WIT Forum inspires professional development with purpose
As a young female, who’s figuring out how to make her mark in the business world, the April Women in Technology (WIT) Forum was an encouraging and enriching event to attend. These events are designed to provide a unique opportunity for technology professionals in Atlanta at all levels to network and connect.
Learning how to navigate life, which is constantly evolving, is no easy feat. Add on the complexities of understanding how to manage gender role expectations, adjusting and learning how to function during an unprecedented time, balancing mental health, achieving work/life balance and being a supportive partner and matriarch — all popular topics of discussion at this event.
And we barely scratched the surface! I know each panelist had many more great stories to share on these hot topics to personify their story of achieving success on their road to the C-Suite.
I learned so much from the panelists who spoke, each of which have found their way through hard work, discipline and the support of mentors and sponsors. I found it equally interesting that each woman, although making it seem effortless and seamless to gain favorability and accolades to earn a leadership position, maintained their own identity of self throughout the process despite outside forces creating obstacles and challenges along the way.
Patti Dismukes, Director of Sales at Cognizant Softvision, said something that resonated with me pertaining to steps you should take to achieve success. I’ll paraphrase, but she set the tone when she pronounced her key to not being perceived as an overly aggressive woman in leadership. She said to always stay true to yourself and who you are. Don’t change for anyone else; you may have to adjust to your audience but stick to what’s right and what aligns with your values at your core.
She provided a story where she was at a dinner and someone at a more junior level role spilled water on the table. Someone at a higher level stopped Patti from cleaning up the water that spilled because “it was beneath her.” My eyes grew wide, and I thought to myself, how would you respond in a situation like that?
It’s easy to agree with the more tenured leader versus saving face and aiding in the cleanup since everyone makes mistakes. I found that nugget of wisdom a valuable lesson. No matter what title you hold, everyone is human, and we have to remember: someone helped get us to where we are today.
I think the underlying tone in several messages was, never forget to give back because people fought for you to be in the powerful position you’re in now. You should give back whether it’s speaking at open forums, community involvement, providing knowledge/ benefits that your employees weren’t educated on, etc.
Another key takeaway shared by Diana Lee Caplinger, Head of CRM Intelligent Automation & Personalization for Truist, was the observation that in large meetings, she found it more common for men to sit in chairs around the table and women would fill out the chairs along the perimeter of the room. She remarked, “don’t be afraid to command the room and take your seat at the table.” I find that all these women are so comfortable in their own skin and confident in their abilities and that truly is the key to success.
Additionally, finding mentors that can lead you in the right direction is imperative to moving up in the ranks. Identifying a sponsor that will advocate for you and go to bat for you is especially important.
Cecilia Mao, a mother of two and Global Chief Product Officer at Equifax, made an interesting assessment as the panelists ran down the line to introduce themselves. She introduced herself leading with her name, title and description of her occupation and geographical relocation that landed her in her current position. But she forgot to mention one of the biggest roles she takes on…being a mother.
The gender roles have changed and even more so since Covid. A statistic was shared that only one in 10 women hold C-Suite positions. It is estimated that not until 2070 (!) will equality amongst manager and leadership roles be more evenly dispersed. Thinking back to 2020, it was women that had to take a step back from their careers and take care of the household. Given that information, it’s even more empowering and admirable that these women have been able to achieve the level of success they’ve reached.
Finally, Marcia Calleja–Matsko, CIO at OneDigital, touched on the fact that where you start off in your career doesn’t determine the direction or level of success you’ll achieve. She graduated with a business degree in Marketing and Management where she began her career in accounting and later moved into leadership within IT.
Similarly, I graduated with an accounting degree and worked in public accounting for a short period of time before I too transitioned into a new realm and unfamiliar industry, staffing. To this day I’m still learning, but I do believe that every role I’ve had the opportunity to work in has enabled me to learn and be a better contributor to my team today.
I believe it was Cecilia that spoke about the idea that success doesn’t always have to be linear. Sometimes, you must take a step back in order to move ahead. This view pairs well with the uphill challenges and hurdles that make up the story of where each of these women is presently.
In summary, the biggest takeaway for me is to continue working hard, feed my entrepreneurial mindset, continue to give back to the community around me, remember to possess a hunger, passion and enthusiasm every day, treat others with kindness, and cultivate authentic relationships. I’m excited to follow these amazing leaders and continue to learn more from their stories. They’re great mothers, mentors and managers. I look forward to the next WIT event.
About the author
Lily Payne is an Account Executive for Synergis and has worked in the staffing industry for 3+ years. She is active in her church, Peachtree Presbyterian, and enjoys playing golf during the weekends. Originally from Savannah, she started her career in accounting and shortly after transitioned into recruiting where she fell in love with the staffing industry. She has since transitioned into a client-facing role where she enjoys blending her strong relationships on the candidate side to support her new clientele. Her friendly and warm personality has helped her open doors and brightens what can be a stressful process into one that can be enjoyable and less burdensome.