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For years when I introduced Dream IT, my first presentation slide would feature a picture of an IT conference filled with men. Next, I would put up a similar image, but with an audience more balanced between men and women, while sharing the following words with the attendees “The goal of Dream IT is to make that second picture look normal.” After repeating that conversation many times over the past few years, I can proudly say that vision was realized at our 2016 CompTIA Annual Member Meeting.
It was, in fact, the most gender-balanced IT event I’ve ever attended. Forty-four percent of the speakers at AMM this year were women, nearly double that of 2015 (26%). Nearly every panel had one or more female experts sharing professional insight or industry best practices. That variety seemed to spark greater audience engagement, with more questions being asked and more input contributed by both men and women.
That type of interaction is what we need to move the industry forward. When we get more people involved (women and men) in the conversations, the ideas and opportunities will grow exponentially.
That balance was confirmed in the pictures coming out of AMM 2016. It was great seeing women take their rightful place as equal partners in the IT conversation. “I remember the days when an ITSS meeting included about 100 men and two women. This year, we had about 35% women and a wide variety of age groups represented in our meeting. It shows we are moving in the right direction,” said Sandra Ashworth, Global Director of Channel Relations and Warranty at Unisys.
The inclusion theme carried out everywhere you looked at AMM. The graphics used in the slides at the “town hall” meeting included both genders. While that may seem like a small point, it is background images like this that reinforce or, in this case, challenge the norm. Women were not only featured in expert panels and sessions, but many provided quotes for articles written by the channel media in attendance. AMM is not the only place at CompTIA with balanced gender roles. Women hold many key leadership positions in the IT industry association, from the three women who sit on our Board of Directors to those running many of our peer communities.
Our 44% female leadership representation didn’t happen by accident. That process took time and a great effort on behalf of many in the organization. We actively reached out out to identify and engage more female speakers. When you are trying to create change and overcome the often unconscious bias that exists in IT, or any culture, it requires that type of proactive effort.
The Advancing Women in IT (AWIT) Community is championing this cause. One of the group's goals for 2016 was to showcase women technical experts and leaders in IT, and the group leaders reached out to the CompTIA events team and asked for their cooperation in that effort for AMM. Special thanks to Lien Anh Van Wagner and her team. She jumped on board early on and incorporated many of the community’s ideas and speaker suggestions, and then used her own resources to make it happen.
Seeing women in leadership and shaking up our unconscious bias about gender roles in IT will help people work more comfortably with one another. That balance will also help increase problem solving and creativity, increase communication and staff development. Ultimately, it will lead to better financial performance for the companies involved.
CompTIA is leading the way in this effort, working hard to take gender balance from concept to actuality. “AMM this year stood out as an IT industry event that was truly gender-balanced. Congratulations to the CompTIA community for making this the new normal,” emphasized Amy Kardel, Co-Founder and Director of Clever Ducks and Chair of the Board of Directors for CompTIA.