A new career event for women in tech isn’t easy to organize, and the pressure to give interesting, authentic advice can be difficult for event planners. IBM, however, managed to do just that with their “Women in Tech: Pursue Your Power” workshop at BitMaker Labs in Toronto this week.
On Wednesday, IBM brought together six presenters, all successful women in tech, for an afternoon program focused on female entrepreneurs, students, and professionals looking for career advice and technical skill-building tools.
All four panelists agreed that the best advice they could give attendees to accelerate their careers was to find women mentors.
The woman-organized workshop featured an all-woman panel and presented three straightforward strategies for career success: be confident, adopt entrepreneurial skills, and mentor other women. Additionally, the afternoon included a hands-on workshop with Watson, IBM’s cognitive computing system.
In her keynote speech, Valerie Fox, co-founder of the DMZ at Ryerson University and Chief Innovation Consultant at The Pivotal Point, explained how entrepreneurialism enables women to hold more senior leadership roles. Fox believes that learning from underdog successes in the startup world is the key to individual career success as well. With an entrepreneurial skillset comes the creative, independent, and iterative ability to pursue senior positions, and destroys misleading expectations that career opportunities will simply be handed to you.
Though being successful as an entrepreneur can get you places, Lan Nguyen, Deputy CIO at the City of Toronto, suggested that it is the community women build together which is ultimately the largest driver of success for women in the industry. Having a strong support network of peers pursuing similar career paths, and who are able to empathize with shared challenges, is key to being able to take risks in your career. “We need to use what we are good at as women,” Nguyen said. “We are very good at building relationships, being inclusive, and nurturing others.” All four panelists agreed that the best advice they could give attendees to accelerate their careers was to find women mentors.
The panel also discussed the idea that many women face the challenge of asserting themselves and being perceived as bossy or presenting as quieter and being seen as underqualified or unambitious. Kristina Verner, Director of Intelligent Communities at Waterfront Toronto, highlighted the need for women to be able to talk about their successes in a supportive environment: “Being part of a mutual support network and celebration of mutual successes is critical,” she said. From that, women should learn how to command the respect they deserve in an authentic way without fearing that they are being perceived as bragging.
“Don’t forget to lean on each other, as you are not alone in this journey!”
– Mary Tafuri
The panelists were intent that women talk about failure openly with each other. “We have to find a way for failure to be seen as a learning opportunity,” said Karen Dubeau, Director of Partner Engagement at VentureLAB. Guests at the event were encouraged to talk with each other during the networking period about how their perceived failures can be framed as iterations on finding career success.
To close off the session, guests were given a hands-on workshop on how to build simple web tools using Watson. Using Bluemix, another IBM tool, Stefania Kaczmarczvk, a technical specialist at the company, walked guests through a set of the cloud platform’s tools and led a lesson on how to built a Twitter bot that can analyze user content against Watson’s Personalities Index rating.
The event’s goals were highlighted by IBM’s Mary Tafuri, Director of Cloud Ecosystems, “I hope women attending today’s bootcamp come away with more confidence in their own abilities. Both soft and technical competencies can be enriched by the empowering stories shared by extraordinary women leaders.”