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Women in Tech webinar series continues with “Having a Seat at the Table”

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

The “Women in Tech Leadership” series continued with its second webinar earlier this week, “Having a Seat at the Table.”

The Knoxville Technology Council’s Women in Tech group joined with Women in Technology of Tennessee for the event, which was the second in a series of three. The first webinar focused on burnout. You can find the teknovation.biz article on it here.

Molly Q. Ford, Vice President of Global Talent Brand and Marketing at Salesforce, was the speaker for the webinar. Having done some work to improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at the software brand, her talk revolved around that. Salesforce was also the sponsor of the event.

Ford added that having a seat at the table or being an ally is “a two-way street,” and encouraged the attendees of the event to share their stories.

When Ford first started in her DEI role at Salesforce 10 years ago, one of the first questions she asked was “Why aren’t there more women in tech?” Her research led her to a podcast by NPR. In the ‘60s, there were a lot of women in coding. At the time, it was considered to be more “women’s work.” As the profession became more analytical and statistical, more men moved into the field. Ford said there was a red line in the 1980s where women began to drop out of computer science. The NPR “Planet Money” podcast episode titled “When Women Stop Coding,” said that during that decade computers were largely marketed to men and boys. Boys had computers to learn to code on, giving them a head start once they got to college.

“You have a whole industry that’s ignoring girls and people of color,” Ford said of the movement.

Attendees spoke about their own experiences where people were surprised to find a woman in tech. The responses weren’t restricted to professional networking. Some women had instances where friends and even close family didn’t realize they had expertise in tech.

The rest of the webinar focused on how people could make space for themselves at the table, or how they could help others. Ford talked about her “shero,” Shirley Anita Chisholm, the first Black woman in the U.S. Congress and the first woman to run for president. One of her famous quotes, Ford said, was “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, you bring a folding chair.”

This led to a discussion on times attendees either helped provide someone else with a seat at the table or when one was given to them. Ford also talked about what it meant to be an “active ally” for others. Allies need to ask, listen, show up, and speak up, she said.

The webinar ended with a brief Q&A. One of the questions focused on how people can better implement DEI into their workplace. Ford said that in tech, people aiming to bring diversity are often working against the status quo. Because the field has been successful for so long without a lot of diversity, some people don’t see a reason for change, she said, adding that others see DEI work as a “zero-sum game.”

“People who are unsure or think that diversity is a zero-sum game, in order to allow for opportunity for women or people of color, it means ‘I lose.’ It means ‘I’m not getting something,’” Ford said. “It’s not a slice of pie and we’re not going to run out when it’s your turn.”

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