Posts in Business
Microsoft Ignite

I attended Microsoft Ignite in Orlando to learn about Microsoft's new products, vision and be a geek. The best part, no lines for the bathroom! I chuckled when long lines formed at the men's restroom. Day one, the gender and race gap was dissapointing. Not a lot of women or women of color as attendees or presenters. I wasn't surprised by how many white men were at this conference but I would've believed Microsoft had enough resources and partnerships to diversify their speaker and attendee pool. With the lack of diversity, the conference felt like I was at work again except on a larger scale. Over 30k attendees and the percentage of minority participation was abysmal. Less than 10% of attendees were women or minority. In an attempt to give women a space, Microsoft had a women's lounge and exclusive Women in Technology sessions. These were opportunities for women to connect, discuss business and leadership and get Shark Tank tips from Daymond John -- my favorite take away from the conference besides the technical tips, tricks, Microsoft Kool-Aid, etc. 

Daymond John was a special guest at one of the women in technology sessions. His delivery was passionate, entertaining and informative. While taking us through his journey, his objective was to motivate women to take the lead and think more like entrepreneurs. He shared these Shark points: 

  • Set a goal and make your own decisions
  • Do your homework. You won't create anything new just a better version of what exists.
  • Amor. Love what you do.
  • You are the brand. Market yourself.
  • Keep swimming. Never give up.

After this session I was inspired because these are things I forget to do. In the tech industry it can be hard to integrate your inner entrepreneur. The takeaways most helpful for me were doing your homework and setting goals. Reading and doing research gives you knowledge to branch out on your own or challenge yourself. Creating new widgets is a thing of the past but servicing niche markets with better versions of what exists is what entrepreneurship is about. Setting goals and sticking to them is a challenge. Life gets in the way, you want a social life and sometimes we deserve to bum it. But having attainable goals motivates us to push through and turn dreams into reality.  

I challenge you to explore areas in your life that could use more diversity. How can we get men to attend women in technology break outs to understand the value women bring and their role in bridging the gap? How can we be better CEO's of our life? Are we networking enough, participating in events so there is representation of phenomenal women? There's a lot more work to do, this conference showed me that tenfold. 

Women in Tech, Diversity & You

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