It’s an incredible time to be a part of the Colorado tech industry. Many markets are ripe for disruption and Coloradans are championing innovative technologies that will change the way people all over the world live their lives and conduct business. Women in our community have spearheaded companies that are tackling important problems and gaps in the market. We recently got together to hear from a few of them at the Colorado Technology Association‘s Women in Tech conference. Women entrepreneurs from all corners of Colorado joined together to further an important mission—bring more women into the tech industry so we can add fresh perspectives, new ideas, and bold innovations to this typically male-dominated arena. Everyone in the room left feeling more inspired than when they walked in the door. For those who were unable to attend, we want to share a few of our key takeaways. Here’s a small sampling of the lessons we’re still buzzing about days after the Women in Tech Conference:
Lesson 1: Create a network of women in your workplace
Women in technology are seeing a lot of momentum, but it’s still a heavily male-dominated industry. At the C-Level, less that 50% of tech companies in the U.S. include even one woman. It’s very difficult to navigate your way upward without a community of people who will champion your success. Women in tech need to be more committed than ever to working together, setting goals for each other, and striving to break through the corporate glass ceilings. Building a strong network of women in your workplace will serve as a powerful vehicle to drive change and help you attain your career goals.
In of the most compelling speeches of the day, keynote speaker Catherine Avgiris, EVP and CFO of Comcast, shared the story of her long and winding leadership journey in industries ranging from forklifts to phones to finance. She demonstrated how women can navigate the jungle-gym of career building using their network to eventually get them where they want to be.
Catherine also pointed out that during this journey, you should not only be using your network to help propel you forward, you should also be looking back to help those behind you achieve their goals. Refer to the title photo of this post. The middle climber has one hand reaching forward to be pulled up and the other hand back to help the climber below. Together, they will reach the summit and conquer their mountain. That is the kind of support and community we need to foster in order to integrate more women into the technology industry. It was an incredibly powerful image and one that certainly stuck with us after the conference.
Lesson 2: Find a sponsor (in addition to your mentors) who will actively help grow your career
Find that lead climber who will help you summit your mountain. Mentors are great to help cross-pollinate ideas and provide feedback. Everyone should have mentors on their personal board of director. But a sponsor will take an active part in helping you achieve your professional goals. They are an invaluable asset no matter where you are in your career. Sponsors will not only help you think bigger and reach further, they will provide tactical support to help you get there. A sponsor will coach you on your performance and train the spotlight on you so that everyone takes note of your abilities and potential.
Again, this is a symbiotic relationship. Sponsors seek out exceptional performers—people who ask for career guidance, criticism and stretch assignments. When both parties recognize that it’s a mutually beneficial alliance, sponsorship can help catapult junior talent into top management. In return, a protegé will often go above and beyond to perform on special assignments that help their sponsor greatly increase their impact.
Speakers Molly Rauzi, CTO of Gagen MacDonald, and Dionne Gomez, Account Manager at Gagen MacDonald, spoke about their sponsor-protegé relationship and the success it’s brought both of them. They have a reciprocal and beneficial relationship—a truly two-way street. Molly invests in Dionne to give her critical feedback, challenge her assumptions, and champion her success. Dionne repays Molly by taking on difficult projects and delivering exceptional results. Their conversation highlighted how the sponsor-sponsee relationship works to benefit both parties and ultimately, allows more women to thrive in the tech industry.
Lesson 3: Keep climbing
Even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, keep going. Molly Kocialski, Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, shared her thoughts on a reoccurring trend she’s noticed quite a few times in her career. It seemed that people have underestimated her constantly simply because she was a woman in an industry typically dominated by men. However, due to her grit and resilience, she always managed to prove the naysayers wrong. And those people who doubted her didn’t make that mistake again. In the face of adversity, it is sometimes easier to gravitate toward what’s comfortable and safe. But extraordinary results come only from extraordinary efforts, and sometimes you have to dig deep and just keep climbing your mountain.
This conference proved that there’s no shortage of brilliant and passionate female entrepreneurs in tech. Speakers and attendees alike sparked an inspiration that will inevitably spur action throughout the rest of the year and hopefully bring more women into technology. Thank you again to everyone who organized the event and participated in what was an intensely valuable conversation. If there were any insights you gleaned from the conference you would like to share, we encourage you to use the comments section below to share your thoughts. Thank you again, see you next year, and keep climbing.