Cynthia Owyoung, Founder and CEO of Breaking Glass Forums, successfully kicked off the inaugural Women of Color Leadership Conference at the Yahoo Campus in Sunnyvale, CA on June 28, 2016. Hearing separate discussions “about women in tech and women of color” sparked an “Aha!” moment for Owyoung. She decided to create an environment to combine these two dialogues into one. The result, a conference packed with top players in tech including C-Suite, founders, entrepreneurs, who shared their experiences developing their professional careers in tech, climbing the ladder not just as women, but as a women of color.
Shellye Archambeau, Fireside Chat
The 2016 WOC conference started with a Fireside Chat featuring Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, a governance, risk, and compliance company. Archambeau is a corporate veteran, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and started her professional career at IBM. There, she was the first African American woman to be sent on international assignment, to run IBM’s Asia Pacific business for the public sector. As her professional career grew she noticed people “like her” were rare. So, she founded a group for women professionals, and created a diverse community that 12 years later continues to grow. In 2013, Archambeau was recognized by Business Insider as the #2 Most Influential African American in Technology and she currently sits on the Board of Directors for Verizon Communications and Nordstrom Inc.
Archambeau is a planner and gave a clear message, “You own your own career and your career path… Try lots of things and if you don’t like it, try something else… ” She encouraged the crowd to focus on areas of opportunity, not just a skillset, and pave your career accordingly. To increase her odds for success as she started her career, Archambeau’s strategy was to “…pick an industry that [was] growing, the most innovative and disruptive”. Archambeau is all about adaptability and flexibility, strengths that allow you to develop your career path with industries that are breaking and creating new rules.
Archambeau believes the value of mentorship comes from being a good listener, embracing new perspectives and incorporating them into your decision making process. She emphasized not simply relying on one mentor, but the importance of growing with different mentors throughout your career. Their diverse perspectives will shape your professional development for the long term. In addition to having mentorships, Archambeau says it’s important to have a cheerleader, someone that knows you and will pull you out of the trenches as your career grows.
Archambeau notes “women of color are more adverse to risk… [and] judged more harshly than anyone” and provided the analogy of carrying a backpack. The backpack doesn’t just contain your life experiences and skills, it contains the story behind how you are perceived as woman of color, a burden not carried by white male professionals. It’s all part of a topic that is not discussed when you “come to the table”. When asked about experiencing bias, Archambeau was clear, bring your best self to work everyday, and when opportunities bypass you, you make the choice to stay or leave. Rajkumari Neogy, summarized the fireside chat with Archambeau’s recommendations, “take risks, get a cheerleader, build a community, take risks!”
Technology, Women, Color and Diversity
With the foundation set by Shellye Archambeau, the conference progressed with a series of powerful sessions:
- Panel on Intersectionality, discussing multi-dimensional identities, politics and intersectionality in the workplace. Moderator LaFawn Bailey, Head of Culture & Inclusion at PayPal. Participants: Noni Allwood, VP, Senior Fellow at Center for Talent Innovation; Madelyn Mackie, Senior Consultant Lee Hecht Harrison; Helen Lo, SVP Content & Digital Marketing at Charles Schwab, Suni Lobo, Managing Director, Talent Development Silicon Valley Bank
- Designing Your Life, using a design thinking approach focus on work/life balance, led by Susan Barnett, Instructor, Stanford University.
- Fuel Your Career with High Quality Connections, breaking barriers through smart networking, by Elizabeth Borges, Program Manager for Women’s Leadership at Everwise.
- Empower Your Leadership: Accelerating Impact for Women of Color, a challenging inclusive discussion on perceptions around color and race, and how to get past the self-limiting beliefs associated with them. Led by Stacy Parson, Partner at Dignitas Agency and Allison Hu, Jhana Education Advisor.
- Deconstructing Executive Presence, taking control of your power and presence in the executive room, led by Angela Wong, Sr. Business HR Partner at LinkedIn.
- Leading with Purpose, Andrew Woods, Co-Founder and COO, Imperative, breaks down the myths around purpose and how it applies to leadership today.
- Closing Keynote: The “No Fear” Approach, by Chitra Nayak, COO at Funding Circle USA and previously COO at Platform/Salesforce, now Advisor for various Bay Area startups. Nayak confronts issues that affect women in the workplace from bias, the “Maternal Wall”, ageism, how women have to deal with the “Prove It” attitude more often than men. Nayak delivered a strong message to the audience to stake their professional space without asking for permission.
Cynthia Owyoung had a vision and created a candid high level professional space to unpack and discuss difficult topics for women of color, in the workplace in general, and in Silicon Valley. The impact of this conference is significant and there’s more to share in future posts. As the Fireside Chat began, moderator Rajkumari Neogy took a moment for everyone to appreciate the diversity of color and race that filled the room. The energy was tangible, and on that day, there was no better place to be.