The Virtual Women in IT Summit Silicon Valley gets personal

With the world being run by IT, how do you keep the human touch?

Co-hosted by Cheryl O’Donoghue, founder of Emotional Intelligence Leadership Resources and Anita Gardyne, CEO of Oneva Inc., the Virtual Women in IT Summit Silicon Valley delved into how direct action can change the future of IT for the better.

Opened by the co-hosts and keynote speaker Sally Eaves, Senior Policy Advisor for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies, attendees were inspired by O’Donoghue to take action into their own hands when thinking about diversity and inclusion (D&I).

“It’s not good enough anymore. We’ve got to do what only we can do to close the gaps in D&I,” she said.

Women in IT: the “human” in digital

Tech develops every day, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created a bigger need for it to develop than ever. As events from work gatherings, weddings and even fashion shows are being held virtually, the morning panel of the Women in IT Summit Silicon Valley questioned if our future will be digital.

Moderator Ioana Bazavan, Security Managing Director at Accenture, was joined by Helen Yu, Founder and CEO of Tigon Advisor Corp, Eileen Mahoney, Chief Information Officer at PVH Corp and Early Boykins, Venture Partner at Start Zero for the first debate panel of the day to look what has and what will change in tech.

Helen Yu argued that we need to get used to functioning digitally: “With all the uncertainty about what the future will be, one thing that is certain is that the future will be digital.”

If the future is digital, then the second panel in the morning, ‘Maintaining Virtual Relationships,’ knew how to navigate it. Varsha Markharia, Business Relationship Manager at Tata Consultancy Services, was joined by Tina Gravel, SVP Global Channels and Alliances at Appgate and Kathryn Ullrich, Technology Partner and Head of US Diversity at Odgers Berndtson, to explain how to create a digital future.

Tips shared by the panel included using your physical background in calls as opposed to digital backgrounds, having open office hours, and most importantly, engaging emotionally with your team. Gravel said: “Right now, engaging emotionally is more important than anything else you can do right now.”

Keeping the human touch in digital and virtual communication is something that David Ryan Polgar prioritised in his fireside chat. He warned attendees of the danger of relying on bots and AI to live and work digitally: “Our very value as humans, however, relies on being unique and empathetic.”

Real talk: women in IT and diversity and inclusion

Whether it be the rise is diversity officer roles by 113% in five years or government legislation, companies care about D&I more than ever before. However, it’s time to start getting personal about D&I.

The afternoon is kicked off by Wendy Knight Agard, Leadership Coach and TEDx Speaker. She used her own story to captivate and inspire attendees to look inside of themselves to tackle bias and achieve D&I within their organisations.

In her keynote ‘Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging – from the Inside Out’ Agard asked the audience: “How do we become conscious of diversity and inclusion within ourselves? This question is essential to ask, because if we can’t accept all of ourselves, then our ability to truly include others is compromised.

“This is diversity, inclusion and belonging from the inside out.”

As attendees were reflecting on their internal bias, DeAnnah Stinson Reese followed Agard’s lead in the D&I conversation and encouraged attendees to get uncomfortable to make a change.

“Having uncomfortable conversations is necessary for unpacking key equality issues,” she said.

Stinson Reese encouraged the audience to educate themselves about their privilege to help those who aren’t as lucky. Her top tips were to recognise your privilege, read books by and about marginalised groups, and to diversify your inner network.

Offering marginalised groups your support is not enough: “We don’t need more allies, we need accomplices.” she said.

Closing thoughts

The global COVID-19 pandemic has made women across the world take on the primary caregiver role to a new level. Natalie Au, Director of Natalie Au Ltd. And Gladys Kong, CEO of UberMedia, came together to discover what businesses can do for their employees who have to be caregivers at home.

Businesses should embrace their caregiver employees, especially as women are taking on most of the work. “Women are spending 15 hours more on domestic labour each week than men. No matter how much joint sharing we’re all doing, it’s still unequal,” said Kong.

The final panel of the day’ ROI: Emotional Intelligence’ saw Sally Eaves interview Rajkumari Neogy, Founder of iRestart on why businesses should invest in emotional intelligence.

The Virtual Women in It Summit Silicon Valley (a Bonhill group event) had attendees from different walks of life come together and think about how they can make the future for women, minorities and everyone in IT a better one.

The full Women in IT Summit Silicon Valley agenda and full list of speakers can be found here.
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