Why mentorship and advocacy are key to women in tech leadership

Speakers at the UB Tech® conference’s Women in Technology summit discussed practical steps women can take to advance their careers, leverage technology and support future generations
By: | June 18, 2019
Keynote speaker Nada Marie Anid

Women in technology should be at the table for the development of emerging technologies such as DNA printing, quantum computing, internet of things and 5G—supporting future generations in the process by assuming leadership positions and building inclusive workplaces.

“These are exciting times and it’s a good place to be, but we need more of you,” said Nada Marie Anid, vice president for strategic communications and external affairs, an office at New York Institute of Technology, during her Monday, June 10 session on “The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change” at the UBTech conference in Orlando.

The first female dean of the NYIT College of Engineering and Computing Sciences, Anid shared actions women can take to advance their tech careers. Find a sponsor or advocate, align personal goals with those of your institution, and be visible and vocal during projects at work, she told attendees.

“It’s not easy to be heard,” Anid added. “When women speak at meetings, they tend to be ignored. When they come up with an idea, someone else repeats the same idea and makes it theirs. Raise your hand regardless.”

Improving the K-12 sector to attract girls at an early age to science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers is another approach to growing the number of women in the STEM workforce. Anid pointed out that middle-school girls may consider STEM “unpopular and nerdy,” during a time in life when self-esteem frequently diminishes.

“They may be good at math and good at science, but research tells us that girls have a self-confidence problem, especially at age 11,” Anid said. “They will not raise their hands. And teachers are likely to call on boys because they are risk-takers. Boys will answer questions whether they’re right or wrong, whereas girls like certainty. They want to have the right answer, and they hesitate.”

To close the gender equality gap in STEM, Anid said it’s important to have programs that fund quality teachers in the K-12 sector, initiatives that encourage women and girls to innovate and become entrepreneurs, and  STEM engagement efforts that appeal to girls.

To help combat this issue in the private sector, 2020 Women on Boards was formed with the goal of increasing the number of women on U.S. corporate boards and in corporate leadership by 20% by 2020. The nonprofit is convening meetings in 30 U.S. cities starting in November to spread the word.

“I’m not saying every single person needs to be a nerd or techie, but we need more of us in leadership,” Anid said.

Another Women in Tech event

At one Conde Nast magazine, 85% of the digital staffers are men while 95% of readers are women. That statistic sparked an initiative five years ago at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, led by Alicia Strandberg, assistant professor of management and operations. “We started asking ourselves questions about what organizations are doing to support women and diversity in tech,” Strandberg said.

Strandberg co-founded the annual VU Women in Tech conference for female students. Speakers have covered a range of topics, including blockchain, mobile app development, technology infrastructure and unconscious bias, said Strandberg during her session, “Women in Technology Platform to Support Women & Motivate Those Who Hesitate.” She also discussed the importance of mentorship.

“When you make it to the C-suite, it’s not only about you; it’s about giving back,” Strandberg said. “It’s part of your responsibility to give back and get other women prepared for that level, too.”

Girls and young women studying cyber science

Getting the chance to visit a college campus and meet university students pursuing cybersecurity helps to engage young girls who will later transition to collegiate programs and become highly trained professionals.

“Five years ago, I got a little tired of the mantra that ‘they’re just not interested,’” said Ashley Podhradsky, associate professor of digital forensics and associate dean of Dakota State University in South Dakota, during her session, “CybHER @ DSU: A 300%+Increase in Women Enrolled in the Beacom College.”

CybHER, a group Podhradsky co-founded, offers a summer camp to empower and educate girls and women in cybersecurity. The organization provides resources for fifth- and sixth-graders and students through college and beyond. Funding comes through a partnership with a local cybersecurity company, and The National Security Agency, National Science Foundation and AT&T are regular sponsors.

Regarding female representation in tech leadership positions, Podhradsky said: “If there isn’t a seat for you at the table, make your own table.”
She suggested the following resources for tips on engaging young women and girls in cybersecurity and other technical fields:

  • Code Academy: a coding school
  • Intro to Python: a resource for students who want to learn Python programs, and for teachers who want a free and open curriculum to use with their students.
  • PY Ladies: a group of female developers worldwide who love the Python programming language

Networking practice

Women must master networking when it doesn’t come naturally. Those connections can aid in career advancement and help make rising to the top easier.

“A strong network enables you to connect from a place of strength and purpose even when things are changing,” said Beverly Magda, associate provost of strategic partnerships at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, during her session on “Networking for Women in Leadership.”

Networks are valuable. These groups provide avenues for career navigation and advancement, help women develop leadership skills, offer support for a significant project or challenge, and provide ongoing connection and support.

To build and maintain networks, Magda recommended attending conferences, meetings and events; requesting one-on-one meetings; or making introductions via social media and email.

Consider “who’s in your personal boardroom,” said Magda, who urged attendees to pinpoint individuals who can vouch for their work and character, and can push them out of their comfort zones.

“I know what it’s like to be the only woman in the room and how uncomfortable it is to lift your voice,” Magda said. “I want my work to speak for itself, but sometimes you have to promote yourself. That’s difficult for women because we consider it bragging.”


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