Columbus Women Leading, Innovating, Engaging in Technology
The studies have reached a unanimous conclusion: when women are in charge, businesses are more likely to succeed. Still, even as businesses are diversifying their staffs, their board rooms and executive suites remain largely occupied by white men. In Columbus, the tech industry dominates the business world, and while women are far from equally represented, they’re breaking ground, innovating, creating and rallying others in the tech realm. Each woman comes with her own unique background, experiences and skill set, offering her own individual perspective on what it’s like to be a woman in tech.
Carla Easley, Tech Corps, Director of Operations
Tech Corps is dedicated to increasing youth engagement in technology. As director of operations, Easley plays the roles of recruiter, talent pool developer, program implementor, and support system to the regional directors under her.
Their programs start early, enrolling third graders in programs like Techie Camp — single-gender classes catching kids before the “leak in the pipeline,” when girls and minorities tend to turn away from interest in technology. In regular classrooms, girls can end up becoming the cheerleaders for the boys, Easley said, left out of actual projects and eventually silenced into disinterest. It’s a problem with many causes. Micro-messaging in TV and in books shows men, particularly white men, as leaders in science and math. These messages influence attitudes so that by age five, girls actually associate intelligence with being male. Carrying these social constructs into early adulthood, it’s only reinforced when math and science classes in college are majority male.
Easley has come up against this isolation in previous jobs. As usually one of few women, and even more commonly the only African-American woman, she’s seen herself be treated differently, and given different assignments and companies to recruit for. Her content knowledge and her recommendations for recruitment have been questioned, even when her candidates’ skills match or outperform those of Easley’s colleagues’ candidates.
Witnessing the absence of women and people of color in tech fields, Easley has taken it upon herself to seek people out. Utilizing LinkedIn, as well as her connections within the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), she’s played a part in increasing female and minority engagement in the technology industry.
Words of Wisdom:
“Stick with it, regardless of any obstacles or challenges.”
When Easley was questioned about her candidates’ qualifications, she didn’t sweat it, instead reassuring clients, reiterating her competence as a recruiter, and pointing to her candidates’ comparable skill sets.
Toni Cunningham, Per Scholas, Managing Director
Cunningham entered the world of technology in 2016, but she’s been in the business of developing people for most of her working life. Starting out in community service, working with women and girls to focus on meeting goals, and developing personal image and branding, she moved on to start her own professional development and life coaching business. Two years in, in 2012, Cunningham went to consult for a non-profit to retool their workforce development department. All of this led her to Per Scholas, whose core mission involves ensuring women and people of color are able to break into the technology industry.
Workplace culture is a barrier for Cunningham’s students. While employers reach out to agencies like Per Scholas for recruitment, students who end up entering those jobs might not find a friendly or socially aware environment on the other side. Additionally, implicit or even conscious biases ascribe a deficit to people of certain gender identities, and ethnic or educational backgrounds. Cunningham has felt this herself. A natural at public speaking who values preparedness, she’s often found herself questioned not for information, but to “poke holes.” She finds it a personal responsibility to expand recruitment strategies to specifically target women and minorities. That involves collaborating with employers on the training they need, as well as the workplace environment her students need when they get there. Some employers offer prayer rooms and lactation rooms, creating a culture where colleagues respect what each other has to offer.
“Others are like, ‘You figure it out,’” Cunningham said, which results in high turnover. In order to obtain and retain a workforce, employers need to heed her advice and adapt.
Words of Wisdom:
Cunningham sees math and science engagement as a multilevel process. For young girls with a newfound love for science: “If playing with the icky stuff is what you like, play with the icky stuff.”
For young women in high school she encourages early engagement in career preparation: “Get into an organization like Tech Corps so you can have a relationship with tech while you’re in school.”
And for women still searching for the right career: “Determine what you need to get where you want to be,” and “Find organizations like ours where we can get you there in short order.”
Heather Whaling, Geben Communication, President
Whaling started Geben Communication in 2009. As president, she oversees a team of “curious technologists who are constantly looking for new ways to innovate PR best practices.” Roughly a third to one half of Geben’s clients are startups and emerging brands. Using her innate enjoyment of following tech trends, Whaling leads a company that uses traditional and digital PR strategies to maximize her clients’ outreach.
Three and a half years ago, when Geben was four years old and Whaling was pregnant with her son, Whaling had to confront age-old gender roles. Despite being asked about plans for “slowing down,” and assumptions that running Geben and being a good mother are mutually exclusive, Geben’s growth accelerated during her early motherhood. Her team grew from four to 26, and they spilled out into a second office, and “I have a happy, healthy, very smart, loving, kind child.”
While the lack of affordable childcare remains a barrier for women coming up in the workforce, Whaling acknowledges that she was better off than most. With an office in close proximity to her house, and a babysitter to be there when she couldn’t, Whaling counts herself lucky in that regard. To ensure parenting doesn’t interfere with her employees, she’s implemented her own paid family leave policy at Geben, granting both women and men the time to take off for a new baby, natural born or adopted.
Words of Wisdom:
“Build a strong network of women who can support and amplify and encourage you.”
Whaling is on the board at the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, which, on top of her majority-female workplace, provides her with a built-in community of women who are willing to make introductions, answer questions, and aid in her struggles.
Falon Donohue, Venture Ohio, CEO
As CEO of Venture Ohio, Donohue spends her days drumming up business for Ohio, but her dive into technology started much earlier. An instinctual being, Donohue said she doesn’t deliberate much, unblinkingly making impulsive decisions, like joining the National Guard two days after her 18th birthday. As an early adaptor, she prides herself on being one of the first to try something new. She brought this part of herself in at the start of her career, working in business development for office technology companies, which basically entailed meeting business needs with technical solutions.
In her current position, Donohue “sells” Ohio, touting the state’s research institutions, like OSU and Battelle. Although her board of directors is entirely male, Donohue’s team is made up of women, and she said her ideas are supported rather than ignored. When she was first entering the tech workforce, this wasn’t the case, having had to work around her youth and gender to convince clients of her technical knowledge, but she said that is “changing very rapidly.”
To keep it changing, Donohue puts it partially on women who’ve risen to the top to reach down and lift other women up.
Words of Wisdom:
“Support each other.”
Listen to podcasts featuring powerful women, subscribe to their blog posts, and tout other women’s accomplishments.
Kimberly Clavin, Pillar Technology, Engineer/Educator/Innovator
Clavin has dappled in most things tech, but found her niche at Pillar, where she’s able to combine her passions for teaching and innovating. Her job involves solving business needs through client collaboration. In an environment without walls or constraints, Clavin works alongside her clients, simultaneously developing the product and training them in Pillar philosophies and ways, resulting in “rock solid code.”
Her personal interest lies in the Internet of Things and wearable technology. At conferences she introduces this idea using novelty items, like an armpit fan that flips on when it senses sweat. From there she looks at how wearable technology is changing not just devices, but the automotive, retail and healthcare industries. Tech development in these areas are interesting to Clavin, because they connect the creator with the end product. She’s not in a cubicle crunching numbers and reviewing data; she’s creating a product and seeing that product’s real life impact.
A self-described tomboy at an early age and a believer in the phrase “Geek is the new chic,” Clavin admits that she’s ignored much of the adversity she’s no doubt experienced. Still, having worked with many more men than women, she’s trained herself in ways of speaking with men that won’t come off as nagging, yelling or complaining. Working at Pillar has offered her a rather anxiety-free work environment. The company employs a “No Constraints” policy, preventing any idea from being immediately smacked down.
Words of Wisdom:
“Dig in, be bold, and know your value.”
There’s no way to get the raise or the promotion unless it’s asked for.
Annie Kentris Arthur, Juggle, CEO
Arthur isn’t exactly tech savvy, but she and her business partners haven’t let that stop them from creating Juggle, an app aimed at dissolving issues surrounding nanny planning. Arthur, her sister Emily Kentris, and their twin friends Amber Lear Nolan and Ashlee Lear Gianetti launched Juggle in October of last year, but the planning started in 2015.
It arose out of a conflict and a need for a solution. After Nolan’s nanny quit, the new mother of twins needed someone fast. Uncomfortable with care websites sending perfect strangers to her home, she “borrowed” Arthur’s nanny. Nolan had never met her, but she felt more comfortable with her because she had Arthur’s stamp of approval. When that nanny wasn’t available, and she suggested her roommate to step in for her, Nolan agreed again, having known the original nanny and trusting her recommendations. Eventually this texting-heavy coordination became cumbersome and time-consuming.
To streamline the process, Juggle recruits potential caregivers, builds a network based on social media connections and community filters, and makes babysitters as available as Uber drivers. While they haven’t been behind computer screens coding and developing the app itself, their input is what created it, and their engagement with customer feedback is what keeps it evolving.
Arthur and her partners have sought help from leaders all over the tech and business world, and went to Rev1 Ventures for help with their startup. The four women, interacting and taking advice from a community run largely by men, are “hard to silence,” Arthur said. And although they were eager to absorb any available information, Arthur said the foursome felt comfortable using their guts and instincts to guide them.
Words of Wisdom:
“Don’t ever think that you can’t do something that only a man typically does.”
Arthur, Kentris, Nolan and Gianetti had never launched an app before, but, feeling a desperate need for the service, “ignored the naysayers” and launched Juggle with no reservations.
Our new technology series is presented by our partners at TCETRA.
TCETRA is a software development company based in Dublin, Ohio. Since 2007, the company has been focused on serving the prepaid wireless industry through the development of specific business tools, software, and applications. Our team is made up of talented technical and creative professionals dedicated to delivering innovative solutions to complex problems and helping grow the technology community in Columbus and the Midwest.