Business, Features

Tech event encourages businesswomen in STEM

Janet Slifka of Amazon Echo discusses the reasons for her unusually woman-heavy team, during a panel for a networking event called "Women in Tech: Careers Beyond {Coding}" in Cambridge on Tuesday. The panel, which talked about jobs in the engineering world, included several leading women in the industry. PHOTO BY SOFIA FARENTINOS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Janet Slifka of Amazon Echo discusses the reasons for her unusually woman-heavy team, during a panel for a networking event called “Women in Tech: Careers Beyond {Coding}” in Cambridge on Tuesday. The panel, which talked about jobs in the engineering world, included several leading women in the industry. PHOTO BY SOFIA FARENTINOS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

When a conversation about women in the tech industry begins, it usually focuses on the lack of female engineers, coders and developers. That all changed Tuesday morning in Cambridge.

A breakfast and networking event called “Women in Tech: Careers Beyond {Coding}” worked to expand people’s views on the traditional “woman in tech” role.

The Capital Network, a Boston nonprofit that provides financial education and programming for entrepreneurs, teamed up with She Geeks Out to coordinate the panelist discussion and networking event. She Geeks Out is an organization that hosts monthly events for women in STEM throughout Boston and Cambridge.

Capital Network’s Executive Director Meredith Sandiford spoke about the various topics panelists would discuss, in an interview before the discussion.

“We want to get into what the struggles are, what it’s like to be in the tech field and get into the real dirt of what reality is versus what the high-level conversations might be on it,” Sandiford said.

Kara Miller, who launched and manages Women Entrepreneurs Boston, was the keynote speaker. The panel featured four women in the tech and engineering industry, including Janet Slifka, a research manager at Amazon, and Jia Xu, a Boston University postgrad biomedical engineering student and the genomic science lead at IBM Watson Health.

Panelists would touch on family life, mentorship, networking and resources for women looking to become involved in the tech industry, Sandiford said.

“Find somebody that can help you make connections and just be a support network and [teach you] how to utilize those networks,” she said.

The event, though, wasn’t intended only for women.

“It’s also good for people that are not necessarily females, but males who are thinking about diversifying their team,” Sandiford said. “If you’re a startup or entrepreneur and you look around and realize you have about five people on your team, you want to change that. It’s about a lot more than just hiring the first woman that walks in the door.”

In a joint interview before the talk, She Geeks Out Co-Founders Felicia Jadczak and Rachel Murray said the panelists would talk about the numerous ways women can become involved with tech careers.

“I think as the industry changes and evolves, there’s more opportunity to be in the space in a broader and more inclusive way than we would have considered that to be the case 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Murray said.

Murray added that the event, which attracted around 75 attendees, served as an inviting, “low-pressure environment” for people to learn and talk about shared issues and network.

Jadczak, who also works as a program manager for VMware, emphasized the variety of non-traditional roles women can fill in the tech industry, by reflecting on her own experiences.

“I’m constantly working as a liaison between engineers and the rest of the company,” Jadczak said. “That necessitates having this really broad knowledge of the engineering side, finance side, marketing side. Having exposure to a lot of those things doesn’t make me any less of a woman in tech than someone who is [web] developing and doesn’t necessarily wear a ton of hats.”

It took a while for her to “own that identity” of being considered a woman in tech, Jadczak said, and she hoped the discussion would inspire attendees to listen and learn.

“If someone comes to the event and someone gets to sit in a room with a bunch of really smart, intelligent women, and if that makes them see things in a different light,” Jadczak said, “I think that will be really great.”

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