Our June meetup was special: we turned 5! From a small internal coaching group to a 500+ strong community today, we’ve come a long way since we first started. The festivities kicked off with a reflection from Tech Leading Ladies founder and organiser Michelle Gleeson, CEO of Kaleida.
We couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate and reflect on this milestone than to hear from the legendary Hannah Browne, an incredible, award-winning tech leader and long time supporter of Tech Leading Ladies. Fittingly, Hannah broke the previous attendance record set by her on TLL’s first birthday! Since then, she’s been busy scaling her fifth company Midnyte City as its Founder and Managing Director. From humble beginnings stacking shelves at Bi-Lo in Wodonga, Hannah shared her hardest-won lessons: the unexpected benefits of getting fired, the nuances between tactical and strategic career decisions, and advice on finding your next gig.
The pillars of creation: skills, resources, experiences, network, allies and confidence
Hannah shared the unconventional origin story of her career over the past 25 years, encouraging us to think strategically in the long-term rather than making short-term, tactical decisions about our careers and where we want to go next. If we know what our North Star is, drivers of critical career decisions are where we’ll acquire the skills, resources, experiences, network, allies and confidence to get us where we want to be – what Hannah calls “the pillars of creation”.
Compared to men, ambitious women have to thread an impossible needle of being confident without appearing arrogant. It took her 25 years to get to the point where she could start her own business. She contrasted this with young tech entrepreneurs with the bravado (or arrogance) to start ventures early in their careers without much experience or preparation. While initially frustrated, Hannah realised though it’s been a longer road for her, it’s been in one direction – the direction she wanted to be going in. If you’ve got a map, or an endpoint, it doesn’t matter how long it takes or how you get there. Hannah defined her own measures of success and pursued them vigorously: “Don’t measure yourself with someone else’s ruler. Measure yourself with your own ruler”.
The unexpected benefits of getting fired
With the wave of tech layoffs continuing to wash over the industry, Hannah shared her own experiences of getting fired, and the unexpected benefits she learned in each instance. When you get fired, you feel exiled out of the tribe. It triggers the same part of our brains that’s activated when we experience physical pain. The grieving process is psychologically and emotionally challenging. But it can lead to better opportunities and a chance to re-evaluate your goals.
Lesson: Being fired pushes you to leave when you otherwise wouldn’t
The first time Hannah was fired was also her first “proper” job. Getting fired as a grad ended up being a positive experience because it forced her to leave a situation she would’ve otherwise tolerated. Despite hating her job and working with a sexist manager, Hannah convinced herself she needed to stay for at least a year. So getting fired unexpectedly in her third week was a huge source of relief. Instead of putting up with a bad situation for a year, the next job she found was substantially better. This also works in the reverse: getting fired from workplaces we love forces us to leave places we’ve outgrown that we never would’ve left. Hannah’s insight from this instance of getting fired? It prompts a change you never would’ve initiated otherwise, and leads to better opportunities.
Lesson: Knowledge is power during exit negotiations
Hannah’s second experience getting fired was in a job she loved. She sensed she was in the exit lounge. She’d asked questions that, in hindsight, proved to be career-limiting but were genuinely aligned with the company’s culture. So when she suspected she was on the verge, Hannah made a ballsy move she’s grateful for to this day. She reached out to three ex-colleagues dismissed under questionable circumstances and asked them to share their stories so she could prepare. Each person provided her with detailed and candid accounts, allowing her to know exactly what to expect when it happened to her.
When it came time to negotiate her exit, Hannah was able to demand a higher exit offer. Why? She’d been very successful in her role. She’d brought in a lot of revenue for the business. She knew she was well-liked by colleagues. She had demonstrably acted on feedback given to her while overworked and frazzled. Knowing all this, she used these factors as leverage to double their offer for her exit. Companies prefer a quiet departure. But employees have valuable information about their operations, politics and personal experiences. Consider what you know and who you know. This experience underscored how knowledge is power during exit negotiations. Use it to stand up for yourself and advocate for what you’re worth.
Lesson: It buys time you to review your goals and values
Hannah’s third time round, the exit was messy and she was on gardening leave for an extended period of time. Her exit negotiations ended up taking place while she was on holiday in a resort. Somewhere she felt relaxed, empowered and confident. She negotiated hard for a significant payout and considering everything, it ended well. Hannah reminded us most companies will offer you a fraction of your salary during exit negotiations, but would rather pay you to leave quickly and quietly than risk a complicated exit. When you’re let go and need to find another job, remember: you need the security more than they need the money. Fight for what you’re worth. What you need.
Hannah pointed out getting fired multiple times in your career can actually have long-term financial benefits. The compounding effect of redundancy payouts can dramatically impact on your retirement savings. Along with the immediate financial security, a payout of 6, 9, or twelve month’s salary (compared to the typical 1 to 3 months offered), buys you time. Time to realign yourself with your goals and values. Time to take a step back, evaluate the map to your North Star, and review your values. Time to think about what gets you closer to where you want to be. Reflecting on these experiences, Hannah realised they were pivotal moments. Sliding doors that wouldn’t have led to Midnyte City because she’d still be working in jobs she would’ve never left if she hadn’t gotten fired.
Balancing tactical and strategic career decisions
Hannah prompted us to carefully assess our career decisions and distinguish between tactical and strategic choices. Strategic decisions involve long-term thinking and consideration about the trajectory of our career. Tactical decisions are short-term steps and actions responding to our current situation but potentially misaligned with our ultimate career goals. By understanding the distinction, we can think deliberately about whether we’re making tactical or strategic choices. Is our environment and network aligned with our long-term aspirations, personal growth and learning? Are the decisions we’re making moving us towards or moving us away from our long term goals? Do we know what they are? Are we being tactical or strategic?
Take the long term view of your career
Hannah emphasised the importance of taking a long-term perspective on your career and not being discouraged by short-term setbacks. When Hannah started Midnyte City in March 2021 at the start of the pandemic, she’d endured two difficult years feeling lonely, ostracised and financially strapped. It feels like an eternity when you’re going through a painful experience. But it’s essential to remember that it’s not as long as it seems in the grand scheme of things. Hannah’s mindset about the future has shifted over the years. From thinking ahead about weekends as a teenager, to planning holidays in her twenties, then considering the next year or so in her thirties. Now in her forties, she thinks in decades. 10 years feels like a distant, long way away. But time flies when you’re wholeheartedly committed to something you love.
Hannah likened it to getting in a helicopter. Get in. Go up. Take a step back from the minutiae of the situation. Observe the bigger picture. Ask yourself, “If I were looking at this situation from a 10-year viewpoint, how would I feel?”. She recounted a difficult day she’d had recently that involved tough personnel decisions that sucked at the time. But realised when she’d reflect on the whole of 2023, she’d barely remember that one challenging week. What’s rough at the time fades away.
Understand what drives you
Hannah delved into her own personal drivers, and the importance of self-awareness in career decisions. She shared the significance of recognising how past experiences influence present choices and your motivational drivers.
Hannah’s core values played a significant role in shaping who she is and why she’s the way she is. She describes herself as driven and fiercely independent. Respect from other people and earning the respect of people she admires is hugely important to her. But she doesn’t place as much importance on being liked. It took her a while to align her values with the environment she operates in, realising that hierarchical structures don’t suit her. Leading her to seek out mentors, allies, colleagues and environments who align with her values. By digging deep into her core values and formative experiences that shaped her, she understands what drives her and where it comes from, encouraging us to do the same.
Know when it’s time to move on
Knowing when it’s time to move on is a difficult decision for everyone. Often we become attached to our colleagues. We convince ourselves we enjoy our work environment. We could never imagine leaving. But if you recognise you’re no longer growing, you’re no longer feeling inspired, you’re deprived of access to mentors, skills and experiences that propel you forward, ask yourself:
- Did the culture change?
- Did the culture get stale?
- Have you outgrown the company?
- Are you supported to learn and grow?
- Did you get demoted or passed over?
- Is this still the place for me?
- Is my future here?
Most importantly: don’t wait until it’s too late. Hannah pointed out that if you reach the point where you want to flee, it’s hard to make well-considered decisions. Decisions become tactical. By then, you’re on the lifeboat. Desperate to leave. Likely to accept the first offer that comes along. Even if it isn’t aligned with your long-term strategic goals and aspirations.
Instead, the time to move on is when you recognise your needs and priorities aren’t met. When you’re bored. When you want more money. Better opportunities. Stronger alignment. A career-defining project. Before you’re on the lifeboat. Understanding where your needs aren’t met and what you want in your next job means you’re well-positioned to be strategic and judicious.
Identify your priorities
When you’re ready to move on, identify your priorities. Be strategic about aligning your needs with companies offering the best policies and compensation for your current life stage. Priorities change over time. What factors matter most to your current situation? Is it location? Autonomy? Compensation? Culture? Flexibility? Learning opportunities? They vary in degrees of importance over the span of your career. If you’ve taken on a big financial commitment like a loan, compensation and financial security would be a high priority. So seeking out roles in larger, blue chip organisations that are highly stable is favourable over a start up. Planning on having children in the next couple of years? Finding out which companies have the best parental leave and flexible work policies is a shrewd strategic move.
Stay informed about what’s happening in the market so you can selectively and strategically seek out companies aligned with your identified priorities. Building your network allows you to know who’s hiring and what projects companies are working on.
Finding your next gig
Allies, mentors, benefactors, coaches, advocates
Hannah consistently acknowledged and credited individuals who supported and influenced her during crucial, career-defining moments. Our surroundings play a significant role in shaping our growth. When looking for the next gig, choose the people and environments we surround ourselves with wisely. As Hannah detailed the highs and lows of her career, she vividly recalled each person and the specific help or advice they’d offered. Mentors can profoundly impact the trajectory of your career. But it’s essential to clearly understand your goals and what you need to achieve them to determine who and what to seek help from. She drew a contrast between these experiences and similar ones with her mentees to emphasise why she doesn’t compromise on who she is: she doesn’t want to fit in, she wants to find people aligned with her values. Her people. Don’t just accept, but embrace the fact that you’re not going to fit in everywhere.
Work out where your place is, who your people are, and find them.
The importance of having the ability to change
Knowing it’s time to move on is an important skill. But actually making the jump? Embracing change? That’s a superpower. Because we’re fighting natural human instincts to resist uncertainty. In uncertain, high-stakes situations (like changing jobs), we’re hardwired to default to familiar patterns we’ve relied on in the past. So even if we recognise it’s time to move on, times when we most need to change, the same conditions that make adapting important also trigger fear. So we stick with what we know, in a way that stifles our progress and learning: the adaptability paradox. Hannah stressed the importance of the ability to change. In particular, the ability to change our mindset. Evergreen skills for personal growth, resilience and openness to new perspectives and experience. What Shane Parrish calls “superpowers”:
- Ability to change yourself and your mind
- Not taking things personally
- Not needing to prove you’re right
- Staying calm
- Careful selection of all relationships
- Being alone without being lonely
- Being okay with being uncomfortable
- Thinking for yourself
Doing so orients us toward the opportunities ahead, not just the challenges.
Setting yourself up for success by thinking long-term
Hannah summed up her story of 25 years to now as an exercise in setting herself for success by thinking long-term and holistically about her goals and skills. Self-reflection is important for understanding where we are and where we’d like to be as individuals. But sharing it with our allies, mentors, benefactors, coaches and advocates connects us to a broader sense of purpose. Scale and evangelise it. Hannah takes the same approach with her mentees and her employees’ career development: identifying their personal values, what they want to achieve, systematising goal-setting and investing in leadership and commercial skills. Midnyte City’s professional development programs heavily focus on the internal. It covers a wide breadth of skills and cross-domain topics like finance, strategy, governance, self-care, marketing, recruiting, sales, influence, negotiation, building high-performance teams, and cultivating a strong company culture. Hannah shrewdly pointed out that challenges for women in tech are usually people-related rather than technical. Doing these exercises and skills development together is how she’s built a strongly interconnected team highly attuned to each other’s aspirations, goals and dreams.
The road to here
Hearing Hannah’s journey from stacking shelves at Bi-Lo to winner of the 2023 WIICTA Entrepreneur Award is exactly why Tech Leading Ladies exists: to connect, learn and inspire its members with the incredible achievements of women in tech!