Allyship in Tech: How to Support Women in the Workplace with the Power of Curiosity, Vulnerability and Humility 

How to support women in the workplace: Two people smiling on a sunny balcony with palm trees, a glimpse of the ocean, and tropical foliage under a partly cloudy sky. They're wearing matching blue tops.

At this year’s Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC) conference, Compass Director, Cloud Sales, Chelsey Cooper, and Director, Marketing, Frances Verdugo Lash attended the annual Women’s Tech Forum (WTF) fireside chat and event. After hearing insights and guidance from Serene Nah, Managing Director, Head of Asia Pacific for Digital Realty, Ellie Sweeney, CEO of Vocus, and Annette Murphy, Chief Commercial Officer for Colt, they drew parallels between the career successes, challenges of these female leaders and insights on how to support women in the workplace and Compass’ core convictions and key principles.  

They delve into their perspectives on what they learned below. 

Allyship Rising from Networking 

Frances Verdugo Lash: This is the second time we’ve gone to PTC together and the second time we’ve attended the WTF event; it’s really one of the highlights of the conference for me not only because we get to learn and connect with all the amazing women in our space but also because it’s become a great chance for us to bond as teammates.  

Chelsey Cooper: Absolutely! It’s one of my highlights every year with the panel discussions and opportunity to make new connections and reconnect with those I haven’t seen in a while.  

Curiosity, Vulnerability and Humility for Women in Tech 

FVL: I think one of the most interesting overarching themes coming from all the leaders that spoke was the importance of curiosity. I immediately zoned in on that and saw the direct connection to their discussion on curiosity propelling them forward in their careers to how, at Compass, we value humility and vulnerability. You must ask questions to understand the needs of a situation, recognize your limits and identify who can help you achieve your goals. 

The keys to asking these questions are humility and vulnerability, which are central to Compass’ first core conviction: Humility in, Pride Out. If you’re not humble and willing to show what you perceive to be ‘weakness’ (i.e., vulnerability), you’ll miss many opportunities for growth. This is true not only for women in our space but generally for anyone in their career. I love the spotlight we put on vulnerability at Compass and the framing of it at the WTF event as curiosity because this, instinctively, for a lot of people (including myself), is seen as weakness. Or, if we dive into people’s implicit biases, as a ‘feminine’ trait. Rewiring my brain to see vulnerability as a strength has been challenging but fulfilling! 

CC: Yes! One of my favorite parts of the session was when the panelists showed vulnerability, sharing an obstacle they had overcome. Two of the three speakers listed self-doubt as a challenge for them – and I also struggle with it! One of my favorite things about Compass culture is our “Failure on the Path to Success” mentality. Mistakes happen when you’re pushing yourself to try something new and the panelists encouraged us to take risks. Failing is part of growth! The key is to learn from those failures! Compass’ Wile E. award is an excellent reminder that we all fail sometimes, and there’s power in sharing your learnings so others don’t repeat your mistakes. The opposite of success is quitting – it’s NOT failure!   

The Importance of Allies for Women’s Professional Development 

CC: Serene Nah at Digital Realty talked about having a support system to call, which helps her overcome self-doubt. She demonstrates humility and vulnerability by reaching out to others. Hearing these wildly successful women are leveraging their teams and support systems encouraged me. They aren’t doing it alone! It ties into what Ellie Sweeney from Vocus shared about being a martyr.        

FVL: 100% in agreement. The moment when Ellie talked about not being a martyr really hit home for me. Early in her career, she would take on whole projects and feel it was her responsibility to drive them through no matter the impact on her personally. I feel a kinship with the instinct to take responsibility for the entire weight of a project’s success. But I also recognize it’s a failure of humility. 

You make many assumptions when you ‘martyr’ yourself or, in Compass culture terms, make yourself the ‘hero’ of a project – something we are actively against at Compass. When you make yourself the hero, you assume only you can do what needs to be done, and your team isn’t there to support you. If you don’t challenge these assumptions, you can feel quite lonely as you progress in your career, which is a difficult position. This goes into something else touched on during the chat – the importance of allyship.  

Annette Murphy of Colt talked about how key male allies were to her professional development. Still, I don’t think you can even find those allies if you’re always being the ‘hero.’ You have to slow down and trust that your team is there for you, and this is something that we’re good at making sure we all do here at Compass. Drawing from your team’s experience and perspectives, figuring out who needs to be involved in a project and asking the right questions. Again, curiosity and humility are central tenets to ensuring you’re not playing the hero and can open yourself to finding those allies. 

How to Support Women in the Workplace by being Transparent, not Open Book  

CC: Another piece of advice from Ellie to equip allies is have clear communication about your goals and needs. Our bandwidth and interests change at different points in our careers. We need to make sure we tell people the opportunities we are interested in and let them know as goals change so they can help advocate for us. One of Compass’s key principles is “Transparent, not Open Book,” and sometimes we forget to be transparent about career goals. 

Being direct with your employer and peers is important – especially for working parents. I’m a mother of two young kids. Communicating my schedule and needs ahead of time reduces the guilt and worry that can creep up when I take time from work to care for my family. I’ll never forget how nervous and awkward I felt when I was brand new at Compass, telling my male boss I would need to step out of some all-day meetings so I could pump. I wrote out what I was going to say to my boss and asked a male ally to review it. By being transparent and vulnerable with an ally, I received useful feedback that helped me feel more comfortable going into the conversation with my boss. It even propelled me to write a post with advice for working moms who are nursing and traveling.  

Frances, thank you for discussing some of our favorite WTF takeaways! The panel had excellent advice this year and it’s interesting to see how it ties into Compass’ culture.  

FVL: Thank you for joining me on this commentary; I love the opportunity to be able to marinate on these themes, feel them sink in and act on them!  

Discover more inspirational stories from women in tech on our Extending the Ladder podcast hosted by Compass Datacenters’ Chief Innovation Officer, Nancy Novak.