Convergence Coffee Talk: Want A Competitive Advantage? The Benefits of Women In Technology.

By: Jennifer Manfred
Convergence Coffee Talk: Want A Competitive Advantage? The Benefits of Women In Technology.

This here’s a story about Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue, two young lovers with nothin’ better to do (clap, clap, clap)… Sorry, I couldn’t resist and yes, I realize I just dated myself with this Steve Miller Band reference. I wish this story was as dramatic as the song lyrics, but alas it is not. This also isn’t a story about Jack and Diane (sorry to disappoint Mellencamp fans). Better yet, it is a story about yours truly and how I unintentionally found a career in marketing, got schooled by the “Empress of Convergence” (her unofficial title), and learned how businesses can gain a competitive advantage without any help from sales or marketing. In this edition of Coffee Talk we discuss the particulars of the Women in Technology movement. We’ll be taking call-ins at 555-4444, so “Give a call, we’ll talk, no big woop.”

It was all started one dark and stormy night…

I might be exaggerating a wee bit with the dark and stormy night, but this story does occur in Seattle so I can almost guarantee that it was raining and possibly stormy… oh and it wasn’t night. I was a junior in college (no, I will not tell you the year) at the best school in the nation, the University of Washington (sorry Oregon fans). I was meeting with my guidance counselor to discuss “my future.” It was 11:00 in the morning and I had polished off two grande, extra shot, skinny, Vanilla latte’s from Starbucks and I still considered it too early to chat about “where my life was going” (…oh to be 20 again!) Up until that point, my college career consisted of taking classes that were of interest to me, such as Papermaking and Sport Commentary 101 (yes, there was actually a series of classes that taught the “complexities” of being a sports commentator). It hadn’t dawned on me that at some point I was going to have to make a decision on what to declare my Major in. And that point had come, at 11:00 in the morning on a dark and rainy day in the Pacific Northwest.

Typewriters, cassette tapes, and pagers… Oh My!

Throughout my Junior and High School years, I had always been good at language arts and writing. This was a good thing, since I learned at an early age that I was not good at math, or so I was told. I grew up with computers (not to mention typewriters, cassette tapes, and pagers – the non-doctor, non-drug dealer type). I played Space Invaders on floppy disk at home and The Oregon Trail at school (I was continually dying of Dysentery, which should have been a red flag). When I had the opportunity to select my classes in junior high, I immediately picked computer lab. It was there in that class that I fell in love with HTML and the ways I could be creative using code. Oh the awesomeness of using commands to animate a GIF or create these wonderful anomalies called webpages that everybody could see via the Internet!

I continued taking computer-related coding courses through high school and into college. But it was on this specific day, when I met with my guidance counselor that she informed me declaring a Computer Science major was not in my best interest. Perplexed, she continued to explain that I hadn’t taken many math courses and the ones that I did, well… my grades were just average. It was best that I declare a major that coincided with my strengths in writing and language arts. Dumbfounded, I agreed (she was, after all, the expert) and began my journey into marketing communications.

Why am I telling you this story?

I’ve never actually sat down and thought how different my life would be if I had ignored the college advisor and pursued a computer sciences degree… until I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Convergence vCIO Kathel Kelton. Besides her being one of the coolest people to talk to (no she did not pay me to say that), I was able to grasp what it was like to be a woman with a career in a technology-related role in the industry. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get on my soapbox and preach, rather I want to share what I learned.

What do you mean marketing isn’t technology?

As much as I, and my fellow marketers, would like to think that marketing is technology-related… it is not. We use technology solutions to be more efficient and successful in our craft, but we are not technology innovators or experts. We are users that adopt technology. My experience and knowledge as a marketer in the IT industry is very different than a woman whose profession is technology related. Kathel educated me on the Women in Technology movement. A concept that I was under the impression, was no different than the overarching issue of women in the workplace. I, a professional woman in the IT industry, was demonstrating implicit bias and Kathel provided an entirely new perspective on the subject matter (yep, I was getting schooled!)

Don’t close the browser window quite yet!

I’m not going to delve into details about the gender pay gap, although it is an important topic to understand. The Women in Technology movement, championed by Women in Technology International (WITI), is so much more involved than I originally had assumed (apparently I haven’t learned my lesson about “assuming”). Being a member of WITI and deeply passionate about the issue, Kathel enlightened me on the discrepancies in pay for women in the IT industry, how an absence of women in technology-related roles impacts a business, and the glass ceiling that prevents female leaders from achieving professional success. She introduced me to the concept of implicit (or unintended) bias, as mentioned above, along with its correlation to women in technology.

Is it like a Freudian Slip… Maybe… Just a little bit?

Rutgers defines implicit bias as “unconscious tacit attitudes and unintentional actions towards a group which may be in direct conflict with a person’s explicit beliefs and values.” Oh boy, I just opened Pandora’s Box. Kathel informed (more like warned) me that this concept tends to lead to unintentional defensiveness in reaction to feelings of guilt or contempt. Yep, leave it to me… but I didn’t quite understand, why the defensiveness? If this is a situation of “you don’t know what you don’t know” then why feel guilty? Kathel explained that there is no animosity behind implicit bias, that being aware of its existence goes a long way in changing perception.

Want a competitive advantage in your industry?

Eric Gray, Commander-in- chief at Convergence, explains “I think a blend of female and male leadership and teams could give a balance missing right now here at [Convergence] and other places.” There is significant emphasis in the industry on technical proficiency, however the importance of interpersonal and leadership skills don’t receive the same attention. This perplexing notion has been studied by countless individuals, including the co-founder and former President of the Covey Leadership Center (7 habits of highly effective people) Will Mare, who wrote on the topic and describes a “woman’s actual strength of systems thinking, social intelligence and mental agility are more predictive of leadership success.”

Where do we go from here?

No, I’m not going to hit you up for money (although if you would like to donate to my Super Bowl LI fund, I won’t stop you). And I’m not going to ask you to sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya or perform trust falls. What Kathel taught me, is to be open minded, to listen and respect differing perspectives. Mostly, I learned that by sharing and bringing awareness to this movement, as Jason Shen does in his article An Open Letter To Managers Of Women, everyone benefits, not just the women in technology professions, but the organizations that hire them as well.