In Fortune’s Trailblazer series, powerful women in business share formative stories about overcoming a challenge in their lives. Watch them all here.
Jotaka Eaddy arrived in Silicon Valley after years of working for groups like community organizer USAction and the NAACP. But despite her formidable accomplishments, she couldn’t help second-guessing herself in tech, an industry facing a chronic under-representation of women and people of color in positions of power.
“There is this idea that you have to be something other than yourself,” Eaddy, VP of policy at fintech startup LendUp, tells Fortune. “Society often will reinforce this idea that something else is better, which then leads you to think that exactly who you are isn’t necessarily good.”
That idea can be doubly damaging: not only does it preserve an outdated status quo, but it can also cause people to question their own value. Eaddy says she saw in Silicon Valley an industry dominated by white men in t-shirts and hoodies who had coding skills she lacked. “What I saw was not necessarily a representation of myself or people who looked like me, and that was a big discouragement,” she says. “I basically took myself out of the opportunity to move forward.”
It took some female mentors to shake her out of that second-guessing mindset. They reminded Eaddy that she had already built partnerships with United Nations staff and helped prepare cases before the Supreme Court, accomplishments which few of her tech peers could claim. So, they challenged her, why couldn’t she succeed in Silicon Valley?
Eaddy singled out tech veteran Freada Kapor Klein as a particular influence. “She had a real talk with me and was like, ‘Hey, you really need to go and do this. You have an opportunity to do good, and do well. And the industry needs you.’ And that was something that was extremely transformative in helping me get out of my own way.”
Since then, Eaddy has taken that insight to others who are facing similar barriers in the tech world. “That has been a real important lesson for myself, and something that I often tell other young women: Get out of your own way and always know that you are enough,'” she says.