WASHINGTON D.C. — Monica S. Flores is committed to pushing for more women in STEM. After all, the Cornell University alum didn’t grow up seeing women who looked like her writing code or rising in the C-Suite ranks.
“[The main question is,] how do we break past our training? I’m an immigrant and a woman of color who happens to be in leadership and tech. There are many different aspects of that where I’ve had to continually break past the background of being modest, being humble, and not sticking out,” Flores said. “To some extent, I do have to stick out, because if I don’t, then maybe the next generation may feel like they can’t become an entrepreneur, or a woman in tech, or a woman in leadership.”
Technical Project Manager for Lullabot, Flores advocates for women as a part of the leadership team for DCFemTech, a coalition of women leaders aimed at amplifying the efforts of women in tech organizations, sharing resources, and bringing leaders together to close the gender gap.
DCFemTech presents an opportunity for women to interact with one another in a welcoming community. They hold two major events: INSPIRE and an annual DCFemTech awards ceremony. The first is primarily a networking event with group activities to practice elevator pitches and share stories of success. The awards ceremony celebrates women working in three different areas: code, design and data. Last year they received 704 award nominations.
“DCFemTech is all about supporting the groups of women who are working on empowerment as well as tech for women … There are many opportunities for people to get involved [in D.C.], so it’s more a matter of determining what is most important to an individual person so that they can get hooked into a community. None of us can do this alone, ” Flores said.
As part of the leadership team, Flores has a role in organizing these programs and other DCFemTech initiatives. She also provides insider insight into the group’s purpose. As she described, DCFemTech began as a way to connect many different organizations in the D.C. area. Some of these include Women Who Code, a website that organizes tech-focused study groups, or Ladies, Wine & Design, which hosts casual get-togethers for creative women.
Any group that wants to be affiliated with DCFemTech needs to hit certain requirements. They must have a focus on technology and advocacy, and at least 50 percent of their members must be women. Because of that, any member involved in DCFemTech inherently upholds values of promoting women.
But her focus on empowerment is not limited to that one area. Flores has an extensive history of launching startups and advocacy programs. In 2016, she created the Female Founders Network, a networking resource with over a thousand professional women in their LinkedIn group. Years before that, she started A Successful Woman, which was also a membership-focused group for women in business. She is also the cofounder of Gramercy & Co., an online shopping brand that sold home decor, jewelry, and accessories, as well as the cofounder of 10K Webdesign, a web development consulting business.
“It’s important for anyone to step up and really educate themselves on what [being an entrepreneur] takes and to surround themselves with resources, opportunities, and people who support their work,” said Flores. “Entrepreneurship is definitely a valid way that people can make a difference in their communities as well as make an income. It’s important for us to follow our passions and to support the causes we care about.”
When asked what drew her to this line of work, she explained that there wasn’t one clear answer. On one hand, she enjoys talking with people and helping them solve their problems – in her words, entrepreneurship inherently means problem-solving. It also gives her a chance to learn more and teach others, as well as being a point of personal pride.
“I do appreciate being in front of the room. I do think that, when I was little, I never thought I could do that type of thing. And to be able to feel comfortable giving a talk or being part of a group that’s leading – I think that’s a culmination of multiple steps along the way of becoming more and more confident,” said Flores.
Though she gives so much energy to different groups and organizations, Flores still aims higher and sets goals for herself. In general, she explained that she wanted to start branching out and working in more fun, creative spaces. As she described, saying “yes” to opportunities that scare her is just one example of personal growth, and it was advice that she offered to anyone working in leadership and business.
Being involved directly in the field, she provided some thoughts on the future of women involved in tech. It was a difficult matter to quantify: any changes, no matter how positive, have been a gradual process. Flores compared it to moving one inch at a time. Ultimately, however, she wanted to view it in an optimistic light. As millennials entering the workforce insist on equality and better working conditions, those will shape the field.
“We will start to see more women in non-traditionally female occupations,” said Flores. “My goal is to encourage that … If you’re a little girl, and you’re learning about something interesting to you, go learn about it. Do it. Take lessons. Go to camp. Read about it. If that is your idea of what you can do, then no one is stopping you.”