Women’s Empowerment Month: Embracing What Makes Us Unique And Creating Space For Others To Follow
SRA is celebrating Women’s History Month all month long with our Women’s Empowerment series. Check out the SRA blog and social media channels to hear from women, particularly BIPOC women in leadership, who are taking action for equality and paving the way for our future leaders.
This week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Julia Cook, SRA Alum and Intellectual Property at Facebook. Julia shares the challenges she overcame to be the first in her family to graduate from college and pursue a career at a leading global tech company; how corporations can diversify the workforce; as well as her greatest hope for women of the next generation.
Read the full story below:
Please share a little about yourself? Where are you from? How did education shape your life?
I am from East Menlo Park, California. Education is something I am very passionate about. When I say education, I mean learning. I try to learn something new everyday. It truly brings me joy.
Please share your college-to-career journey? How did SRA help support finding / navigating your career path?
I grew up homeless and in and out of foster care. By the time I got to high school, I knew I wanted to go to college, but I had no idea how to get there or even how I would pay for it. SRA was the first scholarship I applied for and they supported me every step of the way. I had so many personal struggles at the time and my SRA Advisor, Polly, was literally fighting to overcome them with me. I was definitely her most stressful student, lol, but she always had my back. I can’t say enough how grateful I am.
How have you navigated a gender-related challenge in your career?
I am someone who thrives in challenging situations. This is a good and bad thing. It’s great because I have consistently advocated and defended myself in most gender-related challenges, but this definitely takes a toll on me. I am so used to being in fight mode that I struggle with being relaxed and having inner peace. It’s something I constantly have to work on in therapy.
Who are women you look up to?
Ida B. Wells and Nikki Giovanni are big heroes of mine.
Please share your experiences as a BIPOC woman in tech.
It’s a very surreal, draining, exciting experience. I am constantly aware I have to outperform my peers at work. That burden is heavy to carry. Yet I am excited because I am passionate about bringing other women of color in the tech industry and my experience will help someone else.
What do you think companies can do to diversify the workforce?
Partner with organizations that serve underserved communities (like SRA) to bring diverse candidates in hiring loops.
What do equity and equitable opportunities mean to you?
Where individuals with different backgrounds or from different social groups receive a fair chance to get an opportunity. This is not easily achieved because most people receive opportunities through their social capital (who they know). If you are the first in your family to graduate from college, you often may not have the social capital to achieve economic mobility. In order to achieve equitable opportunities we need to ensure that people who may not have social capital can have access to quality economic opportunities.
What does SRA mean to you in terms of closing equity gaps?
SRA is providing support and a network for underrepresented / underserved youth to break barriers. College is just the beginning of the journey and SRA understands that.
What does leadership mean to you?
Being thoughtful, strategic, and humble.
What is your greatest hope for women of the future / next generation?
We continue to embrace what makes us unique so we can create space for others to follow.
Any advice for college graduates / future leaders?
Invest in getting to know yourself. Most people don’t take the time to get to know themselves outside of what society expects them to be or do. It’s good to be aware of how the world will perceive you, but that is just to provide context to your story. Focus on knowing your truth. This is a superpower that few people master.