The early days of my career were spent trying to prove my worth—I wanted my superiors to know I was competent and tough. As a woman, especially, it was important to not appear emotional. That is a big reason people use to justify not promoting women: “She would fall apart in a tough situation.”
After about 10 years in the technology field, I realized that every project ended up being cancelled—the team disbanded and history rewritten by the new guys. It was a tough lesson. It felt pretty empty and made me rethink my career path. I planned to move to a larger company with better opportunities for advancement. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would probably experience more politics and less control in a larger organization.
That’s when I decided to start my company. My goal was to replace my salary and have better flexibility if and when I had children. Of course, having the ability to choose my workmates was a huge bonus. That was 15 years ago, and while it hasn’t always been easy, I am very glad I did it.
The key is realizing that we spend a huge amount of our life at work, and what matters most are our personal relationships and how we impact each other’s lives. Promotions, bonuses, and titles are great, but the glory is short lived.
I’m glad I learned this lesson before starting a family. I always remind myself that in 20 years, nobody will remember that I rescheduled a meeting to attend a school performance. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure my kid would remember if I missed it!
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
My parents emigrated from Ireland in the late 1950s and built a great life for us. They were very appreciative of what America offered in terms of education and job opportunities. They both attended night school the first chance they got. My mother trained to be a tailor and my father became a tool and die maker.
My mother had great vision. She understood the importance of education and, honestly, I was very sick of hearing “hitch your wagon to a star” every day. My father cheerfully worked all shifts and had the highest ethical standards. He used to say, “There is nothing more important than your reputation.”
Noreen’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
If you have an aptitude for math or science, please don’t waste it. We need women in technology, but also realize that you will have an easier path from starting pay to the corner office. Get a bachelor’s degree in anything technical that interests you. You don’t have to be an engineer. You can move into marketing, sales, HR, law—you name it. Having a technical understanding of the product will make you more valuable to your employer and allow you to move up through the ranks much more quickly. It is still a man’s world, but that’s partly our fault!