No Woman Stands Alone - An Interview With Carolyn Leighton

Ekaterina Walter

June 15, 2012

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Reprinted from The Huffington Post with permission of it's author Ekaterina Walter

A week ago I attended the Women in Technology International (WITI) Summit. WITI is an amazing organization. Its mission is to empower women worldwide to achieve unimagined possibilities and transformations through technology, leadership and economic prosperity. This is the first time I met WITI founder and extraordinary woman Carolyn Leighton. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk to her about the organization, her journey and her mission.

Ekaterina: Carolyn, you are an amazing woman. A trailblazer, really. In the times when women were not speaking up you helped them unite and gain a voice. Tell us a little bit about WITI and why you created this amazing organization.

Carolyn: When I started WITI, it was not just about creating a network of women in all aspects of technology, but establishing a philosophical framework which I felt was a critical component to helping women move forward. Once I saw the possibilities WITI might create to help women, I became consumed by my desire to build something that would make a difference.

Ekaterina: WITI's policy is "no woman stands alone." I love that. Talk a little bit more about it.

Carolyn: Before I started WITI, I attended countless meetings, conferences and seminars to learn, network and build my companies. I always walked into a room with a positive attitude and an assumption that people would be as interested in meeting me as I was meeting them. But I found walking into one event after another with people's backs turned towards me, with no effort to welcome me into their group, energy draining and unpleasant.

For too long, women in male-dominated fields continue to walk into environments where backs are turned on them literally and figuratively.

When I started WITI, I was determined to create welcoming environments at every WITI event. At every WITI meeting, we announce our policy of No One Stands Alone, and ask each person attending to take responsibility for inviting every woman and man who walks into a WITI meeting to join their group.

Creating welcoming and inclusive environments for our members and partners is another way we can demonstrate that WITI is about collaboration, not competition.

Ekaterina: What are the challenges that you are still seeing for women in the workforce?

Carolyn: Many women with established credentials continue to share their frustration of working in environments where promotions continue to be ruled by "the buddy" system, managers who are belittling and dismissive. It is especially disappointing when I see women in management adopting these same behaviors.

Too many company leaders continue to turn a blind eye towards these practices, even though company revenue is directly and negatively impacted.

Ekaterina: What are the opportunities?

Carolyn: When I think about the fact that when I started WITI in 1989, technology was a vertical industry, and today, there is no business anywhere in the world that cannot be improved by technology, the opportunities for women who are technology literate are limitless!

As women, we need to be more proactive to help male (and female) leaders of companies understand the business value for incorporating women at every level of the organization.

A classic example of not understanding the business value of women in leadership roles of major companies is what happened when Carly Fiorina was CEO of Hewlett Packard.

At that time, she was adamant about NOT discussing her role as a female CEO, not speaking at any women's organization, basically denying her female role, and turning her back on the female population. I have always believed that if she had done the opposite, it could have had a direct impact on increasing revenue for HP, since the demographics for many of their product lines included large percentages of women, and establishing strong alliances with professional women and their organizations would have been very sound business strategy for increasing revenue for HP.

Ekaterina: You talk about women making their own luck. What advice do you have for women who are looking to advance in their career?

Carolyn: One: regardless of your role in your organization, understand the business of your company and how the decisions you make impact the bottom line.

Two: move away from a "me centered" mentality and take time every day to contribute to others, your company, your organization, your colleagues. It will come back to you tenfold.

Three: move out of toxic environments, and away from people who clearly have no interest in your succeeding. You deserve better than that. When you surround yourself with people who are committed to your success (and you are committed to theirs), magic happens.

Four: Follow your passion. When your work is an expression of your creative process, then you automatically achieve work/life balance because it becomes naturally integrated into one fulfilling journey.

Ekaterina Walter is a social media maverick at Intel and is responsible for company-wide social media enablement and corporate social networking strategy. She is a recognized thought-leader in her field, a vibrant speaker, and is a regular contributor to well-known industry publications such as Mashable, Fast Company, HuffingtonPost, TheNextWeb and others.

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

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