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Women in Tech: HR Technology Conference Brings Women to the Front

LAS VEGAS — These days, with the #MeToo movement in full swing, pay equity top of mind and diversity and inclusion all the rage, it’s little wonder that the 2019 Human Resource Executive HR Technology Conference and Exposition opted to kick off its event with a Women in HR Technology Summit.


Topics ranged from how data can be used to improve overall diversity to women’s well-being and even a session on how parenting values can shape identities and, therefore, the future of workplace culture. The conference-within-a-conference event was especially telling, given the current push to place more women and minorities into tech-based roles.

Touching on that push, Katharine Mobley, global CMO of First Advantage, along with Portia James, director of leadership and organizational development at Paychex, and Jeff Weber, senior vice president, people and places, at Instructure, discussed the importance of mentorship and sponsorship in their session, “Why Mentoring Matters.”

“From a female perspective, one of the things we don’t touch on enough is mentorship and sponsorship,” Mobley said. Mobley then offered a personal perspective on her own entrance into the HR community.

“Believe it or not, this is a really hard industry to crack,” she said. She explained that while she was in the C-suite, she had only entered the HR space two years ago. Still, she had longed believed in the power of mentoring/sponsoring, having benefited from being both a mentee and a mentor.

“I had one mentor 20 years ago … and to this day, I have never taken a role without talking it over with her first,” she said.

Considering that the C-suite, as well as many company boards, are lacking in female and minority representation, panels such as these are educational, if not compelling, to both current and aspiring HR leaders. Weber, the lone male on the panel, called out his role as the single representative of his group, acknowledging his work with the Women’s Leadership Institute.

“It’s taught me a few things,” he said.

One such lesson – and one that would be repeated by a female HR lawyer at another session on “Practical Strategies for Improving Gender Equity” — was the importance of involving men and women in discussions regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, to find that “balanced perspective.”

“It’s taught me how one person who is willing to share their voice can make a difference,” he said.

In terms of mentoring and sponsorship, that willingness to share your voice can make all the difference, James said.

“When you have a mentor, or when you are mentoring, never underestimate the impact you can have on a person’s career.

“We can all learn together,” she said.

Learning to Be Equitable
“Equity is for everyone,” said Heather Bussing of Bussing Law. “Everyone needs to feel like they belong, to have the opportunity to be their best selves.”

Therefore, it’s in the best interest of organizations, as well as individuals, to create and support an equitable workplace and an equitable society.

“I’m probably not the most qualified person on this topic,” Bussing said, noting her privilege as an “over-educated” white woman. “But I am here to use my privilege to talk about this topic.”

Like Weber, Bussing also noted the importance of having men at the table – and their reticence to take a seat.

“Men think that if women have power, we’ll start treating [men] the way [men] treat everyone else,” she said. “But that’s not how we play. We want a system that works for everyone.”

Equity in Real-Time
Perhaps one of the more telling sessions regarding women in the workplace came at the closing keynote from Walmart.

The session, “Leading the Hiring Innovation at Walmart,” wasn’t, in fact, about anything related to women at all, at least on its face. What was telling were the people who told the story.

They were all women, working in the tech field – a considerable feat, considering that only about 20% of women hold roles in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Nevertheless, the women – Kali Hayes, product owner for hiring; Nerissa McQuilkin, technical product owner for global recruiting technology; Andrea Overholt, recruiting engineering director; and Katie Taylor, senior director of software engineering, global talent systems – took turns telling parts of the story of Walmart’s new applicant tracking system (ATS). A project four years in the making, it ran into a serious hurdle just after the official launch date was announced. Yet, with only 12 weeks to go, the team was able to cross-collaborate and dig in to the meat of the matter, allowing them to deliver results as promised and on time.

During the gender equity session, Bussing and her colleague, Kate Bischoff of tHRive Law, noted that women need to stop creating barriers for themselves when they buy into certain beliefs. One such belief is that “positions for women are scarce.”

By all accounts, the Women in Tech Summit appeared to indicate just the opposite.

About the Author

Stephanie N. Rotondo is managing editor of Workspan magazine.

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