Interviewed by: Jill Ginsberg

Women in tech - there aren't many of them out there - but fortunate for us at GumGum, we have two pioneers - Merrill Bajana (Product Manager) and Michele Larson (Engineering Manager), who are helping to pave the way for inclusivity and diversification within our company.

Recently, they launched the Women Who Lunch initiative, which focuses on female empowerment and leadership within our industry, with some catered lunch to boot! 

Set in a more casual format, these monthly lunches cover various topics within the tech and start up community.  Michele and Merrill have reached out to female CTO's and other industry leaders in their network to speak on the gender gap, challenges faced by women in tech, and to ultimately give advice and personal insights to our ladies. These meetings are open to all of our tech (and non-tech ladies) at GG and so far have exceeded all their expectations! 

We sat down with Michele and Merrill to learn more about this initiative and what they hope to achieve in the coming months. 

  • What exactly is ‘Women Who Lunch’ and where did the idea stem from?
    • Michele: It’s an informal way for us to talk about women in the tech industry and to get exposure to inspirational female leaders at other companies.
  • Who is the initiative intended for and can anyone get involved?
    • Michele: We’ve had a really positive turnout so far and a lot of participation – we were initially really scared nobody would show up! The last lunch we did, all of the engineering and product women were able to show up, which we were really happy about.
    • Merrill: Since we are a tech company, the speakers that we tend to reach out to are role models in this regard, but we have discussed having more operational teams get involved. We need help crafting what this will look like and can use recommendations if any women of GumGum have a role model or mentor in mind they’d like to reach out to!
  • What type of content do you cover throughout these meetings?
    • Merrill: Right now, the content really depends on the speakers we reach out to. This tends to skew more towards tech/engineering since that’s where our network is but as mentioned we are open to other female leaders throughout the industry. Once we have a speaker come in, she will usually share her story, career path and goals. Attendees are encouraged to submit questions beforehand or ask throughout the luncheon!  
  • What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
    • Merrill: I love hiking with my dog, going to rooftop bars, going to movies and exploring new restaurants around LA!
    • Michele:  Right now, I’m back in school getting my Bachelors in computer science so that takes up a lot of my time, but I used to do adult ballet and I enjoy cooking in my spare time!
  • Any advice/tips you have to inspire women at GumGum?
    • Merrill: I like the idea of never having people question that you’re doing your job right. Always remember to keep pushing forward and never say no to anything. Stay (super) humble and gracious for all opportunities that are given to you.
    • Michele: The first thing that really comes to mind, especially with women, is that we tend to have more self-doubt than men. In tech, we use this phrase “imposter syndrome,” where we tell ourselves a task/job is impossible to do or we won’t be able to do it. I think it’s really important that we take a step back when thoughts like this come to mind and realize that we know more than we think. My advice if you do experience thoughts like this, is to challenge yourself by answering questions of a teammate or other colleague since that tends to put into perspective that you know more than you think!

The next Women Who Lunch will be taking place on Tuesday June 5th. If you are interested in joining, or have a mentor you wish to have come in and inspire, reach out to Michele or Merrill on how to get involved!

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