Editor’s note: Tracy Sternberg, the director of programs and sponsorship at NC TECH, joined NC TECH in May 2017. She is responsible for developing and executing content and programming, and securing sponsorships to support those efforts with the goal of ensuring that NC TECH members have meaningful and productive engagement with the organization and its members.
RALEIGH – The past 18 months have had a tremendous impact on the way organizations function and how they will operate in the future. But I don’t think anyone would have anticipated the tremendous disruption that the pandemic has had in our world, or the focus that the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and others have put on diversity, equity and inclusion.
We have also seen the spotlight illuminated upon existing issues, such as the digital divide, but now they seem to be getting some of the attention they deserve to help create a more level playing field for all.
While North Carolina ranks second in the number of women in IT positions, the last year and a half have proved to be challenging in growing those numbers and narrowing the gender gap. This pause prompted many of the topics that were discussed at this year’s Summit.
Last week, the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH) hosted its second annual Summit for Women in Tech, presented as a virtual event with over 450 participants. The Summit kicked off with Founder and CEO of Rewriting the Code, Sue Harnett, who shared her insights and experiences around diversity and inclusion, especially in terms of women. She also shared more information about her organization that supports and empowers college, graduate, and early career women in tech to become the next generation of engineers and tech leaders through intersectional communications, mentorship, industry experience and educational resources.
In a panel discussion moderated by SAS, featuring speakers from Credit Suisse, Pendo, reacHIRE and Syneos Health, the conversation turned to the topic of Return to the Workplace + The Burden to Women: What Can We Do to Help?
The pandemic has often forced women to wear many more hats than usual and nearly 1.8 million women have dropped out of the labor force during this time. A multitude of these female professionals are now grappling with whether and how to return to work in a vastly different landscape. During this discussion, these leaders in data and analytics talked about how women leaving the workforce is impacting their businesses, what return to the workplace might look like, and how we can encourage this group to continue to be an integral part of the tech workforce.
A second panel discussion explored the topic of Digital Equity: How COVID Has Changed Technology and the World Around Us and was made up of speakers from Dude Solutions, Google, MCNC and the NC Department of IT, and was moderated by Accenture. These corporate and government leaders talked about the spotlight that the pandemic has put on the digital divide and what we can do to narrow that gap. They also discussed how COVID has fundamentally changed the way many organizations are working and the technologies that have made that shift possible.
Day One wrapped up with an executive conversation featuring Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, who discussed her journey as a public servant and woman in tech as well as issues the FCC is currently tackling.
The second day of the Summit kicked off with a keynote from Theresa Payton, CEO of Fortalice and world-renowned cyber security expert, who shared her journey in tech and how she has juggled being present for her family and career. She shared a bit about her time as the first female White House CIO and talked about the Four F’s – Faith, Family, Friends and What Are You Fighting For – which she employs to build work-life balance for herself.
The opening session was followed by a panel discussion on Allyship in Action: How Men Are Advocating for and Development Women, featuring speakers from AnnexTech, Brighthouse Financial, Jackrabbit Technologies, and Vaco, and moderated by Infosys. This important conversation featured men discussing their own learnings and experiences in building a stronger and more inclusive environment for women and under-represented populations in their tech operations.
Day Two also featured Madhu Beriwal, Founder and CEO of IEM, as the closing speaker. During her segment, she shared stories of her career in tech, the challenges she faced, and how she built the world’s largest female owned emergency management firm.
Other elements of the Summit included three motivational moments that featured Dr. Fay Cobb Payton, PhD with NC State; Martha Gleason, national speaker with Martha Gleason Speaks; and Jennifer Durbin Tuffy with Scoutenger Executive Coaching. Each focused on a different action items that both women and men can do to make a difference in promoting more female tech leaders.
The major takeaways from the second Annual Summit for Women in Tech were numerous, but there were some recurring themes.
First, it is incredibly important to find a work-life balance, especially given the numerous roles that women are tackling in their work and home environments. Secondly, women need to support other women in helping them along in their careers. Lastly, mentorship and sponsorship from men is vitally important to building a strong workplace culture of inclusivity and to enable women to continue to grow and develop both professionally and personally.
Overall, NC TECH’s Summit for Women in Tech was a tremendous success and the initial feedback has been incredibly positive. Next steps are to continue the conversations started during the Summit utilizing various platforms, including a new online engagement community, additional panel discussions, and executive conversations. NC TECH will continue to incorporate these opportunities in upcoming programming.