Editor’s note: Tracy Sternberg is the Director of Programs + Sponsorship at the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH). The Summit was recorded and is available for download.  More information about NC TECH is available at www.nctech.org. 

RALEIGH — Last week, we all learned of the news of the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg – a true leader, patriot and pioneer. Her death has given us the opportunity to reflect, especially as we at NC TECH launched our inaugural Summit for Women in Tech over the past couple of days.

While opportunities for women have certainly improved over the past few decades, there is still a lag in job opportunities, promotion and pay – especially in the tech sector. North Carolina ranks 1st among the states in the percentage of women in IT positions, but the total percentage, 35.5%, is not where it should be.  There is much work to be done to fill our tech jobs pipeline with more women, especially women of color.

The Summit for Women in Tech kicked off with former North Carolina AT&T State Executive, now CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, Cynt Marshall who shared her insights and experiences around diversity and inclusion, especially in terms of women.  She shared some personal stories about her career journey including pieces of advices from several of the mentors who helped her along her career journey.  Her HASU approach – Hook a Sister Up – is one she often shares where she believes in bringing women along with her as she had made her way up the corporate ladder.  This, along with several other elements, are an important part of her personal and professional diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

In a panel discussion that featured speakers from Infinia ML, Inmar Intelligence, SAS and VACO, the conversation turned to the topic of Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World of Men. During this discussion, these data and analytics leaders talked about unconscious bias, how gender bias has impacted product design and implementation for decades, and ideas and suggestions for shifting these biases for real change.  They also focused on how to engage more girls and young women in the artificial intelligence (AI), data and analytics pipeline by sharing what career opportunities look like, showing them how these areas impact our community and the world, and the good that comes from this work as well as how dynamic and fun this career track is.

Another panel discussion explored the topic of Cultivating Strong Female Leaders and was made up of speakers from Accenture, Credit Suisse, Girl Scouts Hornet’s Nest Council, K+L Gates and reacHIRE.  These corporate and non-profit leaders talked about providing opportunities for girls and women of all ages to fill the tech talent pipeline.  With points being made about transparency and authenticity as well as making mentoring available along the way, this discussion provided many great takeaways for attendees.

Screen shot of virtual session with Tana Greene (right) and NC TECH's Emily Young (left)

The second day of the Summit kicked off with a keynote from Tana Greene, CEO of MyWorkChoice, who shared her inspiring story of overcoming significant challenges to becoming a successful entrepreneur several times over.  She explained that the focus of her company is to connect hourly employees with opportunities that fit the needs of their lives, not just the traditional 40 hour work week, which is especially important in light of the new normal created by COVID-19.  She also talked about overcoming the fear of failure, the importance of goal setting and supporting people where they are.

After Tana wrapped up her live question and answer session with the audience, the panel discussion on Racial Equity – Becoming An Ally For Change got underway, featuring speakers from Bandwidth, IBM, MCNC, MetLife and UNC-Charlotte College of Computing and Informatics.  This important conversation explored how we can engage in conversations to share our vulnerabilities and experiences to better understand one another.  A challenge was issued to investigate the assumptions that our systems have been built on for decades, whether they be corporate, governmental or educational, to truly assess whether they are still applicable in today’s society.  There was also a call to action for everyone to be courageous and vulnerable as we work towards true equity.

Other elements of the Summit included three motivational moments that featured Marie Hopper, President of FIRST NC; Raven Solomon, national speaker and consultant on generational diversity; and Sharon Delaney McCloud, Partner with Walk West.  Each focused on a different action item that both women and men can do to make a difference in promoting more female tech leaders.  The conference also included two separate roundtable discussion segments in which participants could choose from a variety of topics where they could lead, inspire and engage in conversation with other conference attendees.

The major takeaways from the Summit for Women in Tech were numerous, but there were some recurring themes.  First, women need to support other women in helping them along in their careers; and as one of the speakers stated, once you reach a leadership position, send the elevator back down for the next person.  Secondly, engaging with and supporting organizations that make technology accessible and engaging for girls is so important.  There is no shortage of opportunities, but three that were mentioned in the summit were FIRST NC where they learn about robotics and more; the Girl Scouts where they explore cybersecurity, engineering and entrepreneurship; and Rewriting the Code where they engage in hands-on technical training.  All of these organizations, as well as many more, are working to build the pipeline of the next generation of engineers and tech leaders.  One thing they all need is support through donations of time, talent and treasure.  The third major takeaway was that things like unconscious or conscious bias will likely always be part of the equation, but transparency, listening and conversation are all part of the solution.

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.

So let’s raise a glass and toast the tremendous work of such trailblazers like RBG, but let’s also celebrate our community’s leaders like Cynt Marshall, Tana Greene, Tracy Doaks, Tim Humphrey and the list goes on and on.  As the Virginia Slims ad used to say, “We’ve come a long way, baby,” but there is still much work to be done.  NC TECH’s Summit for Women in Tech has served as a great starting point for that work.