Former Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive Mary Burke urged women to support one another in their careers and step out of their comfort zone at a speech for Women in Technology Wisconsin.
Burke, who lost her 2014 governor’s bid to Gov. Scott Walker, spoke before the group at the D.J. Bordini Center at Fox Valley Technical College and praised the work of WIT, saying Madison, a big technology hub, doesn’t have a resource on the level of the organization.
“This is amazing, and to think that this has been created in just the last few years and to have so many impactful programs where you’re reaching out to the colleges, younger women and girls,” she said.
Now the founder and CEO of Building Brave, an online community aimed at empowering women and girls, Burke says despite the pain of losing the governor’s race, she gained a lot from the experience. She had entered the race to win, she says, and when she lost, she felt inadequate.
Running for governor, however, helped her gain insights into herself and others. Burke says she learned to view failure as a sign of courage, to let go of other people’s judgments and how to “listen to the positive and walk away from the doubters.” Interdependence is more powerful than independence, she said.
Burke says as human beings, a deep-seated desire for acceptance often leads us to conformity. Furthermore, research shows women seek self-validation through others’ views of them and take negative feedback more personally, she says.
“Most of us start receiving messages from about the time we pop out of the womb that tell us that we will be better liked and more accepted if we tone it down, if we play smaller, if we focus our attentions on others rather than ourselves,” she said.
Burke shared a story of a white tiger called Mohini that was given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a gift. The tiger was placed in the National Zoo in a 10-by-10-foot cage. Eventually, the zoo built a natural habitat for Mohini, a 10-year endeavor. By the time the habitat was built and Mohini was placed in it, the tiger retreated to a 10-foot perimeter wall and spent all her time in that small space.
“We call it a comfort zone, I call it a cage,” she said. “We let that cage define us. And whether it’s our fears of what people will think or fear of failure or just our fear of the uncertain, it holds us back. And beyond that door of uncertainties is where the amazing world of possibilities lies.”
It’s vital for women to push beyond what’s comfortable, she says. Women must support and encourage one another. Both women and men need to check unconscious biases about how women should act in the workplace, she said.
“We’re going to determine whether girls in middle school believe that they not only belong but will thrive in the STEM fields, and we’re going to determine whether girls in high school believe that they are valued for their abilities, but we’re only going to get there when we believe in ourselves,” she said. “Believing in yourself — it’s a superpower, but none of us get there alone.”
WIT, co-founded by Michelle Schuler, a manager at TechSpark Wisconsin at Microsoft TitletownTech, leads initiatives such as [email protected], WIT on Campus and WIT4Girls, all aimed at attracting, growing and retaining women of all ages in technology-related careers.
Building Brave: https://buildingbrave.org/
WIT Wisconsin: http://witwisconsin.com/