Emily Kager shares various tips and tricks to help you tell your own story better—whether it’s introducing yourself at a networking event or on a stage, or sharing an issue you care about on social media, Emily’s tips will unleash the authentic storyteller in you!
Senior Mobile Android Engineer at Uber
Emily Kager studied neuroscience and classical studies, then got an MA in Interdisciplinary Computer Science. She's now a mobile developer in San Francisco at Uber working mostly on Android, and went viral on TikTok after posting a satirical video about women's hiring processes at tech companies.
I want to start off with a statistic from the State of Women in Tech and Startups annual report: “40% of women in tech have experienced harassment.”
Now compare that to this extract from Susan Fowler's blog post, reflecting on a very strange year at Uber:
“On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners that he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble, but he couldn't help getting in trouble because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I took screenshots and reported him to HR.”
I think we can all agree that the second statement is more powerful. The post was picked up by major news sites, crumbling Uber's reputation and effecting change long after she had left.
Or take Ellen Powell, who took her former employer, the VC firm Kleiner Perkins, to trial for allegations of gender discrimination and retaliation. Even though she lost the suit, it got major news coverage and created a lot of buzz around the treatment of women in D.C. And she still continued to express vocal criticisms of the hiring and promotion practices in Silicon Valley.
Next, Erica Banks and Ifeoma Ozoma, who both left Pinterest this year after being under-leveled and then denied promotions and pay raises. This despite leading the internal charges on new policies around vaccine misinformation and plantation wedding venues, that got Pinterest major positive news coverage right before their IPO.
After Pinterest posted a large campaign in support of Black Lives Matter, they felt that it was necessary to speak up, and they told their stories about racism and sexism at Pinterest. The shareholders have now sued Pinterest over gender discrimination.
The more of these stories that are out there, the more powerful it is for other people to tell them and for companies to actually make changes and hold people accountable. So an interesting question is: without public stories like theirs, would change have ever happened at these companies?
Obviously choosing to speak up about these things is not an easy decision, but these stories create real change and ripples throughout the industry.
So other than harassment issues, which are obviously very high profile, tech has other issues, and to combat those, we can, you guessed it: tell stories!
And they don't even have to be real experiences. I've made satire videos that are clearly fake, but based on reality to examine these topics—they’re usually compilations of real stories I've heard, plus some exaggerated ones that might have happened to anybody.
I'm not saying that we all have to be comedians. Stories don't have to be satire or even involve any comedy. A personal story about a bad interview experience could be just as powerful as a drawn comic or a song. The medium really doesn't matter.
I've discussed interviewing tech bros, egos, discrimination, and just plain old annoying work practices. A joke can be disarming. A story can be enthralling, and I hope that together they can start to make discussions.
Some narrative tools that I want to mention that I've been enjoying lately are points of views: what stories allow us to take something accepted and attack and see it out of context? For example, what if doctors were interviewed like software engineers? Point of views put the viewer in the seat as the protagonist, having to deal with the antagonist of my choice.
I've had people reach out after starting using the video format for some of my satire that seeing a point of view video made them actually reevaluate their own behavior. And if storytelling can get a tech bro to do some self-evaluation, then I'm convinced that it's truly magic.
When I'm sitting down to make a satire video or even to write a Twitter thread, there are some good questions that I run through that I think are a good starting point for telling an engaging story.
Here are some examples of areas in which storytelling can help your career advance,
So we've discussed selling yourself to others, but what about to yourself? In other words: what about your inner narrative?
For example, I have a nontraditional background, but instead of talking about it as a weakness, I talk about it as a strength, even in my own head. I entered the field later than most, which some may think is a weakness, but I think about how I'm so lucky to have worked outside of tech to gain additional perspective.
Whenever I'm feeling imposter syndrome, I just try to rewrite the narrative, trying to frame it as, “look how far you've come”.
There's a lot of psychology research showing that the way that you narrate your own autobiographical story, even to yourself, can impact your sense of well-being and lead to higher confidence and better outcomes.
Every good story needs an audience. But how do you build one? I wish there was an easy way to build up a huge following very quickly, but there's no magic way that I know of.
In my case, I've built my connections over at least four years of just slow growth and staying active. And over that time, I think I've become at least somewhat known for being both a funny voice, but also a genuine critic of the industry.
This is what we call a brand. It's not disingenuous to make a brand: it's focusing attention on what you care about and want to be known for and forming your story that you tell to the public. So when people think about someone who does X, Y and Z, they'll think of you. And they'll have something to remember you by.
You all deserve to be known for what you do. I've had a lot of women tell me that I'm brave for being out there and being public. I know it can be scary to be public and out there online for anybody. There are some real vulnerabilities there, but there's also a ton of opportunity, and if we're not there, then we're going to be missing out on the benefits too.
Some final “warnings”: if you're posting to a public audience, you do need to be more careful about the amount of public information or personal information that you're including in your stories. Be careful about discussing too many specific things from work and don't discuss family or partner issues on the public sphere.
I never share photos or videos of my home or neighborhood. You know, we have to balance being genuine in public with staying safe. So don't give your whole self to a public online audience.
I hope I've convinced you that stories live in all of us and can be an incredible tool for building your brand, being better at your job and creating change.
I urge you to go out and tell them and find your audience.
This content was created based on a talk during our Bootcamp What I Really Really Want in 2020.
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