Internet Creations hosted the New Jersey Tech Council’s first Women in Tech Peer Networking Forum on Wednesday, May 16, in Hamilton. The event welcomed over three dozen attendees, while a variety of slides rotated in the background with statistics, for instance: “74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science. Yet only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degrees and 26% of computing jobs are held by women” – Girls Who Code.”
After 30 minutes of introductions and networking, the group took their seats to listen to the “Work Smart to Drive Success” panel discussion, moderated by Internet Creation’s COO, Felisa Palagi.
Palagi set the tone for the discussion by addressing that diversity in tech is a challenge. She said she envisions New Jersey a leader in promoting diversity to drive technology. But she added that “it’s up to us. If we don’t, the impact to New Jersey is widespread. Innovation and growth will happen elsewhere, and others will decide our future. Customers, businesses, and talent won’t come to New Jersey, and our best and brightest will leave. In other words, we lose. We must act now.”
Palagi then introduced the members of the panel: Jennifer L. Scandariato, who currently serves as the senior director of cloud services and leads the women-in-tech group at iCIMS (Holmdel); Christine Brys-Yee, senior project manager at AASKI Technology (Tinton Falls); and Sarah Knapp, executive vice president of business development and strategy at Spruce Technology (Clifton).
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the discussion:
The panelists explained to the audience how they had each “fallen into” the tech industry, as tech wasn’t their originally intended career path. Knapp noted that it had taken her years before she truly considered herself a woman in tech because she does not write code, and that one of the most interesting things about the tech industry is that there are many aspects to it that do not involve code writing.
Many companies aren’t doing enough to recruit women, despite the many dialogues going on about women in technology, stated Brys-Yee. Knapp agreed and added that, while there was a strong sense of momentum in the conversations about women working in tech, the roll-up-your-sleeves work isn’t being done.
Scandariato said that when companies are hiring, one thing they can do is make job descriptions more inclusive. For example, using the phrase “rock star” could deter women from applying for a job because it may indicate a highly competitive workplace.
One attendee, Maria L. Alvarez, account executive at Robert Half International (Princeton), said that phrases like “led a team,” instead of “managed a team,” are more gender neutral, yet still reflect the same responsibilities on resumes.
One of the easiest things women can do is take a seat at the table in order to be seen and heard, Scandariato said. Sitting at the back of the room in a meeting doesn’t do much in terms of recognition for your ideas, she added.
Knapp noted that while she’d experienced instances of men taking credit for her work, she had also found ways to self-advocate, to let the right people know about any unethical behavior taking place and to bring to light her own accomplishments.
Scandariato also encouraged the audience members to write their achievements on Post-its, as a reminder of the important tasks they had completed and milestones they had reached.
The panel agreed unanimously that one of the most important things professionals can do to encourage the advancement of women in the workplace is to take on mentorship roles.
Getting involved as a role model in any capacity can have a huge impact on young girls, said Brys-Yee. Volunteering is great. For example, you can work as a leader with the Girl Scouts of America in order to influence young girls.
Take on many mentors who embody the traits and behaviors you want to mimic, said Scandariato. She sees 2018 as “the year of the woman.”
As the event was not exclusive to women, there were men among the attendees. The panel noted the important role men could play in the conversations that will drive women forward.
Palagi observed that, while women in tech do not need men to accomplish their goals, the perspectives and collaboration of men could be valuable. So, she recommended including them in conversations and activities intended to drive women (and everyone else) forward.
Scandariato said that iCIMS’ women-in-tech group is electing “man-bassadors” to support and influence women.
Knapp and Palagi encouraged each member of the room to go out that day and do one thing to drive women forward and to try to generate a positive and clear message. Knapp noted that, while the results of such efforts are difficult to measure, they do snowball and the collective impact is real.
Brys-Yee and Scandariato agreed that there has to be a balance between work we enjoy and work that helps us learn and grow. Look for something new that will challenge you, they advised the audience. Scandariato introduced the idea of scheduling time into your calendar for doing something outside your comfort zone.