(Photo by Jazmin Goodwin)
As one of the largest, long-running tech non-profit organizations for women in The District, DC Web Women (DCWW) has grown to reach over 6,000 professional technologists over the last 20 years. And with their fourth annual Code(Her) Conference a week away, DC Web Women is not only looking to expand opportunities for newbies within the tech space, but to also redirect its mission to ensure that they are the premiere professional development organization producing women (and men) leaders in technology.
“First and foremost, I’m very excited to be leading DC Web Women with an amazing team to address future growth opportunities,” Komala said. “Our vision is to make DC Web Women the number one professional development organization that produces women leaders in technology in DC, Maryland and Virginia.”
She laid out five areas of focus for the organization:
- Engaging with men as allies, for they can play an integral role both professionally and personally.
- Continue our efforts in STEM/STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Math) and how to best lay the foundation for future careers in tech.
- Mentorship through social impact by engaging with executive leaders and targeting millennials to give back to their community.
- Encouraging diversity and inclusion by inviting women and men of color to share their challenges, candid advice and what inspires them to work in technology.
- Practicing wellness by integrating healthy lifestyle choices.
The following is a transcript of the rest of the conversation:
Technical.ly DC: For the last several years, DC Web Women has provided thousands of women from all career backgrounds the chance to explore opportunities within tech. Why do you believe right now is the time for the organization’s vision to shift?
Sibyl Edwards: This year, we needed to bring in fresh talent who could steer the organization in the direction of supporting and advocating for women (and girls) in technology by providing a community in which they can develop and promote their leadership, technical and professional skills.
Having served as the president for over seven years, I was looking for a strong leader and Priyanka was a natural choice. A well-known technology and business leader, Priyanka Komala understands this space. Being a millennial woman of color with a natural inkling for helping fellow women to succeed, we invited her to spearhead this organization as the Vice President to create strategic direction.
Technical.ly DC: One of your five focal areas is to “engage with men building relationships as men play key role on the personal + professional.” How does DCWW plan on doing this, and what role can men in tech play even if they aren’t active within the organization?
Sibyl Edwards: A few years ago, DCWW was one of the first women tech groups in the area to start admitting men as members. The reason for encouraging men to participate and partner with DCWW remains the same now as it did then: we want to increase exposure of women in tech to men and encourage dialogue. We hope that by having men openly participate in and partner with the organization, we will not only educate them on women in tech issues, but also expose them to a vibrant community of women technologists and create a natural pipeline of tech talent for their organizations.
Priyanka Komala: Men hold the keys to leadership positions and it is crucial for us to one, educate them on the challenges we face to help them understand our perspectives; and two, to proactively form relationships to learn from their career journeys; and three, to create mentors/sponsors who can be our allies for our next opportunity or help us succeed in our current roles.
DCWW plans on engaging with men by inviting them to be part of our professional development programming where we can hear their stories and they in turn can meet our women members to learn our thought process. Creating a platform to develop a meaningful discussion arena is key. DCWW is open to both men and women so we can help each other succeed as a community.
Technical.ly DC: Finally, like any industry, working in tech can be slightly stressful. How does DCWW plan to implement wellness practices for its members consistently?
Priyanka Komala: Integrating healthy lifestyle choices into tech is quintessential. Mindfulness and taking time off is often overlooked. Incorporating wellness into our strategy was a thoughtful decision made by our team who are fitness enthusiasts. and we felt integrating healthy lifestyle choices was a key differentiator for our organization. We recently held a webinar on mindfulness meditation and at our upcoming Code(Her) Conference, we will have Core Power Yoga on board to lead a wellness session. We are constantly looking for ways to enhance the experience of our members through such events.
Sibyl Edwards: This one of the biggest – yet most neglected – issue in tech: the lack of wellness and poor lifestyle habits of technologists. Everything from working extremely long hours coding, eye strain sitting in front of computers too long, and back issues, to repetitive stress syndrome (e.g. carpal tunnel), grabbing poor quality food on-the-go, lack of exercise and intense levels of stress. Now add being a woman, possibly with a family to care for on top of that. I strongly suspect the reason many women leave tech is the lack of emotional support and burnout. This is something I know all too well.
Moving forward, DCWW will be incorporating wellness and mindfulness as part of our programming. We have already reached out to wellness partners and will be planning events that help our members de-stress and unwind. Future events will include: discounted meditation classes, wellness webinars and workshops on finding healthful ways on managing stress, happy hours featuring healthful, energy “mocktails” and more.
DC Web Women is looking for partners, sponsors and like minded organizations as they design their 2017 – 2018 programming. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering as they grow their team, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit their website or follow DCWW on Twitter or Facebook for more information.