Let fear be your motivator. Own your confidence. You can have, and also be, a mentor.
Students, entrepreneurs, alumni and educators at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway received these messages at the recent Women’s Technology Council (WTC) conference. “Tech Workforce of the Future: Women and Minorities” featured critical discussions on bridging the gender gap and resolving cross-cultural and unconscious biases.
The WTC was established in the spring of 2019 by Catherine A. Allen, founder and CEO of The Santa Fe Group and member of the New York Institute of Technology Board of Trustees, and Nada Anid, Ph.D., New York Tech vice president for Strategic Communications and External Affairs. The goal: to empower women throughout their careers, beginning with their time as college students. The event is a manifestation of WTC’s mission to contribute to building an inclusive and diverse workforce by providing networking and mentoring opportunities and hear prominent women leaders talk about their own experiences and give frank advice about career advancement in business and technology.
Demonstrating the value that women and minorities bring to their organizations, New York Tech President Hank Foley, Ph.D., kicked off the event with a discussion on student diversity, pointing out that gender-diverse and ethnically diverse companies outperform their peers. “Diversity enriches our experience,” he said, adding that the university hopes to attract more Long Island-based Hispanic students, among others.
In a discussion moderated by New York Tech Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Junius Gonzales, M.D., M.B.A., panelists confronted the challenges faced by minority groups and women in male-dominated industries. Themes centered on the educational and health disparities between gender and ethnic communities. Anid, author of The Internet of Women, and Howard Bell, general manager of tech company Hobsons Starfish, noted that opportunity gaps for women are persistent in higher education and STEM fields. The panelists agreed that tackling these issues will take systemic changes, with Bell adding that universities should focus support on students vulnerable to dropping out. Nadia Islam, Ph.D., associate professor at NYU School of Medicine, pointed out that opportunity and chances for “a good life” are not widely available, especially in New York City where life expectancy varies between boroughs and neighborhoods.
Futuristic Tech Skills
Keynote speaker Edie Weiner, president and CEO of The Future Hunters, blew listeners’ minds by offering evidence of “templosion—the implosion of time.” She explained that the rate of change is speeding up across the planet, with outcomes beyond most people’s imaginations. Weiner foresees that as human civilization reaches a peak she calls “alpha,” more women and girls will be drawn to technical fields.
In another panel, four female executives from organizations as diverse as the FBI, search firm Alta Associates, IBM, and PepsiCo, discussed the important roles soft skills (such as communication, teamwork, and adaptability) and technical expertise play in one’s success at a large corporation. “Don’t assume your audience is someone like [you],” said Shamla Naidoo, adding that CEOs look for business and strategy skills in their employees. New York Institute of Technology trustee Caroline Wateeuw encouraged more possibilities for working remotely, saying, “Technology is the freedom to do the best work you can do, wherever you are.”
Serial entrepreneur and corporate board member Jonathan Dambrot advised those who want to start a business to be sure to align their goals, tolerance for risk, and sense of meaning to stay committed to their project. “Things will get very hard,” he said. “And if it isn’t meaningful, you will give up.” He gave a quick rundown of some of his favorite business books, saying that reading a lot and gaining expertise are critical to success.
The importance of meaningful work also rang true in the panel that followed on leadership in business and entrepreneurs, which shared lessons in getting businesses off the ground, moderated by School of Architecture alumna Deborah Verderame (B.S.A.T. ’83), principal, president, Verderame Cale Architecture, PLLC.
Speakers included M.B.A. alumna Juuhi Ahuja (M.B.A. ’92), founder and CEO of Wise Men Consultants, alumna Laurie Cantileno (B.S. ’85), and NYITCOM alumnus and New York Tech Trustee Daniel Ferrara (D.O. ’86), northeast regional president of Alteon Health. Ferrara shared several anecdotes of lessons he learned from his father, who has had a profound impact on his life and helped instill in him a focus on giving back to people who need it most. Long a supporter of many initiatives to benefit NYITCOM students and the broader community, Ferrara leads by example to show that even small changes can lead to positive outcomes.
Advice for Every Generation
A focus on “Gen Z” or “zoomers” emerged in another panel, which included New York Institute of Technology junior Noshin Raisa, an electrical and computer engineering major and president of the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. She shared how, unlike Baby Boomers, she and her peers prefer to gain career experience from multiple employers, not just one.
Her fellow panelists, which included Gen Xers and boomers, shared examples of the how technology has changed the corporate landscape. Discussions included how remote employees can demonstrate professionalism and the need for women to own their technological savvy.
Building a Network
Allen's keynote address emphasized the importance of lifelong mentoring, sharing where to look for mentors, how to build mentoring relationships, and what mentors expect in return.
The last and very memorable session of the conference was a round-robin “speed mentoring,” where 12 accomplished mentors, all women, introduced themselves and then became acquainted with audience members in an intense and vibrant set of interactions spread all around NYIT Auditorium on Broadway.
Former marketing executive, corporate board member, and mentor Barbara Caldwell summed up the feeling at the end of the day, saying, “This has been a great conference!”
Watch the full conversation.
Join the Women’s Technology Council.