Learn from history but look to the future

Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT) and #healthITchicks are two initiatives that focus on developing women in technology. As National Women’s History Month ends, I want to profile Women around CR tabletwo leaders who are committed to developing women in IT through these groups. Leaders who inspire others.

Jennifer Dennard founded the #healthITchicks community several years ago.  I asked her why she decided to start it, and she said, “I felt that women working in healthcare technology needed a dedicated social media space where they could network, learn, advise, and ultimately harness the tremendous energy and expertise they have in a way that would be beneficial to us all.”

Lofty as that sounds, she admits it may have been shortsighted.  She believes that, the women (and men) who have joined have helped the #healthITchicks community blossom into truly a force for good. So what have they accomplished?

The network has grown to over 550 people, and the hashtag has taken on a life all its own. Her efforts have provided a springboard to the many conversations about women working in health IT and technology at large. 

They have raised over $5,000 for charitable efforts through two holiday giving campaigns. “Doing Good & Giving Back” has become a big part of their mission. Jennifer thinks that women in leadership positions want to give back and lend a hand. And that’s a spirit she emphasizes in everything the #healthITchicks community does – from tweetchats to meetups.

I asked Jennifer what challenges women face in health IT at this point, especially younger women like her? Her response is probably a common one for her generation – the issue of paid parental leave. Granted, it’s not unique to health IT (or women), but she would like to see healthcare tech companies lead the way in offering paid parental leave policies.

Jay Roberts is one of the most supportive men I’ve met in the tech industry. He is Senior Director Sales and Operations at Cisco, a tech company that focuses on inclusion and diversity.  Why did he decide to become involved in initiatives focused on developing women?

For years, Jay participated in events such as Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT) annual golf outing and gala but he wasn’t really invested.  As his career in leadership matured, he decided to become personally invested so he applied for and was granted a seat on the Advisory Board of MCWT.  

I saw Jay’s commitment first-hand at one of MCWT’s annual gala. For their auction, I had offered up a “lunch and learn session” as a female executive.  Jay was the highest bidder on behalf of Cisco for four up and coming women leaders.

Jay said he’s always been a believer in diversity.  He cited some of the research on women and work, “It is something, as leaders, we need to pay attention to, especially when you see the research from organizations like McKinsey that show gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers.  Additionally, the research shows inclusive teams outperform other teams as much as 80% and companies that have women on the board statistically outperform their peers over a longer period of time.”

I asked Jay about the challenges women face in IT.  As a hiring leader, he thinks there are huge opportunities for women in IT.  But he sees a lack of candidates.  He thinks the challenge is addressing the issue further upstream with programs like MCWT that encourage young women to seek careers in STEM and IT. He believes there needs to be more of a push at the university level to encourage young women to embrace and feel confident pursuing these career choices. 

And finally, I wanted to get Jay’s advice for men and how they can best support initiatives focused on developing women. He says, “Get involved, be aware, be educated. There are many external programs such as MCWT to engage in. There are many ways to get involved at your respective company. On the personal side, encourage your daughter, her friends, and others about the opportunities in STEM and IT.  Be a mentor. If you have a role or forum that gives you a platform to advance the cause….do so.”

What are you doing to encourage women in technology? I hope Jennifer and Jay’s stories have inspired you as well.

Resources:

Michigan Council of Women in Technology

#healthITchicks

National Center for Women and Technology

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