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Women In Technology – Everything I Needed to Know I Learned Playing Little League – By Judy Batenburg

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Author – Judy Batenburg – VP of IT Starz Entertainment

When I was a young girl, I loved baseball. I mean I really, really loved baseball.  I would fall asleep listening to Phillies games on my AM radio, keeping the box score on a piece of paper.  My dream was to become the first female MLB pitcher.  One small fact stood in my way: girls couldn’t play Little League.  In 1974, my prayers were answered – Little League opened its dugouts to girls.  I raced to tell my parents, sure that they would be overjoyed that my dream could now proceed.  Alas, it turned out they didn’t share my dream.   I still remember my mom telling me “you can’t play baseball with boys, you might get hurt”.  I watched from the sideline as the first girl took the field.

I used the following year to negotiate, whine and cry my way into convincing my parents into letting me play, and the next summer, I hit the field.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was a key moment in my life. I had never been told I couldn’t do something simply and only because I was a girl.  To my ten year old self, this was clearly untrue and unfair.  And I set out to prove them wrong.

I often get asked to speak about my experience as a woman in technology.   I realized that many of the lessons I learned playing baseball are still true today, and have set the stage for me throughout my career.  (If only I could have used this fact to convince my parents!)  Over the next 2 articles, I will highlight some of the key learnings:

1. Sometimes you are (almost) the only girl on the team. My first year, there were 2 girls on the team.   In fact, if you look at the percentage of girls playing Little League today, it almost exactly mirrors the percentage of women in technology executive positions.   I’m often one of a few women in meetings. However, in both baseball and business, people care what you can contribute to the team. On the field, none of us cared if we were boys or girls – what mattered was if you could hit, throw and field.

As women, we need to embrace this as an opportunity – being the only women (or one of a few) gives us an opportunity to speak up and be noticed. Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco, has said “Being the only woman in the room is an advantage”.   You have an opportunity to have your ideas heard – make the most of it!   Ultimately what people care about is what you can contribute to the success of the team.

2. Errors, strikeouts and failure are part of the game.   Sure, striking out or making an error isn’t the greatest feeling.   But failure is what helps us improve. Knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what to do.   But, if you are so afraid of failing that you never take a chance, then you won’t learn and grow. In fact, one of the critical questions I ask in an interview is “Tell me about a failure”. People invariably answer one of three ways: 1) they tell me they are so prepared that they have never failed, 2) they failed, but it was REALLY someone else’s fault, or 3) they tell me about a failure – the funnier, the better.   The first two will never get a job offer from me.   If don’t have a great failure story, then you aren’t trying.   Woody Allen has said, “ If you don’t fail every now and again, it’s a sign you aren’t doing anything very innovative”, and I absolutely agree.   Fail, accept responsibility for it, learn and move on. Try not to fail the same way twice!

In Part II, I’ll talk about the next 2 – Practice, Practice, Practice, and You are Only as Good as You Think You Are.

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