Success is the result of small actions taken over and over again. Success takes consistent, directed action repeated over time. An example of a personal success was an invitation extended to me to the UK G8 Innovation Summit. This invitation was extended because of a hackathon at which I had volunteered over a period of time grew. Since I had invested my time and talents with the organization, I was first in line to have a new opportunity when one presented itself. Plant the seeds of consistent action and the investment will grow into new opportunities.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Hasson the Founder of DevelopHer and a senior engineer in apps and information security at a leading Silicon Valley fintech company.
Lauren transformed her career from rock bottom into a top, high-profile professional and nearly quintupled her salary in less than four years. Now, she’s moving the needle to bridge the gender wage gap and inspiring thousands of women to build their best careers and break glass ceilings in STEM and tech.
Lauren’s professional engineering work has been featured in Apple keynotes, she was one of 100 top innovators invited to attend the UK G8 Innovation and Decide Now Act Summits, and she’s won multiple, high-profile hackathons including SXSW two years in a orw. In her career, she’s held both senior leadership and senior engineering roles at startups and prominent agencies alike.
In addition to her own professional work, Lauren’s work with DevelopHer has been featured in the international IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine, and she’s been hired by top companies like Google, Dell, Intuit, Armor, and more to train and inspire their women.
Lauren has received a number of awards for her work, including the Women in IT Awards Silicon Valley “Diversity Initiative of the Year” Award, a Gold Stevie Award for “Startup of the Year, Consumer Services” 2019, a Silver Stevie Award for “Female Solo Entrepreneur of the Year” 2019, and two Bronze Stevie Awards for “Tech Startup of the Year, Services” and “Startup of the Year, Consumer Services.” Additionally, Lauren was recognized by the United Nations as a Finalist for their WSIS Stakeholder Platform Prize in 2019 and by the Women in IT Awards New York as a Finalist for the “Innovator of the Year” Award in 2019 and “Diversity Initiative of the Year” Award in 2019.
Lauren graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Duke University with a triple major in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Economics in just four years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My journey in STEM began with a push when I was a freshman in high school. My parents enrolled me in computer science upon the recommendation of friends whose son was enrolled at MIT and daughter at Duke University. They enrolled me in a computer science class when they didn’t have any idea what computer science was. I could not have been unhappier with this decision. I was the lone freshman girl in a class of mostly senior guys who coded for fun!
At first I struggled and was all alone. I had no one to relate to in class and even my parents were unable help me with my homework. Eventually I found my stride and not only found my stride but started to succeed. I came into my own and succeeded despite initially feeling alone in the class. I would later go on to take another year of AP computer science the next year and took every computer science class I could take in high school.
When I got to college, because I had taken AP computer science, I had college credit and it was a natural progression to continue studying computer science. Because I had such a strong foundation in computer science from high school, while my friends were struggling to learn basic concepts like pointers, queues, and arrays, I was sailing through the curriculum. This gave me the edge to get ahead and succeed. I went on to graduate with top honors from Duke University with a triple major in electrical engineering, computer science, and economics.
But this wasn’t the start of my tech career…
Unfortunately, after some less than stellar technical internships in college where the company stuffed me in a literal closet and told me to write code and not talk to anyone, I left tech altogether. Instead, I worked as an investment banker, and later founded my own company. It would take seven years before I would return to tech after a career coach had me take a diagnostic test that said software development was right up my alley.
That was a little over eight years ago and I haven’t looked back since. I love being a technical woman to this day! Since my pivot back to technology, I have gone on to have my professional engineering work featured in Apple keynotes, and have won multiple, high-profile hackathons. I also have had the honor of being one of 100 top innovators invited to attend the UK G8 Innovation and Decide Now Act Summits.
My experiences on my STEM journey taught me that all women in STEM and tech face challenges, from opening the doors into a STEM career, to achieving equal pay and breaking through barriers in their career path.
My challenges as a woman in STEM, the steps I took to overcome obstacles and my ultimate success prompted me to help other women. We need more women with STEM degrees and embarking on STEM career journeys. My drive to give other women tools and resources, empower them to realize their value and succeed in STEM careers are at the foundation of my company, DevelopHer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I am best known as a motivational and inspirational speaker and for sharing my own story, even the less glamorous parts, onstage. What most people don’t recognize is that when I founded DevelopHer a little over two years ago, I had such overwhelming imposter syndrome that I thought no one would care about me and my own story. So, instead of sharing my own story when I founded DevelopHer, I told stories of other leading women in tech and was shocked to learn that women actually resonated with my own story the most. Women related to me personally. My story was one of the every-woman.
So I began telling my own story, not the sanitized story of varnished success, but my genuine, authentic story, without glossing over the less glamorous details of my experiences. When I did, they wanted to hear more. Since then, I have been able to engage more audiences and reach more women than ever before.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a newbie in iOS working at a development agency, I worked in an open floor plan. When someone would have a bug that got unexpected results, I would often hear one of the most senior engineers ask, “What does Charles say?”
One day when I had a bug, I walked around the bullpen looking for Charles. After much searching, and later much ribbing, I learned that Charles wasn’t an employee, but was the name of a web proxy debugging tool the engineers used!
My lesson learned? Know your data and never take people so literally!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
DevelopHer stands out because I have shared my very personal and relatable story that resonates with women. This is because I relate to women in STEM on all levels. There is a shared experience I have with women travelling along their own STEM career journey.
For example, when I learned, through anecdotal conversation, that a male co-worker with less experience was hired at 50% more than me, though my experience and credentials far outweighed his relative value to the company, I immediately realized I needed to take action. Instead of blaming others, I acted immediately and became the change I wanted. This has been repeated throughout my life and is core to the DevelopHer message.
The DevelopHer message is not only based on the shared experience of pay inequity; it is also that we must take ownership and chart our own career path. Women must work to define what their best career looks like then own their outcomes to succeed on their chosen path. I have walked the road and have not only defeated my own pay inequality issue, but have broken down the process of overcoming pay disparity and into a repeatable, framework that is inspirational and easily followed.
I’m living proof that any situation can be overcome with knowledge, coupled with personal drive and commitment. I provide women with a base of knowledge, empowerment, and actionable steps to achieve success and am making real change at a grass roots level. Because I make a real connection with women and affect true change is why top companies and educational institutions hire me to work with their professional women.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Through DevelopHer I am building on an already strong foundation of an equal pay framework and will continue to grow. I have established a flagship partner with Indiana University for the DevelopHer online technology platform, and will build additional partners with the goal of eliminating a gender pay gap for women before it even starts.
The DevelopHer Zero to Hero program already has a strong foundation in companies such as Google, Dell and Armor where I am now established as an in-house role model. I will continue to grow deeper relationships with these companies, as well as partner with additional organizations that wish to invest in the development of their professional women. I will be working at these companies to highlight internal career opportunities to help companies attract and retain top female talent.
The DevelopHer blog and The DevelopHer Show podcast will also be expanded to include even more resources such as career development paths and information on professional tech roles to help attract more women in technology career positions.
I have also partnered with Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity to provide online training for this large women’s organization. I wish to springboard this opportunity and foster it in order to scale my training nd coaching efforts and create an online mastermind group with which I will be able to effectively reach far more women.
On a personal front, I am always working on new projects in my full-time role as a security engineer and application developer, but these projects are proprietary and I am bound by confidentiality. I can share that over the past year I have built a voice application of a payment system from the ground up, and I have reviewed over 100,000 lines of code as the owner of all of AppSec.
I don’t just talk the talk of a top female in technology, I run toward opportunities to push myself and grow my career.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Over and above the pay disparity issues facing women in STEM there is a large gap in representation of women in STEM careers, especially in leadership roles. Three ways we can encourage women to enter into STEM careers and then break barriers of pay and position are to encourage established women professionals to engage other women as role models, encourage organizations to foster the recruitment and development of women in STEM, and, most importantly, encourage and empower women to take ownership of their career paths and understand they have the ultimate responsibility for their career development.
- Role Models
There is a deficit of women’s role models, especially in tech. Women have achieved success across many disciplines, yet many of their stories remain untold. This lack of prominence of female role models is especially deficient in STEM and tech. This deficit short-changes professional women in STEM and tech who would benefit from the collective histories and the shared experience of what it means to be a professional woman in technology.
Personally, I have looked around and to this day, I don’t have a single female technical mentor to whom I look up to and want to be like. Instead of pointing the finger and wishing for it — I went out and found mentors to highlight and share their personal stories to help light the way for others. One way I have shared their stories is through The DevelopHer Show, a podcast where I invite other successful women to share their journeys.
I have brought many stories of successful women in technology into a shared space where all women in tech can see there is achievement and success. I want to share with all women that there is a way to break through the gender glass ceilings of pay and position.
2. Organizational Professional Development Programs and Practices
We need to encourage organizations to implement practices that facilitate the professional development of women. Often career growth and leadership development are seen as nice-to-haves in many organizations. In truth, the development of future leaders, especially in the ranks of professional women, is critical to organizational success and company profit margins.
Through my experiences with DevelopHer, I’ve found that teaching and arming women with knowledge and empowering them to take responsibility for their career growth creates value, not only for the individual but for the companies where they work. I have personally witnessed this fact in the companies with whom I have been hired and research backs this up as well.
Through DevelopHer I work with top tech companies to teach their professional women how to recognize their professional value and how they can seek out their own best career. The organizations with whom I have worked have found that their employees benefitted in ways far and above realizing their professional value. I show professional women how to take a fresh look at their careers and how they are approaching career development and growth.
3. Encourage Personal Responsibility
Women need to take more accountability for their outcomes. Coupled with the underrepresentation of women in STEM, I have seen through my experience there is an expectation that since they are underrepresented, they should be entitled to have someone to help them grow their careers. This mindset is detrimental to the advancement of all women. Women must adopt a growth mindset and take personal responsibility for their career paths and own their outcomes.
Through DevelopHer, women are encouraged to take personal responsibility for both where they are and where they want to be. We cannot blame others for our current situations; instead, we need to take ownership of the future we want and the things we need to do to realize that future.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest challenges for women in STEM are pay equity and paths to leadership.
According to the Institute for Women Policy Research, “In 2018, female full-time, year-round workers made only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. According to the Institute for Women Policy Research, “…if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 40 years — or until 2059 — for women to finally reach pay parity.”
Real solutions will include policies in concert with the resources of business and the efforts of the individual to be truly successful. Through DevelopHer I am engaging businesses to train and develop their professional women and encouraging the efforts of individual women at a grass roots level.
Providing a scalable platform businesses can adopt to develop their professional women means that organizations can more easily provide a medium for professional development and encourage advancement. Subsequently development opportunities can be made available to more women, and we will be better able to move the pay and position disparity needle forward and effect true change.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
There is a perception that women have less aptitude for math and science, and therefore careers in STEM and technology. Even though this is a false perception, a perception bias still exists. Coupled with this is the outdated social norm that women are not suited for a career in STEM. That it is somehow less feminine.
I am living proof that these myths are just that. At an early age it wasn’t just aptitude that determined my path. I had aptitude for math, science, and art, so I could have pursued any number of career paths. It was the encouragement I received to take advantage of a learning opportunity in computer science that opened my eyes to STEM as a viable option for my future career.
The perception of women in STEM careers and the social norms created around that perception need to change. One of my super powers is to balk at social norms. I am on a mission to dispel any myths women are somehow inferior in math and science, or that by choosing a technology career they are somehow less feminine.
We need to educate women and open them up the realm of opportunities that exist, and empower them to explore opportunities at which they can excel. Through DevelopHer I provide resources to educate women about opportunities in STEM and what those opportunities require in terms of education and experience.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Companies bring me in to provide training and professional development to their women and I offer professional women the following advice for professional and leadership development.
- Success is the result of small actions taken over and over again
Success takes consistent, directed action repeated over time. An example of a personal success was an invitation extended to me to the UK G8 Innovation Summit. This invitation was extended because of a hackathon at which I had volunteered over a period of time grew. Since I had invested my time and talents with the organization, I was first in line to have a new opportunity when one presented itself. Plant the seeds of consistent action and the investment will grow into new opportunities.
2. Build a network along the way before you need it
When I worked for Morgan Stanley as an investment banking analyst, my performance after one year was good enough to warrant a top tier bonus. When bonuses were announced, I was placed in the second tier and therefore received less though management in the West Coast office was aware of and regularly acknowledged my top performance. The problem? By working for the West Coast office, not enough people in the New York HQ knew what I did and the impact I had on the bottom line.
Don’t wait to reach out to others and create connections. Conversations about what you do creates shared experiences and builds resources, not only to help you in your daily work, but in your career growth.
3. Constantly build new skills and your portfolio to show you have those skills
When I returned to technology, I didn’t just take the first opportunity that came along. I looked to the marketplace to help me decide where I should focus my efforts. I looked at what skills were both in demand and in short supply. I then worked to build the required skills and place my efforts toward finding a position for those newly acquired skills.
Start now. Build your skills in areas where there is high demand and short supply, then work on a portfolio that highlights those skills. Continually look for opportunities that will build your arsenal and make you the one in demand. When a new career opportunity presents itself to you, you will be ready to take it.
4. Build your reputation
You may be the best at what you do, but if no one knows what you do, your work as well as your career will suffer for it. Communicate the projects you are working on to give others an idea about what you do as well as your capabilities. This will give you an insight as to who can be a resource for you as well as give others an insight as to whom they can call to get the job done.
Building a reputation as a person who gets things done and who can be called upon as a resource will build your professional credibility and open doors to new opportunities.
5. Invest in your biggest asset — YOU!
Your knowledge, skills, and abilities are your assets. Invest in yourself to increase your value in the marketplace. If your current employer doesn’t realize your newly created value, another company will. When I found out a male peer was paid 50% more than me for the same wokr, I invested in myself by learning how to negotiate. The result? I was able to triple my salary! Invest in yourself and start reaping the benefits.
One thing you can so is to get a professional coach to help you build your value. A coach can help guide you on the path of increasing your asset value and help you choose the right path. Companies hire me to teach their female employees how to build their best careers and become amazing assets. I inspire women to action that achieves measurable results. My award-winning program has helped thousands of women build their professional value for their companies.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Professional women at all levels should chart their own paths and create the change they want. Whenever I have faced challenges and realized a change was needed, I did not wait for others to bring me that change. Instead, I became the change I wanted. This has been repeated throughout my career and is core to the DevelopHer message.
I challenge professional women to lead at all levels by sharing their experiences with others and mentoring others at every level of their journey. These conversations will create and foster a community of professionals that will provide support to all women on their journeys and ultimately break down barriers to success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In a world where employer support for professional development, and where professional female role models are not given the same weight or audience as professional males, I have been hard pressed to find mentors. I have never let this lack of employer support, or existence of female role models stand in my way. Instead, I focused my efforts on creating a mindset of success and getting the game between my head together. The personal empowerment messages offered by Tony Robbins have been instrumental in helping me get a start on this. His approach to taking control of your life helped me establish a base for my success.
I have also looked to assimilate with leaders from other fields. There are many methods and paths to success. Learning from others and “standing on the shoulders of giants” has helped me learn from the successes, and mistakes of others to propel me forward. Everyone teaches you something, whether the lesson is how to succeed, or how to learn from failure.
I’ve also enlisted professional coaching to help me establish and solidify goals, then take continuous, consistent action toward those goals. Coaching has helped me stay on track toward goals, and remind and challenge me when I am veering off course.
Through DevelopHer, I am solving the problem of lack of female role models. I am bringing role models to the forefront and sharing their stories. I am also acting as a role model by sharing my own story and providing a repeatable and scalable framework where women can see there is a way through to success and how they can create their own best career.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have designed DevelopHer programs that teach women to seek understanding of their true value, continually learn and seek growth. Women who know their value and know their relative value in the marketplace will be better able to command higher salaries, either within their current company or with another employer. With this understanding they are better prepared to take the most important step, which is to self-advocate.
DevelopHer offers women a repeatable, scalable framework to build their value, increase their earnings, and ultimately move the gender pay and leadership disparity needle further by impacting other women in their network.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to emphasize to professional women that recognizing and increasing their value will benefit them so much more in the long run. If professional women leave as little as leave $5,000 on the table at the beginning of their careers, it could mean a seven-figure difference in salary over the course of a career.
I’m communicating this right now through DevelopHer.
I designed the DevelopHer platform to be scalable and accessible by everyone. I am working on expanding this accessibility by securing additional partnerships with companies and educational institutions to implement the technology platform to communicate this message for the benefit of their students and employees. DevelopHer will be THE resource for women and employers of women and the international benchmark for companies who wish to credential their commitment to women.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’m unstoppable not because I don’t have failures or doubts, but because I continue forward despite them!”
When people hear that I returned to tech and about all the awards I’ve won, they imagine that it was immediate and happened overnight. What they didn’t see was how many times I tripped and stumbled along the way.
I have failed so many times in my life, but each time I pick myself up and ask what I have learned from the failure. Learning from failures and maintaining the resolve and commitment to learn and continually grow has propelled me forward.
I created DevelopHer to share my story, and the stories of other successful women in technology, so others can find a common thread on their journey and most importantly inspiration to continue, overcome and succeed. I want to remove the veil hiding the path, open a dialog about challenges, and provide encouragement that we can not only overcome but thrive as professional women. Each woman I help move forward moves the needle forward for all women.
I want other professional women to stand on my shoulders and learn as much as they can from my mistakes.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would like to have an in-person meeting with Melinda Gates. I found that we have much in common. We are both from Dallas. We both went to Duke University, are both computer science majors, and are both Thetas.
Most importantly, we are both advocates for women in tech as well as experienced tech women ourselves. We both believe empowerment on women in tech is a necessity for companies to truly be successful. Supporting and empowering tech women in their careers creates value, not only for the individual but for the companies where they work. Melinda Gates embodies this message, and it would be an honor to meet with her in-person.