Women in IT Virtual Summit New York: Actions speak louder than words

The Women in IT Virtual Summit New York has had enough of performative efforts, and real action is the only solution

Co-hosted by Sher Downing, CEO and EdTech Strategist, Downing EdTech Consulting, and Ramat Tejani, Marketing & Strategist Confidence Coach, the Women in IT Virtual Summit New York saw trailblazers in the IT industry coming together to inspire action towards creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable IT world.

Lisa O’Connor, Managing Director at Accenture, inspired in her opening keynote speech, saying: “Diversity is the fuel to innovation.

“It is mandatory.”

In that spirit, here’s how the Women in IT Virtual Summit New York discussed how tech can become more diverse and inclusive than ever.

Ethical tech for the future

The first panel, ‘Making Responsible Mainstream’ saw Cheryl Neal, VP, Strategy & Vendor Acquisition at Tech Data moderate the discussion with tech powerhouses Jenn Bennett, Technical Director at Google, Tina Finelli, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at SeeWhatSheCanDo, Kimberly Arcand, Visualization Leader at the Centre of Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian and Ifeoma Ogbunugafor, Business Development Representative at Robotical.

2020 has seen a pandemic and civil unrest sweep the world, creating the perfect opportunity for change according to Arcand: “What better than a time of disruption to be able to disrupt further some of the weaknesses that have been exposed?”

Everyone can challenge the weaknesses in workplace diversity and inclusion, said the panel: “We all have an opportunity to make an impact,” said Bennett.

Finelli added: “We are all capable of making a difference.”

The challenges of a new decade

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked innovation this year across the world, and that can only be expected to grow. So, what part do women play in this journey?

Reine Ntone Sike, an Aerospace Engineer from NASA, answered that question during her keynote speech ‘Women vs Machine: Why EQ is Important’.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Sike is familiar with the strengths and skills women bring to a team: “Women in the workplace are valuable assets. All women in STEM have self-awareness, motivation, communication and social skills, and empathy. Just one woman will bring all of this and more to a team.”

However, unless young girls have role models in the field, there won’t be any women to bring these traits to teams: “We need to have more role models, so girls can identify themselves when thinking of their career.

“When they see someone else has already done it; when you see that it is achievable, you feel more confident about vocalising what you want.”


Schoolroom to boardroom

Aubrey Blanche, Director, Global Head of Equitable Design and Impact at Culture Amp, showed the audience that action speaks louder than words with her keynote speech ‘Building Equitable Workplaces’, starting simply with her opening statement: “Without intentional equitable design, I can guarantee you that your company is racist, sexist and ableist.”

“The fact is that you have the power to change your sphere of influence. No more stating intentions, we need more actions and solutions.”

Getting girls into STEM while at school is a commonly agreed-upon solution. However, as Tracey Welson Rossman says in her think tank ‘Diversity: It Starts with an Education’, the education system is failing young girls: “Our education system has not been able to keep up with skills that tech companies need. There are not enough tech classes at school.”

Bootcamps and one-off days are great at sparking interest, but sustainable long-term is needed, she continues: “It is igniting passion, but it is not deep learning”.

Why go to such lengths to get women and girls into IT? Well, Welson Rossman puts it bluntly: “Because we need them.”

Implicit Stereotypes

Anisha Asundi, a Gender Specialist at Harvard Kennedy School, kicked off her Personal Introspective talk ‘Implicit Stereotypes’ by making it clear: “Debiasing organisations rather than just individuals is what’s important.”

She shared tips in her speech on how to mitigate bias in your organisation for a low cost and a high speed:

  • Use gender-neutral language in job descriptions
  • Evaluate in bundles
  • Offer flexible work–focus on outcomes, not hours

Why Does Being an Ally Matter?

Taking action to mitigate bias is what makes colleagues allies, as discussed in the final panel of the day ‘Why does being an ally matter?’.

KC Lathrop, Chief of Staff to the CIO at IBM was joined by D’Lovely Gibson, SVP at Equifax, Stacey Turmel, Managing Director at The Internet is for Everyone, Lawrence Fauntleroy, Director at CUNY 2X/Tech Talent Pipeline and Kelly Bissell, Global Senior Managing Director, Accenture Security, to continue the conversation of why action is needed to make change.

Performative allyship and a statement of change are not enough said Gibson: “If people don’t see us taking action, how are they going to believe that it’s important to us internally?”.

Bissell continued the sentiment: “When we take action, that’s when we can make change.”

Echoing the earlier talks of the day, real and effective action isn’t costly or difficult to do, as put simply by Turmel: “It doesn’t cost anything to change, but many will it cost if they don’t”.

The Women in IT Virtual Summit New York (a Bonhill Group event) was a day that saw game-changers and trailblazers across the IT world make one thing clear – if you want change, you need action.

The Agenda and a full list of speakers can be found here.

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