Sometimes, you go to a tech event thinking you’ll hear about drones, Agile, DevOps. That did happen at this weekend’s Women in Tech Summit. But attendees also learned about mentoring hacks, the power of the ask, the competitive advantage of being human.
The summit, originally meant to be a local, one-time event, has grown to an annual series reaching five regions and hundreds of attendees. Drawing more than 700 people last weekend in Philly, it aims to connect women working in both technical and business roles within tech organizations.
This weekend’s two-day edition was the seventh for the northeast region, where it was founded; other summits are happening throughout this spring and fall in D.C., Chicago, Denver and Raleigh-Durham.
Here are a few lessons shared during Saturday’s sessions:
It’s OK to look outside of tech to find role models.
Managers and leaders are not always the same people, as summit cofounder and Chariot Solutions Chief Marketing Officer Tracey Welson-Rossman and Fast Company reporter Lydia Dishman concluded during their fireside chat, “The Unintentional Leader.”
And to be a good leader is to an authentic one, Welson-Rossman said.
“From tech startups, you see that being authentic, being organic — those are the messages that flow better, and those are the people that you’re going to connect to,” said the self-described introvert. “If I’m selling an idea, I’m selling a vision, I’m selling a strategy — which is really where leadership comes in — and I’m asking for that first follower, [then] you better know who I am.”
“Manager” is not synonymous with “leader.” Leadership comes with intention. Not all managers are acting as leaders, and not all leaders are managers. You don’t need to be the head of something to be a leader. #WITSNE19
— Christina Yakomin (@SREChristina) April 13, 2019
But when only 24 of all Fortune 500 company CEOs are women, it can be tough to find top-level leaders who can also serve as relatable role models for women in tech.
“You have to look far and not just look within your own industry,” Welson-Rossman said.
One of the founder’s personal role models? Career-changing, cookbook-writing TV extraordinaire Julia Child — who did, apparently, have a bit of a technical background before rising to fame for her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961 at nearly 50 years old.
“Think about what she did,” Welson-Rossman said. “She changed her career at 47. That’s something that I look at because sometimes, also, as women, we get put in a box based on our age. So to have someone who really reinvented herself, and had such an impact from reinventing herself, I think that’s really important.
“And last time I checked, she was not a tech leader.”
Volunteering is good for building both skills and community.
Volunteering within your own industry fosters the development of both soft and hard skills, said the “Volunteer Leadership Roles in Tech” panel including Philly Tech Sistas founder Ashley Turner, PANMA VP and Barcamp organizer Briana Morgan, Onyx Valley founder Kyree Holmes, PhillyCHI Vice Chair Shyanne Ruiz, We Evolve organizer Suzie Nieman and former Code for Philly Co-Director Toni McIntyre; PhillyCHI Chair Megan Moser moderated.
Soft skills come from managing people, organizing vendors, public speaking and the like. Morgan said her full-time job isn’t necessarily able to arm her with those leadership skills, but she can get them through volunteering.
“You also get really good at learning to gracefully accept feedback,” she said. “You also get really good at learning which feedback to ignore,” as well as how to deal with emergencies.
But Turner also learned how to build a website for an event she was hosting because she couldn’t find anyone else to do it for free — a specific hard skill she can use in a career.
“There’s opportunity in volunteering because there’s always something that needs to get done,” she said.
To make the most of volunteer opportunities, panelists recommended finding where you as an individual can add the most value. Ruiz, for instance, recognized that she felt uncomfortable at the first PhillyCHI event she attended and thought an organizational code of conduct could help — so she offered to write one.
On that topic, Nieman, who supported the launch of We Evolve after leading Girl Develop It’s Philly chapter, said organizers must consider event features such as those codes of conduct, childcare services, dietary restrictions, pronouns on name tags and the like to make events inclusive to those with experiences and needs different from their own.
“There’s a responsibility to create an environment where people feel valued and welcome,” Nieman said.
Tech can make running for office easier — if you can learn on the go.
Social media and other modern technologies help things get done quicker and cheaper in modern political races, said Philadelphia City Council at-large candidate Beth Finn, sheriff candidate Malika Rahman and city commissioner candidate Jennifer Devor during their panel on “21st Century Campaigning”; campaign consultant and She Can Win founder Jasmine Sessoms moderated.
Running for an office that few Philadelphians have heard of, Devor said, makes free tools such as Facebook Live and Twitter essential for getting her message out and educating a wide swath of voters on their rights.
“I’ve been able to use technology to explain the ins and outs of this office,” she said. “If people feel empowered that they have all this new knowledge and they remember that Jen Devor told them about it, that’s actually been incredibly powerful.”
“I understand there are lots of things I don’t know about tech, so I work with a diverse group so that they can make sure that my message translates to everything and can be accessed by all types of people.” – @JenDevor on keeping up with tech trends while campaigning #WITSNE19 pic.twitter.com/CdcOmZcrKS
— Shellie (@shelliewass) April 13, 2019
Running a citywide race, which each of the panelists are doing, comes with the challenge of trying to reach the potential voters most likely to support them. That means getting access to voter data is essential — but typically pricey.
“You can get that data from companies that put it into a nice system and databases, but it’s really expensive,” said Finn, who works as a senior project manager at the Center City office of information analytics company Elsevier. “But you can also buy the voter data file from the state for $20. So, I did that and I have a lot of amazing data scientists on my team … so we’ve actually kind of built our own version of that voter system [using R Shiny] that costs a lot of money otherwise, and we’re making it work how we want it to work.”
Other cost cutters? Email over mailers and — echoing Ashley Turner’s lesson on volunteering and hard skills — campaign staffers teaching themselves new tech-based engagement strategies on the go.
“We are all eager to learn,” Rahman said. “And then we do it [ourselves], and not only do you cut the cost, but you get the education, so now as a candidate, you get to now share their knowledge as opposed to putting a price tag on it.”
750 women will be comong throigh @WomenTechSummit over the next two days. So proud of what we have created over the last 7 years. A #tech conference where the speakers and almost all the attendees are women. #womenintech #WITSNE19 pic.twitter.com/LCOFv3AjQS
— Tracey Welson-Rossman (@TWelsonRossman) April 12, 2019
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