Tania Katan is an award-winning artist, writer, performer who works for Arizona-based agile project management software company, Axosoft. She believes in storytelling at all costs, working with innovative organisations because she says, “every rock star company needs a punk!” She launched the Axosoft #ItWasNeverADress campaign at the Girls in Tech Conference in Arizona on 27th April to break down barriers and shift perceptions of women in technology and all the spaces they occupy, with #ItWasNeverADress reaching over 3 million people on Twitter and over 2,000 Instagram posts referencing the campaign.
“…that’s the thing with women in technology (or any space for that matter) so many people think that looking and seeing are the same things…”
Tania – your career experience is pretty eclectic! Can you tell us about your career journey and how you came to end up at a champion of women and girls in tech?
Prior to being at Axosoft I was working as a Curator of Performing and Literary Arts in a contemporary art museum. The main through line for my life and career has been creative writing and performing, mixed in with a little bit of activism.
I come from a fine arts background — degree in theatre, playwriting. From the beginning, I’ve focused my writing and performing on issues, injustices and triumphs around what it means to be a woman. What perceptions are vs. truths and who gets to decide.
So, it made a certain kind of sense to work for a company that champions innovation, collaboration, discovery, and playfulness. It’s a lot like working in the theatre. Even though the form is different (agile project management software for software developers), the content feels familiar. And the developers, our marketing team, sales, and especially our CEO, Lawdan Shojaee, are all dedicated to making software that helps other people develop software that can make a dent in the world.
We love #ItWasNeverADress because of its simplicity – the hallmark of great design! Sure you’ve been asked this a million times already in the past two weeks, but here goes anyway… What gave you the idea?
Well, there’s a disparity between women and men in high-level tech jobs. Fewer than 26% of women are in these positions. And then there’s the inequality with salaries – in the tech field and beyond – so, it felt like it was time for a much-needed conversation. And it had to be in a way that invited as many people into the conversation as possible.
To do that, we needed a language that could be as universal as code, something that people could look at and see as a representation of women quickly. Thus, the women’s bathroom symbol came to mind. And then, after staring at that stiff, triangle dress for a little while, there was a moment of realising, What if that triangle dress is really a cape? And, sure enough, with a few strokes of a pen on the original bathroom symbol…she revealed her superhero self! She was there this whole time; it was just a matter of taking the time to really see her. And that’s the thing with women in technology (or any space for that matter) so many people think that looking and seeing are the same things.
We love your question: “What if women had wings or capes and saved the day?” What does it take to be a modern day Wonder Woman?
It’s more about wearing an internal cape, being a superhero of the everyday. Speaking up in a meeting, buying an extra sandwich for someone who’s hungry, making someone smile, picking up your kids from school and taking them to a museum, visiting a friend in the hospital even if it makes you uncomfortable, and just plain showing up. Sure, there are people who have some amazing DNA and are hardwired to change the world on a monumental scale, but all these little, everyday acts, can add up to one huge POW!
You’re a seasoned public speaker, which takes enormous confidence – what are your tips for other women who might fear speaking in from of large groups?
Breathe. Remember it’s not about you, it’s about the audience, you are offering them a gift and who doesn’t want a gift?! Be yourself. I know, I know…but it never fails!
Are you born with confidence or is it something you learn?
My mom and dad always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. And they laughed at my jokes, so…that helped.
What is the best part about being a woman in tech?
It’s like being a pioneer in the wild, wild west! It’s exhilarating, scary, and necessary. We are at the forefront of shifting perceptions and assumptions about women and the audacious, sensitive, and powerful gestures we make every single day. There’s no way I’d want to be left out of this dialogue!
The six million dollar question – how do we get more girls into tech?
Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, recently said about girls going into tech, “If they can’t see it, they can’t be it.” So, educators, mentors, parents – we need to make sure that we encourage girls’ voices by offering them the tools, time and space to learn how to code, create, dream and innovate. It’s a great time to be in technology, because we have the great responsibility of fostering the next generation of artists, entrepreneurs and everyday superheroes!
What is next for you and #ItWasNeverADress? How do you top going viral on Twitter and reaching 3 million people?
The most amazing part of all of this, is that all the people who have connected with this campaign, as well as the news coverage (CNN, Yahoo, NY Times, TIMES, Today, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Mashable etc.) have been organic. People want to talk about inequality, empowerment, voice, technology, women, what it means to be human, and what it means to adapt.
We are selling t-shirts with part of the proceeds going to fund a scholarship for under-served students going into the STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics), we’re looking to partner with organisations like Made with Code by Google, Girls in Tech, and other apt organisations. We’d like itwasneveradress.com to serve as a space for everyone to share stories, disrupt, and give back!
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