Historically and notoriously unequal, the tech industry has already come a long way in terms of promoting diversity and inclusion. Much of this success has been due to the amazing women and female-identifying people that break glass ceilings everyday.

In honor of these women and in celebration of Women’s Equality Day on August 26, BounceX launched The Equality Impact Awards, awarded to an honorary group of women in the tech, publishing and retail industries, each of whom has broken barriers, changed their companies for the better and fought for equality and gender parity.

Today, we honor one of our 2018 winners, Dawn Hayes, Educator, Social Entrepreneur & Creative Technologist at TechHire – Open Code. Dawn answered 5 questions about the state of equality in the industry. Take a look!

What strategies do you use to fight for equality in your field?

It begins with me. I try to model behavior after behavior I hope to experience with others, whether it be family, friends, neighbors, colleagues or complete strangers. It is easy to nod in agreement to the “golden rule” and much more of a challenge to apply practically.

One of the first strategies I employ in the classroom is to introduce COOL rules. COOL rules are kind of a nerdy, light-hearted way to help people feel comfortable with each other and the environment. It serves to establish a culture of collaboration and respect even as backgrounds and personal beliefs vary.

Years ago, I had no idea how much of a positive impact it could be for students to be led by someone they believed they could relate to; especially in areas where women and people of color did not have a pervasive presence as either educators or professionals in particular industries and sectors. Today, graduates and even colleagues express how it helped them envision a possible career path via both traditional and untraditional approaches.

I have found it immensely helpful to learn to measure myself against myself, rather than outright compete with others. The approach is not often emphasized in traditional learning environments and in many professional fields. The most difficult part is to start. I have learned to take my work seriously, but also to have fun, be open, and honest when I fail. In an age where we glorify the rockstar, unicorn engineer, this has helped me develop an approach that has helped colleagues let their guard down and journey with me. I may not have accomplished goals professionally if I had embraced a truculent attitude as a relatively young professional.

Sometimes the best approach is to be humble and let folks see your willingness to learn and to be vulnerable. As peers, managers and those you lead observe gained proficiency, and ultimately, mastery, their acknowledged contribution feels more like a team victory– and that helps everyone in the long run.

I recall some years ago when Arduino, a popular open source micro-controller platform was still new to the mainstream. I had visited a makerspace and struck up a conversation with some members. The space was predominantly filled with white males. That in itself should have been unremarkable, except that one member who belonged to the demographic said: “ You couldn’t possibly know anything about Arduino.” I never asked why, but I assumed my gender and complexion had something to do with it.

While my initial reaction was a desire to give him a piece of my mind, I smiled calmly and said that I hoped I knew something about it or my students from the last few years would have been in for a disappointment. After that, he grilled me on parts of a circuit he setup. What began as a pop quiz turned into an hour-long conversation about favorite places to buy components, travel to China and how soon I might join the space. I never forgot that day because it taught me to give things time before writing a situation or person off. We need this approach now more than ever so that progress toward true equality can endure. There is always more work to be done, but I have been amazed, pleased and even pleasantly surprised in many ways. I hope to continue to grow not only as a geek and professional, but also as an individual by remembering that equality is about more than just bringing a level playing field to one person or group. It is truly about passing on a healthy and joyous culture in spite of our challenges since united we stand, but divided we will fall.

What was your dream job when you were in college, and how has that evolved?

My dream job was to be an entrepreneur and inventor since I was four. I continued with that dream while in college and chose to major in business. After graduation, I wanted to work on Wall Street. I had considered a computer science major, which would have come in handy for financial engineering, but I reasoned the business degree was more flexible (hmm…).

I ended up discovering that startups were my thing and worked for several including two that were acquired by Dow Jones and S&P. I transitioned into start up non-profits involved in education in hopes of joining more mission-oriented ventures. So, I did follow an entrepreneurial path even when not working for myself full time. I transitioned into teaching coding– from physical computing to principles of programming and game design in my later career years, where I continue to work with start-up projects, if not outright start-up ventures.

Currently, I serve as lead instructor in a web development bootcamp that trains under-employed and unemployed adults between 17 and 29 to become full stack developers. To date we have graduates who work with companies like BounceX, and I am privileged to have an opportunity to contribute to the development of the next generation of developers and designers in technology.

What is the worst decision you’ve ever made? What did you learn from it?

The worst professional decision I have made in more recent history was to quit graduate school. I attended a fabulous graduate program at NYU where I was exposed and reunited with my childhood love of tinkering and programming. I experienced significant impostor syndrome and struggled to figure out how to cover tuition even though I received a partial scholarship. I compared myself to everyone else who seemed to code, solder and fabricate better than I did (in my opinion). I had a very unrealistic set of expectations and pretty much gave up based upon how I felt. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever had, mostly because I knew I was capable of success and I also understood that I took myself out of the equation.

Eventually, I picked myself up by learning and teaching others the very thing I gave up on. I am very open about sharing my failures and experiences. It actually turned out to be an amazing lesson that led to development of persistence, learning to measure myself against myself, patience and learning to manage my expectations in terms of personal goals and achievement. It makes me feel good to frankly and honestly share failures that have helped me grow. It is nice to be able to say to another that “this too shall pass” and to really mean it, based on my own experience as opposed to offering cliches that do little to comfort and encourage others.

What rituals or habits do you have for when you want to have a kick a$$ day?

I wake up early (that does not mean I always get out of bed at that time) so I can read my Bible, pray and start my day with calm and a sense of purpose. I try to spend a few minutes with my Mom because we are both busy, but family is a priority. I try to make memories everyday. In other words, I try to be intentional and remember that I work to live, not the other way around (thanks, Sis). It helps. I also try to surround myself with folks who are “glass is half full” types, because I can easily approach things with a bit of skepticism. I also try to do at least one thing alone and/or beyond my comfort zone.

Notice, none of these things involve coding or other fun and geeky things. I believe balance and purpose can make or break the day, so my focus is about more than work and I am glad to have overcome work addiction.

What does female empowerment mean to you?

To me, female empowerment is about valuing humans where they are and remembering that we are all neighbors (some are more inviting than others, but everyone is indeed connected). To the point of helping women feel valued and able to accomplish anything (and I do mean anything), I believe it is primarily about action beyond words and campaigns. They are great. Words have much power, but there is nothing that matches a willingness to take someone by the hand (literally or figuratively) and say I believe in you. I choose to invest in you. I have had that happen many times from men and women who chose to pour into me. It is my privilege and pleasure to do so for others. It is neither easy, perfect nor always immediately rewarding, but it does fill me with a sense of anticipation to see the forthcoming fruit of my labor and investment in people.