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Women in Technology Discuss Their Career Challenges

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More than 100 associates gathered at the IRV Campus on June 20 for an evening of networking and an inside look into the journeys of two women Chief Information Officers: Julie St. John, ITG President, and Lynn Ryan, Executive Vice President of loanDepot. WITI - Women in Technology International of Orange County produced the event.

Keeping a resolution

WITI is a global organization that focuses on connecting women in all sectors of business and technology and empowering them to advance in their careers. The Orange County chapter of the organization didn't even exist a few months ago, when Kathy Lomax, ITG Senior Manager, began the new year with a resolution to focus on her professional development.

Kathy initially met with Julie because of a Forté Foundation article in which Julie recommended that women serve on boards. Julie reiterated her advice and told Kathy that serving on an advisory board outside Capital can be a valuable development opportunity. This sage advice inspired Kathy to move ahead and begin to establish the new WITI chapter. She started by reconnecting with a friend who was already familiar with the organization, and the pair set out to establish WITI of Orange County.

The original duo quickly became a leadership board of nine women who are in various professional roles at companies throughout Orange County. The women held their first meeting in late February. Since then, they've participated in a mentorship program with Women in Information and Computer Sciences (WICS) at the University of California, Irvine and are planning networking events throughout 2013.

Doing more than padding your LinkedIn contacts

WITI regularly emphasizes that networking can provide women in the business world with real power, so audience members spent the first portion of the evening getting to know one another. Robyn Lussier, a Data Governance Business Lead, says the event reinforced for her how valuable these connections can be, explaining, "Maintaining a network lends support and encouragement to everyone involved." She even expanded her own network when she bumped into a former colleague during the event. Robyn reflects, "It's important to get an outside perspective."

Amanda Loney, an Office Services coordinator, was pleased to hear both speakers affirm the important role that networking plays in their careers. "Since I'm starting an MBA program next month, it's particularly timely for me to hear such successful women talk about their journeys," she said.

"Both speakers found networks very valuable," Amanda related, "but you shouldn't just grow them for artificial, self-serving reasons like 'I may need to ask these people for jobs or request money for my nonprofit someday.'" Amanda was interested to hear Julie and Lynn emphasize that LinkedIn "connections" lose value when you don't foster a reciprocating relationship and that you shouldn't reach out to your connections only when you need something. Both women also recommended sending a congratulatory email if you notice that someone you know on LinkedIn was promoted.

Gender equality in the IT world

Michelle Bergquist-co-founder of Connected Women of Influence-served as the evening's "Oprah," posing questions that facilitated a free-flowing conversation between Julie and Lynn about their journeys as women in the IT world. Lynn regaled attendees with a comical story about her business trip to London years ago, during which she was asked to choose one of two team-building exercises: a shooting excursion or golfing. Lynn wasn't proficient in either, but she decided golfing would increase her odds of returning from the activity unscathed.

Lynn and Julie mentioned that they've witnessed progress in terms of gender equality in the IT world over the years, but they feel a shortage of women, especially in leadership roles, is still a problem today. The women mentioned that they hope mentoring will play an important part in changing this landscape, and confirmed that they'll continue to encourage young women to pursue IT careers.

Work/life balance: Something's got to give

Working women today still face the challenge of balancing work and family life, and Julie and Lynn affirmed that they're familiar with the pressure society imposes on career-oriented women to have children. Julie emphasized that it's important to prioritize and accept that you can't be perfect at everything. She confessed that, between being a working professional and a mother, she couldn't keep a clean house all the time. "At some point, something's got to give," Julie admitted.

Julie and Lynn, both mothers, assured the audience that they've never regretted taking time out for family, saying, "Missing one meeting to attend your child's sporting event doesn't hold you back professionally." Julie continued the sports metaphor by describing an important lesson: "You can't get all the checks off your list each day; the important thing is to keep moving the ball forward."

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Founded in 1989, WITI (Women in Technology International) is committed to empowering innovators, inspiring future generations and building inclusive cultures, worldwide. WITI is redefining the way women and men collaborate to drive innovation and business growth and is helping corporate partners create and foster gender inclusive cultures. A leading authority of women in technology and business, WITI has been advocating and recognizing women's contributions in the industry for more than 30 years.

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