Communicate and listen. I believe communication is the real work of leadership. Listening is so important to build trust. Whether it is in a meeting with a customer or asking my teammate how their weekend was. Communication helps us understand each other and feel comfortable enough to clarify misunderstandings when they happen.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Hom.
As one of two females on an all-male startup team, Megan Hom is used to blazing her own trail. Megan is one of the founding members of Rohinni, a leader in mini and micro LED placement technology. She started her career at Rohinni as the sole administrator where she figured out how to start an LLC and grow the team that has become the expert in its industry.
Megan has worked as a project manager, program manager and now business development manager for the team. She is the liaison between the engineering team and our customers. She is responsible for cost negotiations, continuity of supply, risk management, operational efficiencies and overall project execution on the projects delivering mini LED technology to consumers. As a member of the leadership team, Megan works closely with our engineering and business teams to execute and scale new and existing technology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up in a small town in North Idaho, I felt really limited in my career options. I wanted to focus on a career that could apply to numerous industries, and provide an endless opportunity for growth. That’s when I decided to start studying business management. Once I graduated, I was brought on to the tiny mini and micro LED startup in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that grew to become Rohinni.
My job was to start the LLC — something I knew nothing about — set up payroll for our first paychecks, assemble and grow our team and everything else in between. I worked closely with patent attorneys, our accounting firm and even drove around town to pick up checks from investors. We built our team from two founders, an attorney and a designer to a team of 20 engineers today. We had a vision for this technology together and now I lead the projects with Fortune 500 customers all over the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
In the last eight years, I have been given the opportunity to travel the world — literally. I will never forget my first trip to China. Life was so much more fast paced, and the culture was so different than mine at home. Five Rohinnians, as we call them, were on this trip. We had scheduled three days to go tour the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. It happened to be a perfect sunny day for our trip to the Forbidden City. It was amazing and everyone was shocked at how nice the weather was!
In my travels, I have been in meeting rooms and at dinner tables with the decision makers of some of the largest technology companies in the world. These people are deciding what products we hold in our hands and hang in our homes and I have had the honor of being at the table, discussing the possibilities of our technology with them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s definitely not funny, but I have sent extremely confidential emails to the wrong recipient a few times. My best advice: fully reread your email and check who is on copy because once you hit send, you can’t take it back!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The coolest thing about Rohinni is that we are a lean team and have accomplished what giant companies cannot. We often say that we can accomplish the impossible. We say “impossible” because one time our team was in a meeting with the leading technology company at the time in our industry. They heard our presentation and said what we were describing was literally impossible and dismissed us. We used that as motivation to prove them wrong, which we did.
Our mini and micro technology accomplishes the impossible because of our attention to detail. Our team is incredibly gifted at figuring out the impossible, and I am so fortunate to learn from and work with these people.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have some very, very exciting projects in the works. I wish I could tell you more! This year is a huge milestone year for our company — our technology will be in products available to consumers and I believe these products will change the industry and people’s lives for the better. All of the projects we work on bring light to places that light was not before and we are solving problems in industries from tech to medical devices to mobility.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
It’s well known that the number of women in STEM positions is lower than men. The most detrimental thing about this fact is that it means a lack of female role models. I had a role model who helped guide me through our business, showed me how to navigate our huge electronics customers and taught me the basics of program management. Her mentoring really helped me grow in my career.
I do see the number of women in STEM careers increasing with the next generation. In order to continue to improve the status quo for women in STEM, we need to inspire the young women behind us. Our team has one other full-time team member that is a woman. I have made a point to look out for her, reassure her after she makes a mistake and encourage her to continue to grow. Like my mentor did for me, I want to walk alongside her.
I used to find myself saying “I probably don’t know” quite often when entering into engineering conversations. I did not even attempt to understand. Then, someone invited me to be an engineer for a day and learn the parts of our process. After a week, I could operate any of the machines. I do not know all of the details, but I understand more than I thought I could. We have to encourage our young women to learn, ask questions and try for themselves so they are not caught in the “I probably don’t know” trap.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest thing I have to think about that my male teammates don’t have to worry too much about is having kids in the future. This is something that makes me a little apprehensive. Our team has had no women start a family while they were here. I don’t know how it would impact my travel or time off if I were to have a baby while at my company.
The fortunate thing is that most of our team members do have kids. We choose to prioritize family and take time off when we need it. Tech companies have to have policies and cultures that support families — whether the employee is a woman or not — supporting families and acknowledging that employees are humans outside of work too, is crucial.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the “myths” I am passionate about is the idea that you have to be an engineer to be in STEM. I hope we redefine what can be included as a STEM career. Engineers are certainly in that category (and may understand physics better than I ever will!), but I do not want business, art or English students to count themselves out from a career in STEM or tech.
The tech industry can be a little intimidating as it moves quickly and seemingly lacks a place for anyone but highly trained engineers. I have a business degree and have learned about our technology just like my engineering teammates have. It is important to have diverse backgrounds to solve the problems facing our tech sectors today. So, do not count yourself out if you haven’t taken engineering classes!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Believe in your company. Everyone at Rohinni has ownership in our company and wants to see it succeed. If you don’t believe in what you are working toward, then why are you doing it in the first place? Focus on the vision and know what you are fighting for. It is important to inspire the people around us to believe anything is possible.
- Be confident, passionate and positive. Everything you do is contagious to your team and this attitude will help your team feel empowered.
- Communicate and listen. I believe communication is the real work of leadership. Listening is so important to build trust. Whether it is in a meeting with a customer or asking my teammate how their weekend was. Communication helps us understand each other and feel comfortable enough to clarify misunderstandings when they happen.
- Surround yourself with great people. It is okay to not have all of the answers, that is what your team is for. The best leaders are those that know they do not know everything and can build a team that compliments their strengths and weaknesses.
- Trust your team. Know you have a team that knows how to innovate and execute.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
My five lessons as a woman in STEM are all things that I live by and would share with other leaders to help their team. I have learned the importance of trusting my team. I cannot control everything, nor would I want to. I have smart people on my team for a reason. Over time, I have learned that even if they fail, they will learn from that. I trust them to do their jobs well and help our whole team thrive.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
On our team, a few tricks have helped our team thrive, even when the team is larger. We have a standup meeting every day where all parts of the engineering team update the rest of the team on anything that they are doing on their projects. This really helps cross-project communication and keep us all on the same page.
In addition, I check in with my team members frequently. This includes making sure they are happy, listening to feedback, finding out how people really are doing and what roadblocks they need help removing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had many mentors in my life. I look at my coworkers as the people that I have learned from and grown from the most. The one person that stands out is the founder of our company, Cody Peterson. I have known him for 10 years now and he is my biggest cheerleader. He is a firm believer in staying disruptive in the industry and constantly inspiring the people around him to believe anything is possible. He has always been able to see the good in people and push others to focus on being a better version of themselves.
I look up to Cody as a continuous source of inspiration and motivation for me. He has encouraged me to be humble, keep innovating and to trust my team because they are the ones that are going to help me get where I want to be. Cody would always quote the “There is no “I” in “we””, and it couldn’t be more true!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In my leadership role at our company, I get the opportunity to encourage and cheerlead for my teammates. I have supported many of my teammates to step out of their comfort zones and have watched them make incredible growth and some of the most mind-blowing innovations. The goodness I bring to the world starts with the individuals I get to see every day.
Not only can I support them in their work, but as humans. I have been someone that my teammates can come to. We are a family, to me, and that means having personal relationships with them. I have walked with my team through some of life’s lows and some of the best highs.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire others to focus on the culture of their company. Rohinni’s culture is what sets us apart. Several people on our team left higher paying jobs and huge companies because of our vision and culture.
Our team innovates through simplicity and hard work while enjoying life. We all want to create a better life, be happier and make money to provide security for our families. Because we believe in creating a better life for each other, we have recently been focused on the health of our team. We initiated a smoothie and coffee bar in the office, host massage days, encourage mental health, exercise challenges (with cool rewards!) and hold each other accountable to take time off to spend with family.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.”
Actions speak louder than words. This is fundamental to build trust with your team and be accountable with your actions.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Everyone who knows me knows I am the biggest fan of the singer Stevie Nicks. I have listened to her music since I was a little girl! I know she is not necessarily a woman in tech, but she is a trailblazer who overcame a male-dominated industry to become the first woman to make it into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (twice!). She is now 72 years old and still has the same confidence and passion she did 50 years ago and created her own path in the industry to be one of the most influential women in rock history. I would love to have brunch with her.