One woman’s experience as a technology professional and what it taught her about the importance of female empowerment.
By Mai Amalie Bak
For most of her life, Lauren Jerome didn’t particularly like women. She was picked on in high school and mainly had male friends, so she never understood female dynamics, finding most women to be malicious and unpleasant. Until recently, she never understood the value of the support women have to offer each other, especially in the professional world.
Jerome grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo in 2003. After college, she planned to attend law school, but deferred her admission when her mother became ill. It was around this time that Jerome began teaching herself basic coding using tutorials she found online.
Jerome was working at a coffee shop, and after thorough contemplation, she came to the conclusion that law school wasn’t going to be the right option for her. Around this time, Joshua Johnson, a co-worker at the coffee shop, approached her about a technology start-up he was working on called Mindbox Studios. His vision was for the company to create innovative custom web platforms for businesses, and he was in need of someone with coding experience. Jerome was excited by the opportunity to work with Johnson. “He let me get involved and try some stuff out, and we built a couple of projects together. We always got them done, and they always met the clients’ specifications,” says Jerome. “We didn’t make any money the first couple of years because we were both just learning, but it ended up kind of developing into something bigger.”
Today, Jerome is the Chief Technology Officer at Mindbox Studios, which has locations in Cincinnati, Redding, and Eugene. As the company grows, Jerome has found herself transitioning into a role that focuses more on the business aspect of operations. Since moving to Eugene, Jerome has immersed herself in the community in several ways, including serving on the community advisory board for the Computer Information Technology (CIT) program at Lane Community College. Shortly after joining the board, Jerome noticed one item always finding its way to the forefront of conversation: gender diversity in tech. “People were always reporting on the status of it, rather than reporting what was being done about it,” says Jerome. Frustrated by inaction, she decided to take matters into her own hands. A little over six months ago, she started an organization called Redefining Women In Tech, which aims to help women in working in CIT connect with each other and thrive within the field.
The first meeting was attended by four panelists and 80 guests, and addressed how to use social media professionally. The event was successful overall, but Jerome noticed that the women she approached to be panelists didn’t seem to feel that they were in a position to be speaking out about issues in the industry, a pervasive trend she still sees today. “I had the CEO of a tech company here in town tell me that she’s not a woman in tech,” says Jerome, incredulously. “Almost every woman I’ve asked to be on a panel will say, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Am I really qualified?’”
Jerome cites the ‘impostor syndrome,’ a term used to describe the fear many high-achieving individuals have of not being qualified for their job, as especially damaging to women in the technology field, who often feel that even if they work hard and are equally talented as their male counterparts, they will not be fully accepted. The ability to voice and stand behind one’s own opinion is an important skill; a skill which Jerome believes women are taught far less frequently than men. “People need to teach their daughters to negotiate, and how to feel okay respectfully disagreeing with a group of people,” she says.
While Jerome can sympathize with feeling like an outsider, her experience in tech has been mostly positive. “By the time I got to college, it was kind of a hot topic, so people were pretty aware. I’ve seen things that I’ve rolled my eyes at or thought, ‘Oh, that’s not cool,’ but I can’t think of a time I was treated poorly,” says Jerome. “But I’ve been lucky; I’ve had male business partners who all have sisters or daughters and are around my age and who respect the fact that I know a hell of a lot more about tech than they do.”
Jerome even says that being a woman has helped her career in many aspects. She sees the value in her individual voice, and the fact that she brings assets and viewpoints to the table that not a lot of other people in the field can. “I think it’s good to bring a slightly feminine quality to my work. I’m a woman; I’m not going to try to be a man.”
Although Jerome credits many external factors for helping her succeed in the industry, it is impossible not to acknowledge the distinctive outlook and unique personality traits that make her an exceptional woman and professional. Elaine Pandolfi, a friend of Jerome’s and co-founder of Redefining Women In Tech, attests to Jerome’s uncanny ability to persist in the face of adversity. “She doesn’t give up. She course-corrects; she adjusts. There’s nothing stopping her,” says Pandolfi. “The problem is that usually, the second a woman hears ‘you’re wrong,’ she gets discouraged and stops; that’s not Lauren.”
Jerome’s move to Eugene and interaction with the community has not only helped her career; it has rounded out her understanding of how women can empower each other. “I see women today, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, look how they’re working together and helping each other,’ and then there are other women who just still feel jealous and want to cut each other down. We could take each other so much farther by just showing some support,” says Jerome. “I think a lot of it is about helping women realize that we don’t need to compete; we get farther by working together.”