Poornima Vijayashanker
Poornima Vijayashanker, founder, Femgineer. Image via Conor McCabe Photography

Poornima Vijayashanker: Be the ‘token’ in the boardroom, and be proud of it

24 Aug 2016

Poornima Vijayashanker, the founder of Femgineer, spoke at Inspirefest 2016 about how women should strive to be the token woman in the boardroom, and not shy away from having their voice heard by all.

Poornima Vijayashanker spoke as part of the Building Authentic Networks and Relationships keynotes at Inspirefest 2016 as someone who overcame significant artificial gender boundaries to make it as a successful engineer in the modern workplace.

Saying she had a fascination with technology since the age of three, Vijayashanker went on to achieve a double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Duke University before making the move to Silicon Valley.

As a rising entrepreneur, she went on to set up Mint.com, but now spends her time trying to encourage other women to move into engineering, which has some of the lowest percentages of women working within the sector.

Taking the example of the UK, a survey by the Women’s Engineering Society found this year that just 9pc of the country’s engineering workforce is women.

During her talk in June, Vijayashanker highlighted how in industries dominated by men, such as engineering, a common argument put forward by some men in senior positions is that they do not want to give a person a speaking position just because she is a woman.

‘Be the token and be proud of it’

This usually triggers two responses from women when they hear this: the first being that a woman will not want to be a token, while others might feel compelled to stay quiet given the fact they are ‘just a token’.

“This sentiment isn’t just true at conferences, it extends into the workplace and, unfortunately, into boardrooms,” Vijayashanker said.

However, describing her personal experience, she revealed how a young woman approached her recently to say her words when she spoke on a panel where she felt like a ‘token female’ in 2008 had inspired this young woman to join a start-up.

In concluding her keynote, she said if there was one thing to take away from her talk, it was for women to speak up more.

“The truth is that even those small moments of speaking up in a meeting, internal event or conference are going to make a difference,” she said.

“I don’t want to be known for having lived in an era where the female voice was stagnant… so to all of you out there, be the token, and be proud of it.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

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Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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