This is a guest post by Melody Roberts, Vice President Customer Experience Innovation at Panera who spoke at our Chicago Women in Digital Chapter kick off. She wowed us with her open, honest and persuasive talk on why Women in Digital is not a want to have, but a need to have. 

Is joining Women in Digital an important and necessary thing to do? Why yes! Is it for you?

Read on.

First, let’s put to bed any doubts on whether or not you belong

You are not sure if your work counts as “digital.”

If you even had the thought to show up, you probably belong. Need further evidence? Here’s a quote from Alaina describing a digital activist and thought leader: “She made a google doc and emailed it to a friend on twitter.” That, my friends, is digital strategy in action.

You are not sure this is a good use of time.

If you are even framing use of time as good or bad . . . well, you are a normal worker in America. You are busy. You are productivity oriented. You are living in the land of trade-offs. You may have to explain an absence of a few hours to your employer. Only time will tell if this is valuable for you personally. I believe it’s worth a try.

You have no gripes about men and feel well-respected.

That’s awesome and, happily, not uncommon! Women in Digital are not in opposition to men. We’re here to collectively learn from each other, support each other, and to advance our own interests in a comfortable and candid environment.

Now, let’s talk about what Women in Digital makes possible for you

1. To perform at your highest level, you must build in time to recover and recharge. Meeting in a relaxed environment with like-minded professionals is just one of the many ways to put a renewal pause in a busy work-week. Let’s face it, if the President can find time to golf every week, you can fit this in once a month.

2. Careers in digital are rarely linear. The reliable up-the-ladder growth path of other industries and decades past has given way to a more unpredictable hop-skip-and-jump model. One simply must network if one hopes to learn about who’s having the most fun, getting the best opportunities, and looking for people like you. Women in Digital makes networking easy.

3. Sometimes a shockingly good gig lands in one’s lap. But when that happens, will you be ready? Will you recognize the opportunity for what it is? Will you see yourself in the new job title, with duties you’ve never performed, leading people who know more than you about certain things? Well, in my experience, men practice their answers in a way we can learn from. Like them, we can envision our futures in a mutually-reinforcing and limits-challenging way.

How do I know all of this? I learned it from some men.

One holiday season a male colleague invited me to join a party he hosted annually called “Meat Fest.” Meat fest kicked off on a workday with a long, leisurely meal at a Brazilian steakhouse far from the office. About 17 men and 3 women enjoyed rounds of skewers and rounds of drinks. At the conclusion of the meal, some of the men and the other two women peeled off. I stuck it out for several more bars and a many hours-long discussion of future power and success.

But I confess I mostly listened. I was not well prepared to participate fully. Here’s why: the men were not discussing their marriages, their kids, their mortgages, their vacations, their dental work, their over-burden, or their feelings of frustration or limitation in their current positions. And that’s my comfort zone.

Instead they were expertly critiquing the strategic decisions and job performance of the senior leaders of the company and discussing, in detail, what they would do better or differently when those jobs (inevitably) became theirs.

Did those jobs become theirs? Well, no. Almost all of them left that company in the next few years. And none of them returned to similar positions elsewhere. But at the same time, their sense of entitlement to future leadership roles and to decision-making authority made a big impression on me. I would add that they didn’t narrowly define themselves by their functional titles, potentially making it easier for them to pursue new career opportunities that presented.

I have long felt that my day of bar-hopping was a day of privileged exposure to how men boost and will themselves into a better, brighter future. And I believe that’s something Women in Digital is suited to facilitate – with your help:

– With your focus on what’s next, even more than on what’s wrong.
– With your insights into where digital practices are going, as well as how digital skills translate beyond the field.
– With your first bold and brave foray into the ballsy performance of the Ask and Give Pledge.

I’m in, and I hope to meet you, and your friends, and theirs.

Connect with Melody on LinkedIn here

[Photo Credit: a photo from our Executive Track at the Women in Digital Conference last year.]

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