Tina Lee - Compassionate and Contentious

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What are your “and” words and why? Compassionate and contentious. I chose compassionate because I grew up in poverty, raised by an immigrant grandmother who didn't speak English, and thus have lots of empathy for people facing systemic barriers that are stopping them from reaching their full potential. What I know about race, gender, and income inequality is often steeped in lived experience, so I have no problem going to the mat again and again for what I believe to be just and fair, even if that makes me "that girl." Ergo, contentious. My founding MotherCoders, a nonprofit that's tackling diversity and inclusion in tech, is a perfect example for this duality on several levels. We're focused on empowering mothers to work in tech (compassionate), a field pioneered by women that's now hostile to them due to sexism (contentious); we designed our program to accommodate our students' parenting obligations by providing onsite childcare and caregiver friendly hours (compassionate), so moms can gain the skills they need to compete for tech jobs, become economically independent, and help shape our world (contentious); we are nonprofit because our students can't afford to quit their jobs and pay for childcare in order to participate in tech training programs that could uplift their families (compassionate), yet we charge students $4,000-$4,500 for our 9-week program, depending on whether they need childcare, to help us remain operational. (The true cost for our program is more than $7k per student.) And while we do grant full and partial scholarships to a number of students in every class, the tuition can be cost prohibitive for talented and capable moms who can't afford it (contentious).

What you are known for saying / a quote from you. What does this quote mean to you, (or if it’s from someone else, why does it inspire you)?  "I am not for everyone." I'm real clear about who I am and I'm not afraid to show it. Yes, being liked is great, especially since as I woman I've been socialized to want that. But, honestly, I've worked too hard to become the person I am to hide myself. I'm lucky to have the support of wonderful family and friends who see and love me, so if you're not into it, that's cool. No offense taken. Let's keep it moving. 

Which other Ladybadasses inspire you and why? I don't have anyone specific in mind because I find resilient people in general to be inspiring. I tend to gravitate toward strong yet broken and maladjusted people who have overcome adversity. People who are kind, humble, self-aware, empathic, and using their talents and energy to make the world better. Sense of humor is also a must. (Case on point: I proposed to Joanna upon meeting her).

When did you first realize that you had some Ladybadassery in you? In 3rd grade I MC'd a dance performance our class put on for a bunch of visiting penpals, a 3rd grade class from another city. It was remarkable because I'd just returned from living in Hong Kong for 3 years and had forgotten how to speak English. But my teacher wrote the speech and then practiced with me. #nailedit

What keeps you motivated on days when you aren't quite feeling like a Ladybadass? I remind myself I don't need to kill it everyday. As a mom, friend, spouse, and entrepreneur, a “B” grade is often more than enough. And while sometimes I have to muster up the wherewithal to push through the best I can, other days I give myself permission to take a break and start again tomorrow. Life happens, so to me Ladybadassery is not binary, but rather a moving average. Life is full of competing priorities, so it’s important that I model to my daughters self-compassion and self-care as much as discipline, courage, and adaptability when facing adversity that naturally comes with tackling big, audacious goals.

What is your advice to other women who are trying to tap into their Ladybadassery? Surround yourself with other Ladybadasses. Find them. Befriend them. Let them help and inspire you to up your game. Find and realize your own power. Step into it, then use it for good. Stay humble, but don’t squander your power by pretending you don’t have it.

Tina is the founder and CEO of MotherCoders, a non-profit that's expanding the tech talent pool with moms who can help companies drive economic growth and innovation.