Interview: Aminatou Sow
Aminatou Sow is founder of Tech LadyMafia, a group that increases opportunities for women in tech. With journalist Ann Friedman, she also co-hosts Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast that tackles the intricacies of pop culture and the latest in politics every single week. We spoke to her about what prompted her to create Tech LadyMafia, how she supports women through digital ethics and her favourite podcasts.
TechLady Mafia is a members-only listserv that allows women across the world to connect and talk all things women in tech. Where did the idea for the group come from? And what was your initial vision for the group?
Tech LadyMafia (TLM) started when Erie Meyer, my now co-founder, approached me, lamenting the lack of women in tech. We’d read all the depressing articles and stats, but the truth was that in our circles, we had a lot of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math): engineers, programmers, scientists and even one candidate for NASA’s astronaut class.
The media is very quick to highlight the lack of women in many industries but there is never much follow-up, resources or even simple acknowledgment of the few women who work in certain male-dominated industries. You can’t be what you can’t see. With TLM we were seeking a way to connect all the awesome STEMinists we knew to each other. Horizontal mentorship is an easy way to share knowledge and opportunities with each other.
The group now boasts 2,000 members and has expanded to include networking events and technical training. How has it evolved over the years?
The beauty of TLM is that it’s always been very loose and informal. In the beginning, we left cards in women’s restrooms at tech events that read ‘join the mafia’. Years later, I was very happy when someone gave me one not realising I was one of the founders.
We have a code of conduct that hinges largely on kindness and assuming best intentions. Everyone in the group knows someone else in the group, since we operate largely through referrals. We are no longer accepting new members, but instead are encouraging other women to start their own networks. The smaller the group is, the easier it is to have this kind of backchannel.
It’s been awesome to watch original members scale their careers and now be able to afford to show the ropes to younger or less experienced women. Now, women across the world meet and host get-togethers. The only rule we have for these groups is that whenever TLM women gather, they each share one thing they need help with and one thing they can offer someone else in the group. One member, Natalie Oberti Noguera, calls this the ask&offer and we 100 per cent have called it that. She’s a master networker.
“It’s been awesome to watch original members scale their careers and now be able to afford to show the ropes to younger or less experienced women.”
Your podcast Call Your Girlfriend is taglined ‘a podcast for long-distance besties’. Can you describe a typical episode?
The concept of the show is based on the catch-up call you have with your long-distance best friend. It’s typically 45 minutes to one hour. We have an agenda (Ann and I did this in real life, way before the podcast) and we cover all sorts of topics – from politics, work issues, pop culture… you know, all the things a well-rounded woman cares about.
For someone who hasn’t listened, is there an episode you’d direct them to?
Oh man, where to even start? I can’t think of a particular all-time fave (they’re all my favorite children) but recently Ann and I interviewed one of our heroes, Cecille Richards and it was a blast. (Listen to the podcast here).
I also love the annual episode where we go behind the scenes of our business and discuss money, scaling the show and all sorts of boss-lady stuff. (Listen to that podcast, here).
Your podcast is also about highlighting and celebrating women who have smart, thoughtful, interesting things to say. You spoke about digital ethics in your episode on ‘shine theory’. How can women support women in the digital sphere?
Feminist Sarah Ahmed has long said “citation is feminist memory. It is how we leave a trail of where we have been and who helped us along the way.” I think about this constantly. Women can support each other online like they do offline: by giving credit to other women. There are no new ideas under the sun and reading books, blogs, listening to podcast made by women we admire has profoundly shaped each of us. Learn feminist history and give credit for your base of knowledge. Know the difference between simply calling yourself a feminist and actually doing feminist things.
Are you much of a podcast fan yourself? What are your favourite podcasts?
Listening to podcasts is the only way I haven’t lost my mind in the NYC subway yet. My favourite podcasts currently are:
I understand your co-host Ann spent time in Australia in 2017. Has she given you any tips?
She was the first person I asked for tips and I’ll be following her itinerary to a T. I am very excited to check out the McIver Ladies Baths...