Starting a Women in Technology Group

SmartBear Staff

July 26, 2017

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Christina Lowe, Senior Manager, Customer and Partner Marketing at SmartBear Software

In 2015, I started a women in technology group at my company, SmartBear Software, in Somerville, Massachusetts. The group has been steadily growing, and has become one of the favorite informal groups at the company. I'd like to share my advice and tips for starting your own group at your company, including some great program examples. It only takes two or three people and some executive buy-in to launch a group, and it's well worth your time. It's best to form organically, versus something that HR dictates.

First, gauge interest by talking among the women and men in your organization, and when you have a few interested people, book an informal meeting to discuss the details. The goal of this meeting is to establish enough details to properly present the group idea to your executive sponsor. Some considerations include: should you establish a women in tech group and in what timeframe, what is the ideal format to host this meeting (lunch, after hours, etc.), what topics would the group discuss, and who might be the executive sponsor. It's even better if the potential executive sponsor is part of that first informal meeting!

You'll want to share your ideas for the group with the sponsor and ask for money to provide lunch or snacks for the meeting. Once you get signed off, send an email to all of the women in your company about the launch of the group and who's involved so far. Send a calendar invite for the first meeting�"best to be an in-person meeting, but with today's global companies, you can certainly spin up a conference bridge.

For the first meeting, don't assume everyone in your organization knows one another. That is why the WELCOME part of the agenda is super important. I like to deliver a PowerPoint presentation and put chairs or tables in a circle, which tends to engage people better. Here's a sample agenda from our first meeting:

  • Welcome and introductions: Present the group and introduce everyone, with recognition to those who helped create it.

  • Pick a topic to discuss. This way, the attendees will get value from the first meeting. I suggest the TED talk, "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders," by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

  • List a variety of ways the group can have an impact.
    These can include partnering with organizations like WITI, attending local events or meetups, hosting a company-wide event, taking on a functional focus (career development, networking, leadership, mentoring, etc.), and leading book or article discussions.

  • Talk about your plan of action. Do you want this group to meet once each month over lunch? Ask the group their preferred meeting method. If you aren't sure on the next steps, send out a simple survey, especially if the group is over 30 people.

  • The goal of meeting up is to have the women in attendance walk away thinking "Wow, this is cool and I learned something!" Hopefully they all share the takeaways with their colleagues and encourage more women to attend the meetings.

    One or two days after meeting one, send a summary to the group, including some key takeaways, along with the article or video discussed. If your executive sponsor was not at the meeting, send him or her a copy of the email, along with your plan going forward. Make sure to have an "ask" option when you report results. For example, I simply asked if we could get lunch paid for monthly.

    Next, I started having people sign up to present a topic or help orchestrate something for the group. For example, my colleague coordinates write a monthly WITI blog. Remember that this group is in addition to your job! Keep tasks and meeting prep (reading a book or an article) to a reasonable amount. Don't forget to book a monthly meeting as well.

    The SmartBear WIT group has held a variety of programs over the last two years, including in-person events, guest speakers, partnerships, webinars, TED talks, and just had plain fun. Some favorite events include hosting the panel discussion, "#ItWasNeverADress: Women in Tech Panel," "GETTING PAST HELLO!™: The Art of Cultivating Lasting Business Relationships," and various "Tell Your Story" meetings. Tracy Wemett, President of BroadPR, shared her experience of starting her own PR firm. Chelsea Channing Portney, Esq., Contracts and Licensing Attorney at SmartBear, conducted the session, "Maintaining Motivation and Mindfulness," and Candice Benson presented, "Increase Your Effectiveness: Adapt Your Communication Style to Have More Influence and Greater Success." We recently attended a viewing of Alamo Drafthouse's Wonder Woman movie.

    We have read and discussed "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" by Sheryl Sanberg, as well as the Women & the Leadership Labyrinth Howard v. Heidi case study, "60 Things Older Women Want Younger Women to Know," and more.

    All worthy of your time, we have viewed various webinars and TED Talks, including "I'm Sorry" by Emma Kypuros, "Women Are Not Men: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast," "Why We Have Too Few Female Leaders" by Sheryl Sanberg, the WITI webinar, "The Leader in You: How to Be Your Authentic Self and Create a Strategy to Win," by Betsy Myers, founding director of Bentley University's Center for Women and Business, and IBM's ad campaign "Hack A Hair Dryer."

    We also have fun! Most recently, we gathered for Paint Night at Assembly Row in Somerville.

    I highly encourage starting a women in tech group at your organization, as the benefits are many. Our group has fostered collaboration and networking between people who are not on the same team, as well as friendships outside our teams. We have empowered the women at SmartBear to speak up and support each other. We have learned from each other through great discussions on a variety of topics. And the group will live on. Regardless of where we go, we have been brought together, now we are part of something bigger and will continue to support one another both personally and professionally.

    If you have any questions or want to host a joint event, please email me at [email protected].

    Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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