This editorial article is a part of Technical.ly's Women in Tech month.
“My message is always ‘stay in.’ And if you are not in, get in — and then stay in.”
That’s the advice offered to women looking to grow in technology careers by Julie Elberfeld, the senior VP of shared technology and executive sponsor of diversity and inclusion for technology at Capital One.
Elberfeld started working at the McLean, Va.-based financial services company in 2010, and previously served as the divisional CIO of commercial banking technology, where she was responsible for the tech needs of the commercial line of business. She’s also held roles at Fifth Third Bank, US Bank and General Electric Appliances.
She was at the helm of launching Capital One’s internal Women in Tech program in 2015, which has a mission to provide resources for women to thrive in their tech careers while working at the company. Many of these women reach back to help girls along their own tech journey through volunteerism efforts to support organizations such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and the company’s own Capital One Coders, a 10-week program where Capital One associates teach middle-schoolers around the country how to code.
“Inclusive practices embedded in the company culture provide a strong foundation for our tech leaders to build the most innovative and empowered teams, where everyone is welcome, and does their best work,” Elberfeld said.
Technical.ly spoke with Elberfeld about how she climbed the ranks as a woman in tech and leading efforts to increase diversity.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What has it been like being a woman in tech in power? Do you work with other women in tech or majority men?
I entered tech as a programmer at a time when women were at their peak in the industry, and I know my experience has been different because of it. The representation of women in technology has certainly declined since my early days, yet I see amazing women making huge impacts in tech.
I’m lucky to have one of the most rewarding jobs in the industry, leveraging my experience to influence the face of tech. In my role, I spearhead our tech diversity and inclusion initiatives to address the underrepresentation of women of all races and men of color in the technology industry. Through this work, I partner with both women and men throughout the company.
I also lead a complex portion of our cloud technology journey and am inspired daily by the many women technologists and allies thriving in tech positions across Capital One’s organization.
Can you describe a time where you felt like you had to stand up for yourself as a woman in tech in the workplace?
In 1990, after having a child, I worked with the IT leadership to demonstrate that flexibility in work schedules in technology was not only doable but imperative to retaining top talent. I was pleased to pave the way for other parents who wanted this same option.
In 2014, two software engineers, Kaylyn Gibilterra and Katie Thompson, came into my office to talk about the declining representation of women in technology. That meeting five years ago changed the course of my career because I realized the challenges and opportunities for women technologists and wanted them to have the same amazing career that I have had. That’s when I truly found my passion for diversity in tech.
As a woman in technology, I have overcome challenges associated with my gender, but I certainly appreciate that my challenges were not as great as those with added marginalized identities, such as women who are also Latina, African American, Asian or LGBTQ. That’s why I believe it’s important to focus on gaining equal representation for every group.
Can you tell me more about Capital One’s Women in Tech (WIT) Program and the type of things this program does?
At Capital One, our Women in Tech (WIT) program was formed in early 2015 to connect women of all backgrounds in local chapters across the country and internationally. At the core, WIT aims to support an inclusive environment in technology that is both acceptable and welcoming to all. Since the beginning, we’ve grown to nine local chapters across the country that support women technologists through programs like mentoring, speaker training, skill building, community partner work, and leadership training.
This initiative started as a working group and has grown into a company-wide movement of women technologists and allies.
How has the WIT program bettered Capital One’s workforce?
The WIT program has not only created a community of women technologists at the company, but it has brought Capital One women and men together to focus on developing a love of technology in girls of all races. The initiative also focuses on improving the representation of women in the technology field and supporting the career development of women in tech roles in tangible and impactful ways.
After seeing the success of the Women in Tech Chapters internally at Capital One, we launched Blacks in Tech and Hispanics in Tech initiatives to amplify our sources for great talent and help elevate the focus on Blacks and Hispanics in technology through awareness, engagement and education.
Can you provide any advice to other women in tech working in diversity and inclusion?
Implementing diversity initiatives can be some of the most rewarding but also most challenging work, given the difficulties we face are often rooted far beyond the boundaries of our companies.
In order to tackle both of my responsibilities, I look at supporting our tech journey and diversity and inclusion initiatives as I would any other business problem. I believe it is critical for technology executives to have a strong focus on D&I efforts — in partnership with and supported by, but not exclusively driven by, the human resources department.
In parallel, it’s important to approach diversity by being both authentic and bold. As a leader in a technology organization, continue to define the value to your associates, your company and the world by making the workplace more diverse, included and engaged.
If you are an associate that wants to start or evolve a diversity initiative at your company, identify senior leaders who will support you and elevate your ideas.
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