Women in Technology: Supporting Diversity and Inclusivity at NC State
The Women in Technology Steering Committee members include: Associate Vice Provost for Academic Technology Innovation, DELTA, Donna Petherbridge; NC State Chief Information Security Officer, OIT, Mardecia Bell; Assistant Vice Chancellor, Technology Support Services, OIT, Susan West; Assistant Vice Chancellor, Enterprise Application Services, OIT, Gwen Hazelhurst; Director of IT at the College of Sciences, Debbie Carraway; Associate Director for the Digital Library at the NC State University Libraries, Jill Sexton.
Several years ago, when Donna Petherbridge first began thinking of the idea for a group to bring women in technology together, a colleague suggested the timing wasn’t right and that it would shift the focus from other initiatives in the field.
So, she waited.
But in 2019, when Petherbridge began working more closely with other women in technology leadership positions at NC State, she realized that the time to start an official group is now.
“I asked several of my female colleagues across campus in senior-level tech positions whom I work closely with and whom I admire for their work ethic, their candor, their enthusiasm and their personal stories to join me in getting this going — and they agreed,” says Petherbridge.
Petherbridge, along with Mardecia Bell, Susan West, Gwen Hazelhurst, Debbie Carraway, and Jill Sexton got to work on creating the Women in Technology (WIT) interest group, which kicked off with a presentation at the IT Community Event.
Through meetups and events, the WIT group hopes to:
- Foster networking and communication among individuals who are in different teams across campus.
- Encourage women to connect with other women in roles they aspire to.
- Encourage women who are seasoned professionals to make time for mentoring.
- Identify opportunities on campus for collaborating with students.
The first meeting is a “coffee and conversations” meetup where participants can get to know each other and gather ideas for discussion topics and future activities. The event will be Jan. 10, 2020, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. at the Port City Java inside Talley Student Union.
“I’d really like women across campus in tech to feel like this will help them establish a network of people they can talk to and learn from, and that we can all support each other,” says Petherbridge.
Support from male colleagues is also of importance to Petherbridge. NC State’s Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer, has shown his support by signing the EDUCAUSE’s CIO commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in October 2018. Other male colleagues have expressed support (with several of them attending the kickoff meeting at the IT Community Event) and want to be good allies for both women and non-binary colleagues.
Stories from the Women in Tech
“Sharing our journey and experiences to help other women in a similar situation is key. We hope the Women in Tech group provides this and more,” says Mardecia Bell, chief information security officer in the Office of Information Technology.
Each of the women involved in starting WIT have a unique story and journey to their current positions, but they also have shared similar experiences as women in the tech field. Many of these experiences are the reasons why the WIT group assembled.
Debbie Carraway, the director of IT in the College of Sciences, felt pressure early in her career to accept sexist jokes and misogynistic behavior in order to fit in with her colleagues and not be seen as sensitive.
“Growing confidence in myself as a leader made it possible for me to change my approach,” she adds.
Confidence has been an important part of these women’s journeys. For Petherbridge, there were times early in her career when she experienced male colleagues interrupting and a sense of not necessarily feeling welcome in a meeting.
“I have enough confidence now that I know I not only belong in meetings, but I’m often in a position where I need to lead meetings,” she says. “Becoming more confident and experienced over time, and gaining the respect of others by following through on action items I have committed to has worked for me.”
Jill Sexton, associate director for the Digital Library at NC State University Libraries, echoes similar experiences.
“I have learned how to become an advocate for myself and others. It really helps if you can recruit some partners to amplify your advocacy,” she says. “It can be as simple as making a point to hear from every voice at a meeting, or supporting the ideas of others and giving them credit for having the idea.”
This insight is just one example of the kinds of advice the WIT group hopes to bring to others in similar situations.
Sexton adds, “Even today, women can be overlooked for professional development or career advancement opportunities, especially when they have children at home because their managers assume that their families are more important to them than their careers. I’m grateful to be in a position today where I can push back on those assumptions when needed.”
And speaking of families, Petherbridge notes, “For me, becoming a mom helped me grow as a human being more than about anything else that has happened in my life — making me more organized, empathetic and patient than I ever imagined I could be. These characteristics help make me a strong leader.”
The WIT interest group is open to all — women, those who identify as women, non-binary individuals, male colleagues and anyone else who is supportive of getting more diversity in tech and helping elevate conversations of inclusion and belonging within all of our organizations.
“While our focus is on women in technology, we acknowledge that the tech fields need all of us, and that ultimately, what we want is for our field to be more representative of the constituents that we serve, which means that tech needs more diversity than it has now,” says Petherbridge. “This is not a unique problem to NC State; the lack of diversity in higher education information technology is a recognized problem.”