First published in the Oct. 22 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
Though the tech and media world has become seemingly easier to navigate, it still isn’t the friendliest environment for women, as a trio of panelists contended this week.
Still, the ever-evolving state of these two industries means that the women there can help mold it and those who endeavor to join it can have their say, too, the panelists concluded. Those speakers — former CNN anchor Bella Shaw, Phonexa CEO Lilit Davtyan and Metaplex head of go-to-market Talar Malakian — anchored the panel “Shaping the Next Generation of Women Leaders” during Glendale Tech Week on Wednesday. The panel was moderated by Armenian Report founder Anna Kachikyan and hosted at the Phonexa headquarters.
Davtyan, who heads Glendale-based Phonexa, said she initially joined the company as an accountant, but found the work boring. While working with another employee to develop in-house accounting software, she became enamored with tech and hasn’t looked back ever since.
“I found myself falling in love with technology and I don’t remember what it’s like to be a CPA,” she said.
For right now, she said tech is inevitably a man’s world, but she has not faced the more egregious behavior she experienced in years past. Though she still encounters men who don’t take women in tech seriously, she said she also finds plenty who are inviting and that one must learn when battles are worth fighting.
“You have to figure out what situation warrants what kind of a response. Sometimes, the more response you give, the more you’re just aggravating a person and it might not be worth your time. You have to pick and choose your battles,” she said. “It’s still a lot more men than women, but the opportunities are there, and I enjoy going to universities and talking to women in STEM-related fields. It’s really nice for me to hear their point of view and see what they have for the future and be able to be a mentor for them. I think it’s changing, thankfully.”
Shaw, however, had to navigate more boorish behavior, she recalled. Her first reporting job was at an Oklahoma radio station — which cheekily worked her 39 hours a week and considered it part-time — after which she pivoted to TV news and reported on the state government.
“You can imagine when I started off in Oklahoma and I worked the state capitol covering the legislature with the good ole boys,” she said. “It was a different world back then. Every day, I would think, ‘How am I going to respond to the different ways these men would respond to me?’ I was the only female reporter at the time.”
Those responses ranged from not being taken seriously to having men request that she sit on their laps while interviewing them, she said. Unfortunately, she added, it was still a world where raising your voice wasn’t likely to get anywhere.
“You didn’t complain, because if you did, you were considered ‘too sensitive,’” Shaw said, recalling other responses from men at the time. “‘Oh, come on, they’re just flirting, you’re taking it too seriously, be happy they like you,’ things of that nature. Every day, it was ‘How am I going to get out of this situation?’ You defuse it. You learn how to deflect those kinds of things.”
Malakian, who works in the blockchain- and NFT-driven world of Web3, pointed out that just 8% of that sector’s employees are women, which makes amplifying their voices that much harder.
“For me, the challenges have really been related to, how do you navigate having a seat at the table, and when you get that seat at the table and you’re the only director-level woman out of 12 senior leaders,” she said. “It’s really about, how do you navigate those conversations and how do you make sure that your voices are heard?”
Davtyan said she advises women entering the industry to make sure they have some sort of “personal brand,” so that others who aren’t familiar with tech can find them more relatable when interacting with them. She noted that people knew her for her haircare routine and also for her tenacious running schedule.
“Show something about you that makes you a human, so that you’re not a title sitting behind social media that people are trying to understand,” she said.
Shaw said those entering media should work their way up the ladder through smaller markets. They’re easier to break into, she said, and it’s better to make mistakes or missteps — and learn from them — in those environments.
“Start out small and think big,” she said.
Malakian highlighted that she recently contended with her tendency to apologize when offering constructive criticism, after another woman in the field asked her why she did that when Malakian hadn’t done anything wrong.
“It takes time to be OK with having a perspective as a woman, in my experience,” she said. “Owning your own perspective takes time.”