you never have another client in your life. Just means that that one feedback was not good, learn from it. Understand if there is anything you could do different and move from it, you have clients. Um As Catherine mentioned having Toptal helps a lot because I see all the job postings there, I can apply, I can have different clients and I don't need to worry about payments. Uh because Toptal handles this for me. It's amazing. Um But even if you are not in a network like top talk. Don't worry, you will have other clients. If you're really good on, what do you do? You meet deadlines and you are a good professional, you will always have work. So these are my um tips for anyone starting.

Thank you so much for the words of encouragement. I'm sure that a lot of women in the audience appreciate it. Uh Everybody to close today. What is the one piece of advice that you would give to women in the audience who are working hard to succeed in their career, whether it's as freelancer or simply as women in tech, just already shared something you can also add if you like, but I'd like to hear from Catherine and Yolanda as well.

Yeah, I am kind of falling off from what Jessica said there. Um I think know your value even if you're not in freelancing, like you're working in a traditional role. I, I kind of touched on it at the start. I think women tend to say yes to everything and take it on and like long term like this happened to me in my twenties, I was exhausted, like I was working so hard and it was not effective and I was working on things that didn't actually, you know, do me. Well, in the long run, I think you really need to just think about what, what do I need to do to deliver on my job and where do I want to be like in five years, 10 years and focus on those things and like, don't be afraid to just kind of say no. Um which I think men are much better at doing. Um That would be like my, my by definite, if I was to like kind of redo anything in my twenties, that would be, that would be it. So, yeah, that's my main advice and I think it also just shows you can kind of like you stand up for yourself, you become a stronger, you know, team player and like Yolanda said at the start, we need more, you know, women in tech and role models kind of maybe showing that. So yeah, and I think just know your value, say no to things that aren't going to be helpful for your role or for you long term.


definitely Yolanda, please. We have three more minutes. Close it off.

Uh OK, I'm gonna be the cliche one. I, I guess if, if uh the, the advice I would have liked to hear myself some years ago is just like, be true to yourself. Listen to what your needs are. Don't try to be someone that you're not just so that you can fit in. Uh and don't be afraid to make changes to, to become better.

That's amazing. Thank you so much, ladies, I cannot thank you all enough for being here to share your wisdom and perspective today. We greatly appreciate you. We have two more minutes. If there are any questions maybe in the chat, uh, I can't see any for now, but if anybody has a question, we can answer it through the chat. I guess. If not, I don't see anybody typing. Thank you so much, one more time for, for everything and, um, see you in our Slack channels. Goodbye everybody. Thank you so much for joining. Thank you. Thank you. Bye

bye bye.