…match your skillset to your passion. It’s not enough to just be good at something, you have to also possess zeal to see your vision come to fruition through curiosity.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maegan Lujan, a strategist, storyteller, and philanthropist on a mission to motivate and inspire others. Maegan’s journey has taken her from high risk in foster care to high potential in the boardroom of Toshiba America Business Solutions, Inc. And her tenacity has earned Maegan a nomination for the 2019 Women in Business Award from the Orange County Business Journal, as well as recognition as a 2016 Young Influencer and 2019 Woman of Influence by The Cannata Report.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up without a mother or father. My basic needs weren’t met. I was a foster kid — and I experienced everything that went along with that stigma. I didn’t get tucked in at night with a bedtime story and kiss on the forehead. I wasn’t treated to family dinners and birthday parties filled with presents.
By the age of 14, I was completely on my own. I never attended high school. Going to college was never an option for me. The truth is, I fought hard just to survive.
Yet here I am, at the top of my game, at a major corporation, and successful in ways I never dreamed possible as a strategist, storyteller, and philanthropist on a mission to motivate and inspire others.
I’d say what brought me to this specific career path started long ago when I was in foster care. It was then, right as I was striking out on my own, that I made the conscious decision to never let the stigma surrounding my upbringing define me. Rather than fall victim to the instability of my surroundings, I decided to take control of my journey and channeled my energy towards positive growth and self-improvement.
At first, I took any job possible in order to make ends meet and survive. Then, I followed my curiosity by starting as a temp scanner operator. From there, I moved into a position selling B2B software. And, with each role, I’ve developed critical skills that served as stepping stones to the next opportunity.
In my quest to understand how products were developed, I landed at another software company. It was this constant thirst for understanding the product lifecycle and go-to-market strategy that led me into portfolio management — and my director role — with Toshiba.
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?
I would say regardless of how good you think you are, when you look back at your career, you should laugh at yourself.
Like the earlier job I mentioned, where I turned from a sales rep into a project manager.
I laugh thinking about that all the time. I had no clue what a project manager was. What a project P&L was. But here I was managing a team of people twice my age.
Sure, I could have done a million things better. But the project came in under budget and on time, with a heck of a lot of learning moments and giggles to follow.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I firmly believe in the importance of embracing diversity and inclusion from the top down. Which is why I support Toshiba’s efforts to create a sense of true belonging across all its employees through its mentoring and sponsorship programs.
In addition, our diversity mandate that specifies Toshiba’s focus on establishing a corporate culture that enables a diverse workforce to actively contribute to the business. We see this in everything from the words we choose in the job postings to the voices used in the creation of the tech, it needs to yield holistic results.
While we currently live in a world where there is an inherent bias created by technology against women, due to the fact that most of today’s tech has been designed by men, Toshiba fights for a deeper level of inclusion. The point is to have all voices heard, not just men or women. What our HR team did was begin working with third-party organizations to pre-screen all our job postings and what we were outwardly advertising to a community.
We wanted to be sure we did the work internally that we had the appropriate framework to support having an inclusive environment and that we were using technology to bring everybody’s voices to market, not just male or female.
One of the many things that I believe makes Toshiba stand out — and by far the most important to me — is that we always put the customer first. I know a lot of other organizations say this but, at Toshiba, we truly walk the talk when it comes to this. Sure, corporations are in business to be profitable; however, I’m proud to be a part of an organization that believes in going above and beyond to making it happen on behalf of our customers. No matter what.
Our CEO Scott Maccabe is addressing this topic at the company level. And, our HR director Kim Jones is incredibly committed to removing the inherent bias in the recruitment process. Thanks to her leadership, we recently worked with a third-party company to recode our job postings. This change ensured that they would appeal to all genders, races, ages, and ethnicities. There are examples like this across the company.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
With the dawn of the new decade, I’m excited to be making time to launch my personal brand continuing as the protégé of the CEO of Toshiba in addition to working with my executive coach. Putting more of a focus on myself and my accomplishments isn’t something I’ve ever taken time for, and I’m very excited to share what really makes me, me with people.
Case in point, in 2016, I was recognized by leading industry publication as a Young Influencer — someone to really watch in the industry. While I was honored at being recognized, I barely lifted my head up from the desk long enough to say thank you. I was too busy working away at my next accomplishment.
When I was again recognized last year by another industry leader as a 2019 Woman of Influence, it finally started to register with me that I was making a positive impact on the industry. And that, beyond the little of myself I’d shown to the tech world, there was so much more I had to offer that could help my peers — both in tech and beyond.
I’m just now recognizing the platform I have, and I want to work to raise awareness and help make an impact on this world in any way I can. Sure, it’s nerve-wracking to think that I’ll be sharing all my skeletons and some of my biggest insecurities with the world, but the plus side is that I get to be a beacon of hope to those whose paths are similar to mine.
I’m living proof that you can go from being a high-risk youth to a high-potential leader in your industry by taking control of your journey and channeling your energy towards positive growth and self-improvement.
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?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech. However, I’m motivated by where we’re heading.
I’m someone who tries to always approach life from a continuous improvement mindset. Whether it’s in my career, where I’m part of an organization that identifies innovation and embraces that technology culture from the inside out, or at home, where I’m constantly striving to better myself through growth, learning, and giving back.
So, while I’m appreciative that now more than ever there is a larger number of women represented in the technology space, I still see room for dramatic improvements to be made. What’s really exciting to me is that, while the numbers are still disproportionately male, we’re seeing women truly lead the way in terms of innovation. And I only see that female presence growing from here on out.
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?
There’s obviously a lack of representation of females at the highest levels of STEM industries in general. To bring about gender balance in STEM, we need to look at a few different layers. Today, we need to do our part to bring more women to the table.
It starts by elevating their voices in the conversation. Including more female voices in the tech creation and innovation process will only improve results, making them more holistic with the use of every new technology. Leveraging female contributions to the current world of tech will not only yield more holistic results, but it will also connect with a wider audience. This connectivity leads to a more inclusive experience, lessening the challenges women will face.
Additionally, if we truly care about gender equality and balance in STEM, we must start speaking to the next generation. Raising awareness about positions in STEM encourages more women to enter these fields and is a passion of mine.
We can accomplish this by providing young girls in school with examples of women who are successful in STEM careers. I think this is critical to getting future generations of females engaged in STEM. Creating programs for elementary school girls to begin experiencing STEM, offering more scholarships to young women pursuing these fields, and mentoring new women entering tech are all vitally important. Over time, this will ideally remove some of the barriers women face in technology, as they see more and more women step into leadership roles.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
I think you’ll find today’s women in tech pushing aside some of the stereotypical portrayals seen in mass media while embracing a more intuitive, empathetic approach to leadership. I also believe that there are more and more opportunities than there have ever been as we watch the worlds of tech and business continue to collide.
The real truth of it is, we’ve finally reached the point where women in the workplace recognize they don’t need to be mean or shrink themselves to get ahead.
Today’s professional woman in tech is there to support and empower other women. She is intentional, focused, willing to work, and uses her innate characteristics to climb the ladder, while helping other women do the same.
She isn’t cold-hearted and calloused. She isn’t constantly competing with other women.
She uses her intuition to guide her and support other women on the road to success.
Times are changing, and while there is still a lot of work to be done, I think now is a great time to be a professional woman.
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.)
First, match your skillset to your passion. It’s not enough to just be good at something, you have to also possess zeal to see your vision come to fruition through curiosity.
Second, you need to be willing to try new things. If you know you have a passion for tech, then work in various positions. Just start. It’s okay to test the waters. And it’s okay to fail — more than once. You don’t need to choose your forever career on day one. But you will be grateful later on that you tried many things.
Third, attitude is everything. You won’t know what you love most if you don’t venture down a few different paths. You know that saying, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”? That applies here. Your attitude, coupled with your work ethic, is everything in tech.
A fourth lesson is to always be teachable. The minute you stop learning is the minute you lose your edge. Especially in tech. Every day is a school day and you should embrace that.
Finally, don’t be afraid of failure and loss. Every time things don’t go perfectly is an opportunity for you to learn and to do better. If you do the work, there will always be more opportunities. Sometimes those opportunities may lead to failure. But failure leads to important lessons to build upon the next time. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from seizing the opportunity.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
The best piece of advice I can give to other female leaders to help their teams thrive would be to live by the Golden Rule. That is, treat your team the way you want to be treated — leading with example. This foundation will foster a healthy team dynamic through and through.
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?
To choose just one person I’m grateful for is hard. My journey is quilted with so many different teachers and life lessons. In each stage of my career, there have been people who helped shape the leader I aspire to be.
There’s Peter Davey, the VP of Services at Toshiba. He taught be to understand the landscape of a business and to navigate at both the strategic (forest level) and tactical (tree trunk view).
Sally Anderson is another one that comes to mind. As a marketing leader she set the bar for me by always being on her game, showing up prepared, and rolling with the changes as they came.
Then there’s Joe Contreras, a former boss of mine. In some of our final one-on-one meetings, he gave me great career advice. It was to humanize myself. To see myself as other do and to be okay sharing my journey with others. Not only to personally grow, but to help inspire others.
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’m a firm believer that who you are on paper doesn’t determine your path forward. Rather, you chart your own course.
I’m living proof you can come from all walks of life, feel comfortable in your own skin, do things you’re passionate about, and succeed. No matter where you came from, what obstacles stand in your way, or what the data says about you as a child on paper.
If I could spearhead any movement it would be to bring hope to more young girls, that they can embrace STEM and excel in this industry, and to let all those underdogs out there know that they truly can accomplish anything.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The elevator to success is broken, you’ll have to take the stairs.
To me, this quote perfectly exemplifies that if you want something in life, you have to work for it. No one is going to just hand over success to you. No one is going to show you the direct path to it. If you want something, you have to take the onus to make it happen.
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 🙂
Gary Vee! I appreciate the grit and work he puts in. He is all about making this world a better place by provoking happiness, encouraging people to take ownership, and making it happen.