My career has always been deeply rooted in community. I'm the Cofounder and CEO of Makelab, a Brooklyn-based 3D printing company. I also sit on the board of Women in 3D Printing, an organization on a mission to close the gender gap in additive manufacturing.
In the simplest of terms: the 3D printing industry is not diverse. Currently, women make up 10% or less of the industry. A significant part of the reason I've been able to establish a successful company is that I've developed and magnified my voice in a space with very few women.
With the exception of my inner circle, I've always been hesitant to use my voice. I'm a minority and the daughter of an immigrant, and sometimes the cards aren't always in your favor in those cases. The reality is, many of us are experiencing similar challenges, and there's not an outlet available for us to talk about it.
Realizing this, my mindset began to shift. If I could use my reach and influence to help others in the same situation, I had a chance to support and empower other women. I've learned through my entrepreneurial journey that there are a ton of benefits in using my voice. I'm hoping that by sharing my experiences, and a few tips, I can help encourage you to use your voice loud and proud.
Open New Doors
Using your voice helps you grow both personally and professionally. I can't begin to tell you how many times sparking a conversation or chiming in on an existing one has led to new business opportunities, new relationships, and expanded community.
If 2020 has taught me anything, it's that we need strong voices and leadership to help guide the way into initiatives around moving forward.
In the age of COVID-19, we have to lean into social media even more and utilize the tools at our disposal to truly network and meet new people. However, even before the pandemic, social media has led me to wonderful and productive conversations. These discussions are not so typical or generic, because I've taken the time to propose a topic I want to dive into with likeminded individuals. Conversations like this are less likely to happen on the fly or in person — these are things I've premeditated and planned to post with the specific goal being to spark conversation. These are the talks that lead to incredible business relationships, new hires, and further opportunities to connect. It is actually what led to some of my most momentous career milestones, like becoming a Formlabs ambassador and putting together my speaker list for my first Women in 3D Printing guest speaker event.
I wasn't always this outgoing. When I first started Makelab, I was intimidated to put my 3D printing thoughts and perspectives out into the universe since I was so new. I was terrified of the backlash, skepticism, or "haters," but I found that all of the anxiety was unnecessary. Luckily, I can count on one hand the number of negative conversations I've had in the past few years. And even in the rare chance that I do have a negative conversation, I feel confident to stand my ground. Now, those times are merely a blip in the grand scheme of my efforts.
Conversations are typically insightful, educational, inspiring, and constructive. This has made me less threatened and insecure and more willing to initiate discussions in the space. I've become much more comfortable using my voice and sharing my opinions, and I've also learned the power in being able to do that.
Develop Your Blueprint
So, how did I build up my courage to become so vocal? I started with Instagram. I'm a very visual person, and my background is in design, so it's my platform of choice. You have to tap into what you are already comfortable with and maximize your efforts on those platforms.
What started as simple Instagram conversations and responses to my stories or posts led to building relationships with people that I root for and that also root for me. It goes both ways! We follow each other's social media accounts, sign up to attend each other's events or speaking opportunities, and provide referrals/recommendations for each other's products and services.
I've built numerous two-way support systems by increasing my engagement on Instagram. I can't stress how vital these relationships are for anyone starting a company and especially if you're a minority in that industry. In any normal case, starting a business is an uphill battle. It can get overwhelming and even confusing at times. These relationships keep you sane.
You have to tap into what you are already comfortable with and maximize your efforts on those platforms.
Embrace Your Influence
It wasn't until about six months ago that I realized I had an influence and an established platform to share it on. Honestly, it took me becoming a Board Director for Women in 3D Printing to realize my strengths and just how strong my voice was. This was an opportunity I almost passed on. I saw the application three times, and I could have easily submitted, but I thought I was too young and too inexperienced for this role. I thought — what effect can I even have on an entire industry?
Fortunately, I had a mentor that pushed me to apply and relentlessly reminded me of how capable I was of making a difference. She even called out my Imposter's Syndrome which I was super thankful to have happen. I've been extremely involved ever since and have taken advantage of every opportunity thrown my way. Don't let your perceptions of yourself hold you back. It's cliché, but break the glass ceiling and you'll be surprised just how powerful you truly are.
These experiences have helped me realize that it's irresponsible to not use my reach and influence to its full potential, especially in today's socio-political climate. If 2020 has taught me anything, it's that we need strong voices and leadership to help guide the way into initiatives around moving forward. There's so much flux in all of our daily personal and professional lives — it's time to use our voices and lead the charge. Now is the time for those of us with platforms and those trying to establish their voice to step up, band together, and push forward. We're lucky to have these platforms, audiences, and confidence. So let's use it.
Dare To Be Loud
My experience starts with taking my opinions and suggestions public and daring to say them louder. I encourage you to enter situations that make you uncomfortable because every time you're uncomfortable, there's a chance to grow.
I've been in many situations where there are few minorities or few women in the room, and that would make me feel uneasy. Being in these situations made me question evserything. Are my shoes okay? Does my outfit make me look too girly? Should I straighten or curl my hair? I was hyper-aware of my appearance, and I didn't want to be judged at first glance. I wanted to be taken seriously.
Now is the time for those of us with platforms and those trying to establish their voice to step up, band together, and push forward.
Looking back, I wish I would have known what I know now, which is what I bring to the table and the value of it. Everyone brings a unique plate to the table. My plate is different than someone else's plate, but I know my plate better than anyone else does. We all have unique and different skillsets, and that's the beauty of coming together and using our voices.
I'm confident, I'm intelligent, I'm empowered, and I'm loud. I have established a voice in an industry that is majority men, and there's no reason you can't do the same. Don't let your insecurity get the best of you. Find your voice and use it. It's more important now than ever.
This article was originally published July 7, 2020.
WRITTEN BYChristina Perla