The last time I was overseas, I was a toddler. The drought ended last week. Enjoy.
There are common themes among women in tech; how do we get more minorities and women interested in technology careers? What kind of pipeline is needed? What is my role? We struggle putting action towards the problem. In April, I spoke at a 100BusinessGirls brunch in Philly to present how we solve this problem versus discussing the poor, marginalized black woman experience. I chose this approach because the problem is discussed enough but empowerment isn’t. As the speaker, I wanted to challenge these ladies by exploring how to become the change they want to see.
The group was small, informal, and diverse. The perfect mixture for enjoyable conversation. Everyone shared their experiences in tech, their struggles and the desire to be strategic in their spaces. Collectively as a group we knew that being black women in male dominated spaces comes with challenges and burdens that we build an immunity to. It's not normal to be the only black woman in a thriving department and it's not OK for your ideas to go unnoticed. It can be alone at the top. So, with our grievances in the open I shifted the conversation to how we turn oppression into optimism and efficient action. These are the ideas we discussed as a group. I hope you consider them in your own walk, regardless of your career.
Mentoring - Mentoring is the most rewarding experience because it gives you something to look forward to after working in environments where you aren't sure you're making a difference. The key to mentoring is teaching a mentee how to grab hold of their careers and exposing them to the art of being tech smart and business savvy. I told the ladies that this is the first step into being the change you want to see. Find organizations that are seeking tech mentors because part of the problem is that young men and women don't see people like them in tech positions. This doesn't make the field appealing and we all know that if we see ourselves in certain careers it peaks interest. Mentoring doesn't require a lot of time but the beauty of it is you can learn from your mentee. If you're isolated at work, having a meeting with your mentee can reinvigorate and motivate you. We all need positive experiences and mentoring is a fantastic way to do that.
Support - We are guilty of only collaborating with groups that are like us. I challenged the group to seek out spaces that are trying to solve the gender/race gap in tech but aren't very diverse themselves. There are a lot of tech summits that have no female speakers or woman based organizations that lack minority committee members or sponsors. Additionally, going to free events to support others is a terrific way to build your network. It's imperative to find support through your journey because it provides positive spaces where you can learn and grow from others. In addition, it puts you out there to other groups who are looking for women with your knowledge and expertise. Strategically choosing events that enhance your network helps you find people you never knew existed. For example, in 2014 I attended the Women of Color in STEM Conference in Detroit. I met amazing women of color who were in tech careers I never knew existed. Exposure to this event motivated me to get more involved in my community, find ways to bring others up with me and was a constant reminder that I’m not alone in this tech walk.
Championing Change - Corporate environments can be the hardest to convince the importance of diversity and inclusion. One of the best ways to get buy in from your organization is to work with schools that have tech programs. This gives you an opportunity to volunteer at events where judges are needed for student engineering or tech projects. Corporations love publicity and anyway you can create groups at work that are interested in giving back to the community are great paths to building diversity related work programs.
These three how’s are a great place to start in creating a different experience for the next generation of coders, engineers, and technologists. I want to thank 100BusinessGirls for giving me the platform to reach others, for more information please visit their website.
Eighteen months ago I started my MBA at the University of Maryland. The Robert H. Smith school has a superb program and I wanted to be part of it. Business and IT fascinated me but I chose IT as my academic focus early. The pursuit of a MBA was to learn how to create value for others. I wanted to learn finance, negotiation, marketing, data analytics, and entrepreneurship. This accelerated program didn't hold back. I had the same professors and course load as my peers in the Full-Time MBA program and within the first few months I wanted to quit. Class subjects were new, many I'd never explored. Especially with my IT background. Constantly I was challenged and forced to stay up late, learning how to deal with business anomalies and the pressure of looming deadlines. This program turned me into the family member that never answered the phone or returned calls. And the friend that didn't return texts for days and turned down outings because of homework. I had no life. I moved to NY midway into the semester (crazy, right?) and still had no life in the busiest city in the world.
So how did I make it? Perseverance and three of my wonderful classmates. Texts of frustration, stress, and support were a constant thing. Support and the willingness to make sacrifices gets you through this program. But with anything in life there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light came April 2 when our cohort graduated.
Seeing everyone again was an indescribable moment. Many of us didn't have a lot of classes together because the program mixes different cohorts together. It's a great networking tactic, especially for a program that is done remotely. We told each other horror stories, what life milestones we achieved and how ready we were for this pain to end! Despite the lectures and long hours, I learned so much. My ability to consume more than IT was astounding and leveraging work experience made some subjects easier to grasp. I was mentally stretched and outside my comfort zone. I expounded my knowledge on collaboration, understanding client needs and creating something from nothing. This program drove home the importance of the balance needed to succeed using quantitative and qualitative data. In IT there's right and wrong. Right code and wrong code. The right solution and the wrong solution. Business is so much more and requires trial and error, teamwork, and creating value. I'm so glad to be a TERP for life and look forward to giving back to my alma mater in so many ways. Thank you to the faculty and staff who also make sacrifices for students like me. It was a journey and I'm glad I chose UMD for the ride.
After our cohort ceremony (the big graduation is in May), I got time to speak with Judy Frels. The Dean of the OMBA program. She gave well wishes and encouraging words. In parting she said, "During the presentations (which we'd done some hours earlier for our last simulation project), I took notes on everyone. And I want you to know that you are a great speaker, so poised. You kept the presentation moving forward and your presence was strong. You're a remarkable presenter." In that moment, she helped solidify the work I'm doing today. I have a remarkable gift and I intend to continue the path I'm on.
I always own the skin I'm in, the clothes I wear and accepted that I'm a tomboy. Being in the tech field always warranted jobs where khakis, a polo shirt, and casual shoes were appropriate. I spent the majority of my career crawling under desks, learning how to run cable, patching telecom panels and occasionally taking apart printers. Job promotions led me to more senior roles, where crawling under desks became a thing of the past. Meetings became my best friend. I managed small/large teams and started presenting my project ideas to upper level management. So of course the tomboy had to get a new wardrobe :). I owned the image/perceptions that leadership thrust me into but never completely. I'm always prepared to do grunt work.
Now that my "work" includes speaking, I knew I needed professional photos to brand myself a little better. Surprising myself, I called one of my friends and said, "Hey, I'm thinking about doing a photo shoot and I want you to style me." Of course, the opportunity to make me over was an easy yes for MarkQ. I was then put in touch with DeexDee (a photographer in New York), Beauty by Chantal Marie for make up, and last but not least Pete from Ursie Hawk would assist with production and keep me from losing it. Everyone, except me, was excited about the chance to put me in stylish clothes and makeup. Yes, makeup - who knew personal branding would require makeup :)
March 19 came and I was nervous. I couldn't sleep the night before because I'd never done this. A photo shoot required me to a) trust MarkQ and whatever wardrobe he picked and b) trust that I wouldn't look crazy with makeup on. The Team, which they will forever be named, showed up and showed out. MarkQ picked the best outfits, power suits and casual power looks. Oh and heels! Ha, I had no clue how to walk in them but luckily I lean against stair rails really well. Chantal Marie did a flawless job on my makeup, which included lashes. I never wore a lash in my life btw. The products she used were superb and made a newbie like me extremely comfortable. I left the makeup on for the rest of the day and asked for a set of lashes later. I have no clue how to put them on but the fact that I have them is a step in the right direction. Dee, the ever so patient photographer, captured great moments. I learned that relaxing and being comfortable with my body gives the photographer more to work with. I admit the first hour or so I was pretty stiff and wasn't sure what to do but I'm grateful for her patience and ability to take a lot of beautiful shots. Pete made sure everyone was on the same page, she recorded footage of everything going down and captured the best behind the scenes moments. Pete, MarkQ, and Chantal Marie were the cheerleaders, keeping me sane while I struggled with what to do with my hands, face, legs and pretty much every aspect of my body. Everyone contributed to making this a success and we had so much fun with it. This day I embraced this journey and focused on how I present myself going forward. I want to own the room and show that tech can be fashionable and a lifestyle.
This experience made me realize how much being in a male dominated field effected my femininity or what I think femininity is. My clothes have always been professional but never extremely feminine in the workplace. Working with a lot of males I never wanted to look like an object of their affection. I feel like I suppressed some of those traits for the sake of being an equal. Speaking allows me the freedom to break out of that shell, try something new and embrace those qualities that have been hidden for so long. It was weird to hear my friends swoon and yell YYYYYYAAAASSSSS as I posed in front of the camera but was a confidence boost I'll never forget. Presentation is everything and from now on I'm going to practice turning this #techNIKspeaks into a lifestyle.
Meetup is heaven for an extrovert like me. It's a great way to find speaking opportunities. In January, I attended a meetup at Flatiron School (coding/programming school in NYC). They have reoccurring Women in Tech Panel events. This event focused on women in tech leadership and how they got there. I was inspired by the support Flatiron provided their female students. After the event, I completed a survey praising the event and inquired if Flatiron was seeking speakers. Doesn't hurt to ask, right?
Several weeks later, Emily (Flatiron Marketing Associate) reached out to me and asked if I knew anything about technical recruitment. For three years, I've been involved in hiring systems administrators, engineers, support staff and everything in between. After telling her my background and experience she invited me to speak at their March panel focusing on technical recruitment. I was ecstatic!
Before speaking events I don't get nervous but this was my first recorded panel discussion. The panel featured a software engineer from Facebook, three technical recruiters (including the moderator). The event was packed! Young women and men were excited to discuss how to get hired in tech, what to do if you're a career changer and if women sell themselves short in interviews.
The discussion lasted an hour and Q&A happened during and after. It was astounding! I love when the audience participates, it increases the value for everyone. We received great questions from the group. One highlight was a question from a young man in the audience (Jon). He asked, "What can I do as a young man to help with diversity and inclusion for my female colleagues...?" I responded, "...We need to champion for each other. Young women need to support each other as well. As a young man in tech you may not always have women on your team but when you do ensure that she has more than a seat at the table. Ask for her opinion, engage her in conversation because having a seat at the table isn't enough. We need to ensure women have a voice and the support to succeed." The audience applauded.
This was the highlight of the event for me but there were other moments that were just as significant. Video footage is here. The panel provides insight about what hiring managers are looking for, how to utilize tech recruiters, taking charge of your career and being the best candidate possible.
Ok, I have a second highlight. This happened when the event ended. After an event I expect to head home within five to ten minutes. I got mobbed afterwards and stayed late to speak with each young lady standing in line for one-on-one advice. This solidified the purpose of the panel. We were able to reach young minds that evening and that's the best part. Knowing you made a difference.
Thank you to Flatiron for the amazing opportunity. I can't wait to work with your team again. To all the young ladies who reached out to me, I see you doing great things in the future!
What does resilience mean to you?
I was never asked that until I attended an event on Feb 4th called RESILIENCE. It was a wonderful presentation of art, fashion, music, and black history. The event was a collaboration by Distinctly Creative and Niche NY|DC to celebrate Black History Month. Often we are reminded about the struggles, tribulations of blacks in American history. Unfortunately, a lot of it negates to mention the resilience of the black community. This event focused on the resilience of black culture and that it is still alive today. Black creatives put this resilience on display in the form of poetry, dance, music, and fashion. I gained more appreciation for our influence in the fashion industry through the creation of clothing made from what little we had left. I felt renewed that our music is the cornerstone of different genres bumping through our speakers today. Poetry and dance distinguish us from any other group in America. We are resilient because our influence, despite the media negativity, says so. We still have a lot to accomplish but it's nice to see that I belong to a community that isn't finished. So when a participant asked the audience, "What does resilience mean to you?".... I thought...
Resilience is when I graduated from college after never wanting to go to school.
Resilience is working two jobs, going to school part time, flunking a few classes, and summer school.
Resilience is taking up a career in IT knowing I would be a minority at work and in the classroom.
Resilience is working twice as hard as male counterparts to gain recognition & respect.
Resilience was never giving up when I didn't get equal pay.
Resilience is achieving leadership roles to help other women succeed in male dominated professions.
Resilience is educating professionals on inclusion and how we can champion for everyone to have a seat and a voice at the table.
What does resilience mean to you?
No, no and no. The last piece of code I wrote was in my Junior year of college. More power to you coders out there! HTML was fun, Java was interesting but back then I never imagined coding would be the poster child for everything tech. We can't forget that technology is everywhere and there are many paths to take.
I attend a lot of events that promote coding as the only important career path in STEM. What about the rest of us who aren't coders? We still count, right? This push towards code is very important but let's not forget there's diversity within the tech space. Infrastructure, telecommunications, system engineering & support, IT service delivery, security and app development all lead to career paths in technology. Leadership in technology is just as important, our IT managers and CIO's may do limited grunt work but play key roles in spearheading opportunity, collaboration and creativity in IT.
I say all this to remind us that everyone has a niche in technology but we can always learn more. I defined my career by researching different types of technology, how they are used and when they are dependent upon each other. This allows me to adapt quickly to diverse environments and manage STEM teams without being the expert. Understanding the basics of various technologies is key to creating the best technology solutions. We all have skin in the game and bring something to the table. So when an IT person says "I don't code.", sit with them and ask what is your niche and the challenges you face? And for those non coders out there, we must do the same. It never hurts to reach across the aisle and learn something new :)
As a recent transplant to NYC I'm overwhelmed when chosing an event in the city. Luckily a colleague sent my name to an organization hosting a tech event that aims to bring communities together across the tech sector. The layout of the event involved pairing students with professionals to co-facilitate discussion topics regarding diversity, inclusion and bringing under and over represented groups together. This was right up my alley and I couldn't wait to volunteer my time to (a) have an excuse to hang out late on a work night and (b) finally find a tech space for my inner nerd to glow. With over ten years in the tech field, inclusion and diversity are obstacles I always faced however I never allowed these hurdles to discourage my advancement in tech. I empowered myself and others even though the environment is not very inclusive. I couldn't wait to share my experience and bring awareness to a problem that affects women and minority youth.
The event was amazing! More than 200 people showed up, 11 groups were facilitated and at the end I made a new friend. My student co-facilitator was Natalia, a Freshman majoring in Computer Science. We got along instantly and as we guided our group through dialogue, the real test was summarizing our group discussion to all the participants. This event taught us that as women in tech we have an obligation to raise awareness and provide accessibility to tech related programs and information to our communities. We must champion the success of our counterparts in the workplace and partner with organizations that recognize the achievements of women and minorities in the tech space. It was a great night that fostered learning and growth for the students and professionals in attendance.