Nina Gannes

Troublemaker

Location: San Francisco, CA

"I’m glad I asked my question. And the moderator was, too. I know because she thanked me for it."

The San Francisco Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners are not the type of place you’d expect to have to lean in.

The group has a mission statement to “invite female speakers to talk about their areas of expertise” and “encourage networking amongst girl geeks and recruiting by the sponsoring company”—companies like Facebook, Yahoo!, Genentech, Palantir and Microsoft. That sounds like a golden ticket for women empowerment and equality, don’t you think?

Tonight I was at LinkedIn’s Girl Geek Dinner. (Yep, that LinkedIn.) Halfway through the panel discussion, the moderator asked, “How do you balance it all—personal life and career?” As the panelists began talking about work-life balance, I found myself thinking, wait... really? Are we really talking about this?

It was a déjà vu moment. I had just finished Lean In a month earlier, but I didn’t expect to need Sheryl’s advice already. So I put a shout-out to Twitter, wondering if anybody else found the moderator’s question a little less-than-empowering. My tweet was met with silence.

That’s when I knew I wanted to speak up about this issue. And when I made that decision, boy, did my heart start thumping like anything. Boom. Boom. Boom. But I knew I had to say something, and I knew that I needed to tell my damn heart to stop pounding so I could make sure what I said sounded good.

The organizer handed me the microphone and I leaned in.

“My name is Nina Gannes, and I have to say I’m disappointed in the moderator’s question. I’m 25, and I think most of the attendees here tonight are about the same age as me. I don’t have kids. I don’t have a husband; I don’t even have a boyfriend. So in light of Sheryl Sandberg’s book about leaning in, I find this question off-target given the purpose of the evening. Instead, I’m more interested in the extremely accomplished panelists telling me about a moment when they leaned in during their careers. As a young professional, that would be more helpful to me. Thank you.”

First there was silence. And then the panelists started talking about leaning in. About staying late in the office to finish projects, or taking a job that they didn’t think they were qualified for, and how much that job ended up being a career gamechanger for them. And you know what? It was the same women talking, but these stories were a damn lot more insightful and helpful than telling me that I should “wake up early to exercise and clear my head.”

Still though, it’s not all a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. People on Twitter criticized me for speaking out. Later on in the session a young girl asks the last question: “How can I find a mentor?” Sigh.

I’m glad I asked my question. And the moderator was, too. I know because she thanked me for it.

I think, as a woman, I have a right to talk about business at a business event. As a young female professional, I want career advice straight up when I ask for it straight up. And when I go to a networking event for women with careers in technology, I want to talk about your career in technology.

It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, so I’m going to keep asking for it.