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The lack of diversity in the technology industry is a hot-button issue right now.
Ever since the major tech companies disclosed their dismal diversity numbers the national spotlight has been on Silicon Valley for all the wrong reasons.
In a nutshell, giant technology firms heavily skew towards male, white and Asian. Disparity is even more lopsided when it comes to the demographics of black and Latina women in technical and senior managerial roles. Similarly, there’s an underrepresentation of female and minority tech entrepreneurs and they struggle to access networks, resources and funding.
Still, in recent months there’s been progress. The top players are publicly committing to diversity initiatives, with Intel, Apple and Google all pledging millions of dollars behind efforts to make the tech sector more representative of the people they serve.
The Spelman College conference focused on women in the digital space
As awareness and dialogue continues, this month’s Spelman College Leadership and Women of Color Conference aptly focused on the opportunities and challenges facing women in technology, specifically female leaders in the digital era.
Now in its 11th year, the two-day event at Atlanta’s Georgia International Convention Center brought together an esteemed group of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs, to discuss ways to build and sustain success in the digital space and rapidly growing tech economy.
“This year’s conference was a success,” said Dr. Jane Smith, Ed.D., executive director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement at Spelman. “The ultimate goal of the conference is to connect women of color from different demographics and backgrounds. Digital trendsetters were able to share strategies on how to use the digital era to combat the injustices of the world and remain at the forefront of technology.”
Prominent leaders across all facets of technology and digital industries shared their experience and knowledge to highlight key principles to achieve personal and professional success in leadership roles. Guest speakers included Washington Post’s Doris Truong; Azizah Kahera, COO for Azizah Magazine; and Ronnie Tyler, co-creator, BlackandMarriedwithKids.com.
What was refreshing was the frankness and transparency of the (mainly female) speakers, something rarely experienced at comparable conventions.
With over 300 people in attendance, the conference attracted a diverse crowd from high-ranking executives to recent graduates, with guests participating in seminars, interactive workshops and networking opportunities with honorees, speakers and sponsors.
Some of the issues discussed were the importance of being digitally fluent, skill set and platforms to build and sustain success, and the effects of technology and digital culture as it relates to leadership on a global level. Popular conference topics included: What it Takes to Balance and Thrive in the Digital Era, Civic Engagement in the Digital Era and Expanding Opportunities in the Digital Era as an Entrepreneur.
Innovative female leaders in the digital era were honored
One of the highlights was the 2015 Game Changers Awards luncheon, where female leaders in the digital era were honored for their leadership and drive for excellence. Recipients included Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code; Jacqui Chew, founder/CEO iFusion Marketing; Johnetta Elzie of thisisthemovement.org, Nicole Sanchez, founder and CEO of Vaya Consulting and Marietta Davis, VP of US Dynamics, Microsoft.
“This conference is so important because we need spaces that we can gather, particularly as women of color,” said Kathryn Finney, founder of DigitalUndivided and a 2015 Game Changers honoree, in an interview with UrbanGeekz.“There’s very few places that we can gather and have real talk about business and the challenges that are faced by us in this space.”
The Legacy of Leadership Awards Dinner honored Ayoka Chenzira, founder of Digital Moving Image Salon at Spelman College and Joanna Xu, UPS Application Development Manager. Both Chenzira and Xu shared inspirational speeches about the power of digital media and their journey to success.
The media panel was also one of the signature sessions as well-known media influencers, including Shelly Jones Jennings, Vice President of Digital, Black Enterprise, and Nina Terrero, Correspondent, Entertainment Weekly, shared their experience working in a 24/7 local news cycle and the new rules needed for responsible reporting in the digital era.
“The media panel reflected on the role of sensationalism in media coverage that portrays narrow perspectives of people of color,” said attendee Zarat Boyd.
The conference ended with a tribute to Spelman President Dr. Beverly Tatum, as she prepares to retire from Spelman. Tatum was honored with a special presentation from 13 Spelman students highlighting her achievements and accomplishments earned during her tenure as president.