By Rita Rosenthal and Charron Andrus. We have all heard — and some of us have experienced — how having a mentor to offer guidance can make a significant difference to one’s career. This is particularly true for women. Both identifying as a woman and having a great woman as that mentor can be an important catalyst to positive change. During the UC Tech 2022 conference in San Diego, expert panelists shared their experiences and stories about the women who inspired, mentored, and helped guide their professional journey during the session entitled Behind Every Great Woman…is a Woman.
Conference attendees gathered in the Price Center Theater at UC San Diego or joined virtually from across the country on Aug. 16, 2022 to listen to a panel discussion on the topic of mentoring women. The panelists included April Sather, Chief Information Security Officer at UC Office of the President, Manisha Kanodia, Manager of Information Systems in the Information Technology Services department at UC San Diego, and Candace Jones, VP of Business & Administrative Services at Pasadena City College, and formerly a member of the staff at the UC Office of the President.
Individual Voices but Shared Experiences
Allison Flick, Service Operations Manager at the UC San Diego Library and Co-Chair of the UC Women in Technology (UC WIT) Committee, which sponsored the event, opened the session with an introduction sharing information about the UC WIT mission. Ellen Pollack, UCLA Health Sciences CIO, moderated the panel that addressed how women can benefit from having a support network as they meet the challenges of adapting to the post pandemic world. They discussed the characteristics of this new work environment, which included remote and hybrid work, high-pressure work demands, and continued disruptions in professional and personal lives. Panelists spoke about their career journeys in IT, and candidly shared their trials and tribulations along the way. The following provides excerpts from the panel discussion.
Community & Advocacy
Candace discussed an early experience where she received some difficult feedback during a performance evaluation and how it provided a learning opportunity for her. “True mentorship is going to offer you not only the things you are doing well but also the things where you need growth.” She described how you can be successful in a role for decades but, “If you want to grow, you have to work in a system that was never intended for you. How you work and advocate within that structure is your choice.” April acknowledged things she was afraid of that pushed her out of her comfort zone like public speaking. Her response to the discomfort? She joined Toastmasters and saw results…and a promotion! This new skill inspired future speaking opportunities, where she began spreading the word about the importance of attracting and retaining women in technology. April emphasized, “Just being good at your role isn’t enough if you want to give back.” In her case, “giving back,” meant being a voice for women in technology.
Finding Your Voice & Advocating for Your Needs
Manisha noticed a woman developer on a new team who was not speaking up. This colleague was also hesitant to lead meetings and communicate with clients. Manisha asked her more about this in a private conversation and encouraged her to begin exercising leadership skills and received words of thanks from her colleague. “Support and encouragement go a long way,” she concluded. Candace expressed how it is tough as it causes us to be self-reflective on times when we don’t speak up. “As women we are often taught to make people comfortable. Oftentimes we walk away and think ‘I should have said something.’” Her mantra is, “If you see something, say something. It’s not always safe but it’s important to be vocal. Interrupt and disrupt situations. Advocacy equals direct intervention.”
Advice for Advancing Your Career
“What got you here won’t take you there,” is Manisha’s advice. “As a developer, you have to be the smartest person in the room. As a manager, you have to switch to being an active listener and learn how to get the best out of the people in the room. Never miss an opportunity to grow and get a new skill.” Candace emphasized that being a woman in IT leadership is hard. Women are constantly fighting to justify credentials and competence. An added challenge is being black and therefore fighting to be seen. She recommends that women seek out others with whom they can build community. She spoke to the mental anguish that results from being either invisible or sometimes hyper-visible, when you are the only woman in the room. She advised that women must address by prioritizing taking care of themselves. She added that women must take ownership of recruiting and proactively seek out and place women into IT roles.
Importance of Self Care
April advised, “Treat your career like a marathon and not a sprint, [and] manage your energy. Recognize when you are in an unhealthy place. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, both professionally and personally. Manage your emotions: it’s important to recognize them but be careful not to be driven by them.” Manisha talked about some benefits of stress, saying, “Identify the type of stress you are experiencing and use that stress to push yourself beyond your boundaries. But recognize the difference between healthy stress and burnout.”
Working in a Remote Environment
Panelists had a mix of ideas on the pros and cons of working remotely and provided some recommendations on how to approach this going forward. As a pro, April talked about how we can reach more people and even expand our workforce, which has been a positive. “We are permanently in some hybrid of working in person and remote, so need to be more intentional about planning in-person events.” But for Candace, being fully remote can be a con as her campus has been back to being in-person for some time and she finds it easier to inspire and connect in her world being back in the office. She feels this also allows for making more intentional connections with women. As a mother, Manisha reminded women to be flexible: “If children pop into your Zoom meeting, just pause the conversation, say hello to them and continue. No big deal.”
Where to Watch
In case you missed it, you can view the recording of this session on the UC Tech conference website. Questions about this event can be directed to Allison Flick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in mentorship opportunities, most UC locations have programs available on their campus. You can also check out the EDUCAUSE Mentorship Program (be sure to login with your UC email address for free access) where you can get connected to women who can mentor you or offer to be a mentor to others.
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