Leadership through authenticity.
As I made my way into the room to hear Melissa Jurkoic speak, I found myself questioning my presence. Whether I had the right to take up space or had anything of value to add to this conversation. Was I strong enough? What was strength? Was strength synonymous with vulnerability, and could I be vulnerable and successful at the same time? As life often does, it connected me with the events and people who would guide me to the answers.
While at a Tech Power Breakfast event, Melissa spoke to her journey as a woman, as a survivor, and as a leader. Melissa was my initial glimpse into vulnerability as a strength. Her path as a woman wanting to launch a career into the historically male-dominated field of tech was full of challenges and as she faced them, her resilience grew and her determination to succeed cultivated her into the leader in tech that she is today.
While on this adventure into leadership, she faced many obstacles. Eventually, she overcame them only to face closed door after closed door, until she finally found one with a crack just big enough for her to force her way through.
One of these barriers came at the very beginning of her journey when she decided to get a degree in tech. Between the lack of support from her instructors and no female mentors to be found, it was difficult to envision herself achieving her goal. But Melissa’s passion for tech outweighed the perceived barriers.
This same passion helped to create balance between her studies and suddenly becoming a new mother. As women in tech, it’s a common narrative that we have to choose between personal and professional accomplishment. Melissa’s success made it clear that we do not have to suffer in one area to flourish in another. Her story is proof that we can have it all, be in balance, and continue to grow.
Melissa’s vulnerability and honesty helped us connect with her story, and to see that a path into leadership was possible for any woman in that room. That regardless of our pasts, or the difficulties we currently face, we could find a way through and create the future we want for ourselves. Her success gave us the green light to let down our walls and learn from one another. And the biggest thing I learned is that prime examples of leadership can come from anywhere.
Melissa spoke about how she originally didn’t want to be a leader because none of her past leaders had left positive impressions on her. She didn’t have direct examples she felt she could, or even wanted to emulate. It took advice and direction from a mentor—not a manager, to help her see how she could inspire and lead others.
This mentor was a colleague and a friend. He was the kind of person who reached out to her to pull her up and put her in the room. He eventually ended up leaving the organization and on his last day they grabbed coffee. He challenged her to grow in the form of leading a team, “Melissa, lead people. Manage a team. What’s the block for you? You mentor and care about others. You won't reach your next level of growth until you do this.”
Melissa decided to take a chance and lean into leadership. She empowered her team to embrace their individual strengths, which supported her overall growth as a leader.
Melissa is part of a pack of women paving the way for the next generation of ladies in tech. She uses her heart, empathy, and enthusiasm to help others grow. These qualities light the path and show women how they can show up to a leadership role, succeed, and pull other women up in the process.
I left the event with such clarity. And since then, I haven’t looked back, unless it’s to lift other women up. It was Melissa’s strength to lean into her vulnerability that showed me that I do have the right to take up space. That I will not dim my light. That the value I have to add is my personal life experience, and what I did with the challenges on my way to becoming the person I am meant to be.
It's my pleasure to share Melissa with you throughout this spotlight, and as the next moderator for the Women in Tech Spring 2023 Event: Past, Present, Progress. During this event we will reflect and champion how far we’ve come, while also recognizing the work that still needs to be done. Bring it on.