Women fought for equal rights decades before International Women’s Day (IWD), and they will continue to fight for as long as it takes. While we hope global equality is in the near future, we will, in the meantime, do our part at Slack to support and elevate women—not just on IWD, but every day. We will strive to ensure that instead of boundaries and limits, women have a borderless space to unapologetically be themselves, learn from others and grow.
At last count, 44.9% of our company was made up of women holding roles as engineers, creatives, HR reps and everything in between—including 29.9% in leadership roles. While there is so much more work to do, we wanted to take a moment to honor and celebrate the amazing women who are part of our community at Slack. We asked a few of them to share what IWD means to them, where they find inspiration and how they show up for other women every day.
“It’s important that we support one another as collective women because we are the future. We can all have a piece of the pie: There’s no need to burn down the kitchen.”
A time to celebrate, reflect and prepare for what’s next
Known to most of her colleagues as “CC,” Christlynn Chelladurai is a business development representative at Slack. For her, “IWD is focused on challenging the current issues around gender parity and women’s equality,” she says. “As humans and allies, it’s imperative that we continue to raise awareness, come together and fight for what’s fair and right.”
For enterprise learning consultant Lyndsey Williams, “IWD means honoring my ancestors and the countless Black women who fought for my rights while being marginalized and unrecognized within the overall Women’s Movement,” she says. “I am because they were!”
An account executive for small and midsize business, Applonia Cornolius comes from a line of strong, independent women and recognizes her position of privilege, especially on IWD. “A child of immigrants, I am always thankful for the opportunities I have,” she says. “Women’s rights are constantly being tested on the world stage and we are fortunate enough to be living in North America, where we are encouraged to reach our full potential in our careers.”
Vanessa O’Mahony, Slack’s senior director of growth markets, mid-market and business development, has been involved in a variety of IWD events over the course of her career. “IWD is so important in terms of giving women and their allies a platform to identify their ambitions for the next phase of progress,” she says. “Each year, I am empowered to take more ownership, speak louder and insist on more space.”
“I am lucky to be surrounded by a circle of supportive, high-achieving women who continue to push me to be the best version of myself.”
Creating space to support and empower one another
It can be easy to view any new opportunity in the workplace as a competition, but the women at Slack embody the power of moving forward together. “We operate in a world that pits us against one another,” says senior customer experience agent Shonge Sakupwanya. “By choosing to uplift each other instead, we inspire confidence and create space for one another to flourish.”
O’Mahony takes this responsibility to heart. “It’s part of my core values that I play an active role in helping those around me, and in particular women, to reach their full potential,” she says. “I have had many privileges, including an upbringing where the same ambitions were set for me as my brothers. Recognizing that and knowing I have an opportunity to support others is something I take very seriously.”
Enabling this kind of support is essential at Slack, where seven employee resource groups (ERGs) aim to drive belonging by providing support, professional development and variety across Slack’s global offices. The Women’s ERG has more than 800 members, and is open to anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary individual and wants to share their thoughts and opinions on women-related matters.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how open, honest and supportive the Women’s ERG is,” Cornolius says. The group often hosts programs that focus on professional and community development. “One highlight was attending a financial literacy workshop to educate women on investing and saving for long-term goals. I was able to make tangible changes and am excited for the next one!”
Chelladurai is drawn to the Women’s ERG virtual yoga classes, which give her an opportunity to meditate, stretch and reset her mind and body.
“I feel lucky and blessed to be a part of these communities where I feel safe, supported and heard. I hope that I’ve replicated this support as an ally.”
Where vulnerability, compassion and respect are strengths
Many of the women we spoke with were taught by their caregivers to show respect and practice compassion from day one. Cornolius explains that her mother was and still is a leader in business, and their household was stronger because of it. “She always spoke highly of other female coworkers, and I was raised knowing it’s important to lift others up,” she says.
Growing up with her mother and sisters, Chelladurai was surrounded by strong women who set a powerful example of this mindset. “I knew from a young age that supporting one another was how we showed love and respect,” she says. “The strength I felt around these women made me feel like a superhero. It was otherworldly and powerful.”
Since April 2020, Chelladurai has helped lead Slack’s Earthtones ERG, for our employees who identify as people of color, and she considers the group’s members an extension of her family. “The friendships I have opened up across these communities have given me so much fulfillment and purpose in my professional and personal life,” she says. “I pinch myself every day that I get to be here.”
Cornolius is also in Earthtones, and was especially appreciative of the group when she onboarded remotely during the pandemic in 2020. “I felt so welcomed and supported not only by the Slack-wide community, but allies on my immediate team,” she says. “I really value the visibility and wonderful activities they plan.”
“Being part of the Earthtones ERG was the first time in my tech sales career where I saw folks that looked like me that were not only supportive, but thriving in their roles.”
Senior software engineer Brie Murphy says, “it’s essential for us to lift each other up, but a lot of us let society and our peers censor our behavior.” To avoid this, Murphy stresses the importance of finding the people who accept you just as you are. “Try to find a community where people say yes to you, and where you’re excited to say yes to other people,” she says.
“Historically, being smart and feminine made me feel marginalized enough,” Murphy says. “But at Slack, I’m out and understood as a trans woman. Showing vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength, and leads to growth. If you’re ever punished for showing vulnerability, leave ASAP.”
“This is the first company where I’ve really been out and understood as a trans woman, or LGBTQ+ anything.”
A message (and invitation) for women looking to join tech
Cornolius works in tech sales, a field typically dominated by men. “The old boy’s club is over, and most forward-thinking tech companies value a diversified sales team,” she says. “Hold your own space. Don’t box yourself in, and when in doubt, just remember there’s an unqualified and overconfident person out there who’s looking at the same position!”
As a successful woman in tech, Cornolius now knows she can handle whatever comes her way. Thinking back, she wouldn’t be quite so hard on her younger self. “I used to think it was the end of the world if I failed a course, or if I wasn’t the best at something on the first try,” she says. “But failing forward is the best way to live. If we aren’t taking risks, are we really living?”
Sakupwanya agrees that failure is not something to avoid. “It is OK to plan, but if the plan doesn’t work, it doesn’t necessarily mean you failed,” she says. “It’s just an opportunity to pivot and adapt.”
Even though it might seem like a crowded world for women trying to break into software, Murphy says it’s important to rise above the pressure. “Focus on creating spaciousness and ease in your life. Make doing ‘you’ seem effortless, and don’t get caught in the trap of being stressed.”
When in doubt, Williams says, take a chance. “Apply to positions you might not normally consider. Be bold and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may be surprised what happens!”
“I would love to see more women join us. We need your thoughts, your emotions, your diversity at the table for success—and we’re now creating environments where you’re empowered to reach your potential.”
Tackling challenges head-on and finding inspiration close by
When they’re looking for inspiration, the women at Slack don’t have to go far. “Being surrounded by strong, powerful women, and allies who step up for each other, makes me feel like I’m not alone,” says Chelladurai. “Seeing their courage empowers me. It fuels me with hope and faith in a movement that truly impacts all of us.”
Murphy turns to artists and musicians in her community, including Zoë Keating, Erica “Unwoman” Mulkey, Amanda Palmer, Whitney Moses and Raven Ebner (you can listen and get inspired here).
Williams will never cease to be amazed by her ancestors. “I draw daily from their wells of strength, wisdom and endurance!”
Strong matriarchs are in abundance. Sakupwanya’s grandmother was orphaned in rural Zimbabwe, where she raised her seven siblings and went on to mother six children of her own, establishing a career as a well-respected teacher along the way. “She was a true testament to the grit and tenacity in women,” Sakupwanya says.
“I watched my mother sacrifice for more than 30 years so that her children could fly,” Cornolius says. “She is an incredible example of kindness, class and hard work. Whenever I talk to her about Slack, she gets excited for me, despite not knowing how to restart her computer.”
“I am constantly in awe of the ingenuity, creativity and flexibility that I see modeled by this new generation of women. I can’t wait to see how they continue to transform our culture.”
Globally, this year’s IWD theme is: A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. For O’Mahony, “this feels like an ultimatum for all of us to really step up and reflect on our systems and actions. ”
O’Mahony says a lot of this comes back to taking up space, not just at Slack or in tech, but across every stage, screen and corner of the world. “Today, as women, we celebrate what we have achieved and bring to the table in society, business, sports and life in general,” she says. “Tomorrow, we will continue to challenge the status quo, together.”