Filed under: Issues | Tags: brad feld, career, change agent, leadership, lobbyist, lucinda sanders, mentor, middle management, ncwit, women in technology, women's issues
I once worked at a company that had its own quarterly women’s consortium. At the start of the first meeting one of our senior male executives made the joke, “I like the odds,” in reference to the female to male attendance ratio. After about 30 minutes of rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, we were handed company-branded hair brushes and sent on our way. I was unimpressed.
I felt as if the effort was for corporate show more than for substance. There was no action. There sure as heck was irony, but there was no action. I walked away still craving the tools to truly make change and wanting to see our female leaders step up and help the rest of us be heard. It never happened. And that’s when it occurred to me that I might have to make it happen myself.
One of the organizations I’ve recently learned a lot about is the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Founded by Lucinda Sanders, an amazing woman, NCWIT is a different kind of women’s organization in that it “encourages its members to undertake institutional change within their organizations.” It has specific alliances or corporations and organizations — academic, workforce, entrepreneurial, K-12 and social sciences — that are focused on active sharing of resources and successful programs from a national community of practitioners dedicated to fostering the paths of technical women of all ages and giving them a booming voice in the industry.
- There aren’t enough voices; so many women in my demographic (middle management) tend to believe that organizations are only designed to mentor younger entrants into the field, and that those organizations must be led by senior executives or entrepreneurs
- There’s a lot of “in-stereotyping;” for example, while I am somewhat technical my background is in journalism and marketing, but I’ve had women technologists diminish my role for that reason; we need to support each other regardless of our technical prowess
- Some women’s organizations do little else than communicate with each other and are not active in the industry at large — at least not in ways that can fuel wide-spread change. While social groups are great, my personal desire is to get outside and do more.
While I am passionate about all of these points, right now I want to focus primarily on the first one. So I ask myself and I ask my readers: Who are your female leaders? Who within your organization do you think represents how most women should be perceived? Who has the strength to make change?
Is it you?
The first time someone asked me those types of questions my reaction was, “Well, I could be one of them, but I am only a ______.” I went along believing that in order to have strong visibility within the IT community one needed to be an executive or founder. Look at all of the technology publications with award programs for women — 95 percent of them are focused on entrepreneurs or executives. In security there are several well-known female researchers who are highly technical and also set a great example, but that is also a small percentage. What about the rest of us?
I discussed this with Brad about which he made a critical statement:
“The most impactful people tend to be the doers in the organization. We can’t rely solely on entrepreneurs, who may have very little time, to make change happen. Anyone with a strong voice can be a role model. It’s easier to get started when you’re a leader but real change happens when you build momentum across a much broader spectrum.”
Do you hear that, ladies? There is room for us. We “doers” who sit in our cubes or in front of our laptops for 12+ hours a day can be those change agents. But first we need to determine what we want to change.
Here’s my list:
- More in-corporation programs for mentoring younger female entrants into the workforce, including expanded or revised internship programs that require a certain amount of hands-on tech hours
- Technical-to-non-technical “buddy programs” where women in engineering team with women in sales or marketing to learn about the value and the intricacies of each others job, therefore growing respect and improved communications
- Incentive for women (and men, for that matter) to get involved in hero or role model programs for younger technologists; a lot of Fortune 1000 companies have these types of volunteer incentive programs, but the majority of smaller ones do not
- Teach women in technology of all levels on the importance of getting involved in lobbying campaigns and organizations that push for education and improvement; even if its to volunteer at a fundraiser here and there, do it. Do SOMETHING. Remember the work that was done to lay out the path before us and help to lay out a path for those who follow.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten so far. I have the ideas and now I need to lay out the how. I need to determine how I can break these ideas down into simple action items supported by fundraising and communications efforts in order to make them happen. If I can do this with NCWIT, fantastic, but if not I will find some way to achieve my goal. This blog post represents not only part one in a series of writings, but part one in my exploration to lead from the middle and impact positive change.
What are YOU going to do?
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