Since the launch of the Women Leaders in Technology (WLiT) Professional Network at this past January’s EdgeCon, group members have met quarterly around the state to connect with other leaders, exchange industry perspectives, and share advice on driving success in technology departments, divisions and organizations. WLiT is guided by six, esteemed Executive Sponsors who are dedicated to digital transformation in higher education and strengthening technology leadership.
Creating a Path for Progress
In the group’s first year, the Professional Network is already creating a path forward for emerging women leaders in the industry and bringing relevant topics to the forefront. “The program has hit the mark by addressing issues we all care about,” shares Rochelle R. Hendricks, the first New Jersey Secretary for Higher Education (retired) and former Acting Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Education. “We’ve had some exceptional presenters and meaningful conversations around those presentations that have set the stage for the next phase of things, and those opportunities are very compelling.”
“The network has already established itself as an invaluable resource,” adds Dr. Mira Lalovic-Hand, Senior Vice President and CIO, Rowan University. “This forum provides the opportunity for both emerging women leaders to learn about topics that may go unnoticed in the day-to-day workplace and offers a safe place for open dialogue about many different, often difficult, issues.”
Members tackle challenges together, share useful insight, and reveal ways of overcoming obstacles. “A network like Women Leaders in Technology helps to open our eyes to the experiences, skills, and needs of other women,” says Candace Fleming, CIO and VP, Information Technology at Montclair State University. Fleming welcomes the opportunity to suspend her own business goals for a moment and think about other women in the field and how she might help them or learn from their unique experiences. “This group helps increase our awareness of women’s needs and improves our self-awareness of successes and hurdles, along with what we can do to move forward effectively.”
“One meeting prompted thoughtful questions and dialogue around improving collaboration in the workplace and increasing success by ensuring a diverse workforce,” reflects Carol Kondrach, Deputy CIO, Princeton University. “The Professional Network helps to break down those barriers, educate people, and enable change to make the workplace a more open, welcoming and productive place.”
Empowering Leaders of the Community
The Professional Network brings leaders from all corners of the industry together to share their unique backgrounds and experiences. After collaborating, each individual returns to her respective organization or institution and can apply new strategies and perspectives to further foster growth and innovation. “The leadership events set the stage and open doors for conversations that can move the dial on increasing awareness about bias in the workplace,” shares Kondrach. “Sharing experiences about when we felt unfairly excluded from an experience or opportunity in the workplace and discussing strategies for addressing them, enables participants to carry forward thoughts, ideas, and observations that can enable productive and positive change.” Hendricks says dealing with gender bias for most of her career has driven her to try and right the balance so women are at the table as decision makers. “My goal is to ensure that the opportunities for women are real and viable; that the changes made will be systemic and sustainable.”
Inspired by the other members of the network and their commitment to diversity, Kondrach says she looks up to the women on the council for their leadership abilities and how they foster an open, collaborative, welcoming environment to ensure individuals are treated fairly and given equal opportunity.
Lalovic-Hand achieves the goal of ensuring her institution is prepared and enabled to manage future changes by welcoming numerous viewpoints to the table. “Employees with different educational experiences, cultures, social backgrounds, and genders bring unique perspectives to the group and this blend creates an environment where a diverse group of people are encouraged to speak with confidence, share ideas, and respectfully challenge one another. As a result, you come up with the best solutions for pain points such as procedural problems.”
The Executive Sponsors also embrace the network’s coaching opportunities which enable others to grow and develop as leaders. “This leadership group is enriching intellectually, personally, and professionally,” says Hendricks. “We are given an opportunity to be influencers and continue the momentum for future generations.” Kondrach says being able to pay those opportunities forward and educate others on becoming effective leaders is very meaningful. “Enabling change, particularly around diversity, is important to breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive workplace.”
Inspiring Change through Connection
As the name of the group suggests, the networking opportunities, both inside and outside of each meeting, are key to the success and continued engagement of the members. “The women are very intelligent, sharp, and committed and they are clearly interested in knowing one another, in debating key topics and in making a difference in each other’s lives,” shares Fleming. “Each one of us is interested in helping other women succeed.”
The opportunity to meet and connect with other women in technology throughout the state has allowed Lalovic-Hand to open doors to a network for women within her organization. “One employee just started a career in technology and works in a male-dominated department. I brought her to a discussion on the social impact of artificial intelligence. In addition to the new knowledge she gained at the event, she was excited to learn about the Professional Network. When she first transitioned from a student worker to a full-time employee, she didn’t even consider that her gender would have an impact on her in the workplace. She soon realized there were challenges to being different from everyone else in the department and said the network offered a place to talk about issues and find solutions for moving forward.”
Kondrach has heard from many attendees from EdgeCon panel discussion that they were able to implement change when they returned to the workplace and inspired a more positive outcome in respect to biases. “The on-the-ground coaching provided at these events can have the broadest impact. Members can go to a conference and gain useful tools and strategies to handle different scenarios and shape a conversation more effectively.”
Championing for Women in Technology
The Professional Network aims to elevate women in the technology field and offer support, encouragement, and professional development. “The network’s mission is to help women address challenges they may face in their careers and empower them to be influencers in their places of employment and across the state,” says Hendricks. “The network hopes to have an impact on hiring practices by providing more opportunities for women and to encourage young female professionals to pursue degrees in the tech field.” Lalovic-Hand adds, “We have to ensure a new generation of women sees information technology as a valuable career path. By giving them the ability to effectively engage in conversations about technology in a way they feel connected and respected by their colleagues, we will be able to help more women be successful in their careers. In turn, these women will help boost the success of their own organizations.”
Creating equal footing for women in the technology field takes spreading awareness of the issues and educating all professionals on how to make changes within their organizations. “As a female leader who is committed to breaking glass ceilings, I understand firsthand the challenges that women often face in the workforce, particularly in technology fields,” said Thomas Edison State University President, Dr. Merodie A. Hancock. “My career has been marked with invaluable colleagues and mentors that have been a sounding board when I’ve needed support and advice. Edge’s Women Leaders in Technology Professional Network is an important and purposeful way to help inspire women and create a supportive environment for growth throughout their professional journeys.“ The network creates a space for open dialogue for emerging women leaders, Lalovic-Hand explains, and invites each voice to be heard and participate in that dialogue. “Many of us have shared experiences. By discussing our experiences as a group, we can learn from one another and help women who are starting out in their careers to identify tools and methods to advance in their organizations.”
Michele Norin, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Rutgers University further explained, “I try to encourage women to be willing to take risks and to be open to new opportunities.” She also believes speaking up when necessary is important. If an idea requires vocalization, don’t hold back. The expressed comment in question might be the different perspective needed for a situation. “I really encourage everyone to look for ways to grow, no matter what your role is. True growth involves taking risks and learning from mistakes.”
The Professional Network continues to attract members with interesting topics and stimulating conversation. As Fleming explains, “This network demonstrably provides events and dialogue that encourage us to think more expansively and explore the opportunities in the world around us. The committee is part of a bigger Edge network, which is comprised of a diverse group of people from higher education, K-12 and health care. Each person is doing great things and they are networking to make one another stronger.”
Joining the Charge
New Jersey has a rich tradition of providing opportunities for women executives and leaders in technology organizations. The Professional Network allows women to be part of a collaborative effort in driving change and supporting each other as they advance and grow professionally. “Since the field is dynamic and ever-changing, setting the stage for your own advancement requires quality professional development,” says Hendricks. “Members can be influencers in their own workplaces and far beyond to improve the world of technology as a whole.” Additionally, Hendricks believes a network like Women Leaders in Technology will raise male awareness of feminine strengths and help increase diversity and open thinking among New Jersey leaders.
“A network of experienced women leaders offers valuable insight into addressing situations proactively,” says Kondrach. The connections made at these events often lead to ongoing coaching opportunities where women can learn from experienced mentors on being competitive and effective in their workplace. “This forum creates a network of people who can call on one another to navigate career obstacles,” Lalovic-Hand adds. “Finding a group of people who value and support you is the key to success, both personally and professionally. Joining the network not only helps the individual, but also strengthens the group, and allows each person to give back to other women in technology.”
For more information on joining Women Leaders in Technology, please contact Nancy Zimmerman. Additional details about the network are located here njedge.net/communities/#wlit.