While Community Summit North America 2023 featured many incredible sessions, Women in Tech was, once again, a huge hit. I had the opportunity to moderate the panel discussion, which addressed factors contributing to the gender gap by touching on three core pillars:
- Mentorship, Allyship, and Community
- Individual Growth and Personal Empowerment
- Opportunities and Trends
The members of the panel included:
- Jennifer Harris, founder and CEO, TMC — With over 30 years in the field, Jennifer leads one of the most innovative, women-owned technology companies in the nation, using her leadership position to foster a company culture of inclusion and a forward-thinking approach to innovation.
- Deb Pfundstein, global partner development manager, Vertex — Throughout her career, Deb has worked with Microsoft and within the Microsoft Channel for 15 years, fulfilling channel roles ranging from senior channel sales manager with Microsoft to VP Strategic Partner Engagement at Sitcore.
- Aleksandra Kulu-Ainsworth, manager and functional consultant, Mazars — With a passion for innovation, Aleksandra serves as a client advocate, combining knowledge of offerings and strategic vision to deliver tangible business value and successfully implement comprehensive tools for global clientele
In Part 1 of my Women in Tech review, I’ll share my top takeaways from the Mentorship, Allyship, and Community.
The Importance of Mentorship
Having people in your corner can make a huge difference in your professional journey, especially allies and mentors to encourage, guide, and build you up as your career evolves and new opportunities arise.
Mentorship can be useful at any point in your career. Everyone has different experiences and holds different knowledge. You can gain new insights at any point in your career, even from someone who might not have as much experience as you. For instance, if you’re 20 years into your career, you could still learn from someone who is only five years into theirs.
Regardless of how much experience they have, it’s important to have a mentor who can make a difference in your life. Jennifer shared that, while she has over 30 years in the field, she still learns from those earlier in their careers, acknowledging that everyone has something to offer, and everyone can still actively learn and grow.
Deb advised both mentors and mentees to “always be asking good questions” to get the most out of that relationship. “I recommend not going into it assuming your mentor is going to guide you through it all.” She continued explaining that it’s “up to you” to accomplish your own goals and take risks in your career. “I think the best mentors will teach their mentees how to find those answers…so they can grow and get the opportunity to move to the other side of the table as they work,” she said.
“It’s really all about supporting each other and taking a moment out of your life; you’re not too busy to have an hour to help someone else,” Jennifer noted. When determining who could be your mentor, she encouraged attendees to look at the qualities and experiences that they admire and search for that in people around them.
Aleksandra named active listening and personal communication as two key qualities that mentors must have. “Without actively listening and just responding initially, you have no understanding of who you’re mentoring,” she noted. Further, she challenged, “Without being able to connect with another individual, how do you promote their growth? How do you encourage them to go beyond what they want to do?”
Being an Ally for Women in Tech
There are so many areas that a mentor can impact, whether you are a mentor or have one. Similarly, it’s important to have allies in the workplace and to also be an ally in the workplace.
“To be an ally, you must first unite with the cause — if you are unaware of what our cause is, it’s almost impossible to be an ally,” Aleksandra said, emphasizing how anyone can be an ally. She shared a statistic from the Women Tech Network revealing that only 47% of working-age women are in the workforce. “If we are not amplifying women’s voices, how are we going to get the outcome of more women in technology?
She also deduced that being an ally is an “ever-growing journey,” especially in the technology field. Technology is always changing. The workplace is always changing. Culture is always changing. Because of this, it’s vital to continue re-evaluating and re-establishing balance, Aleksandra explained, to determine the best way that you can be an ally and demonstrate your support toward women in the current workplace.
Allies are people who make sure you feel safe in your environment, which is needed in work environments, Deb pointed out. “As you grow and you move forward, you have that backing. There are those who have come before you and there will be those who come after us, and you can be part of that community,” she said.
“If you’re trying to overcome something, if you’re looking to understand something in a different way, reach out to your allies. Oftentimes, they’re there for you and you may not even know it,” Deb continued.
Anyone can be an ally. They don’t even need to be someone you’re working with every day. These can be peers that you have grown up with in your personal community, Deb clarified. Additionally, being an ally to women in tech isn’t limited to just women – men can be allies, too. It’s all about support.
Regardless of where they’re from, having a network or community that serves as a support system can have a huge impact on empowering women who are navigating their career journeys. Allies and mentors alike will support your growth, celebrate your success, and ensure safety in your environment.
While allies and mentors can lighten the weight of speaking up, finding confidence, and taking leaps in your career, you don’t need to be dependent on them to succeed. In Part 2 of my Women in Tech recap, I’ll explore the importance of individual growth and personal empowerment as well as of gaining educational and professional opportunities so that women in tech can propel themselves further in their careers.