Celebrating the Value of Women in Tech

More than 100 women joined the Foster School of Business for a night of networking, learning and encouragement — celebrating the value of women in tech. From the moment the doors opened, welcoming the growing line outside, to the late-night networking introductions, the room was buzzing with energy and excitement!

MSIS board member and Alaska Airlines VP, CIO, Charu Jain kicked off the night by introducing our panelists, a diverse, highly experienced group of individuals who have all reached C-Suite level roles in their respective industries. Our panelists included: Julie Averill, EVP, CTO at lululemon; Lily Ley, VP, CIO at PACCAR; Sue Taylor, CIO at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Margaret Hopkins, VP, CIO, Puget Sound Energy; Bob Bruns, CIO and CISO, Avanade.

Even during the introductions, the camaraderie on stage was palpable. Margaret Hopkins gestured to her fellow panelists stating, “Being a leader requires a strong network. We all learn from each other and lean on each other.” And learning from this strong group of leaders is exactly what the audience came to do. Here’s a look at some of the evening’s highlights and our key takeaways.

On Being Bold

When asked about a time when a bold decision changed the trajectory of their careers, there was a common thread regarding short-term pain leading to long-term success. On this, Julie Averill says, “I left a good job to become an intern, but it was a big reset to reach toward a long-term goal.” Many of her peers shared similar sentiments including making big geographical moves in pursuit of career growth. For example, Lily Ley moved her young family from Mexico and Bob Bruns moved from Chicago after spending 14 years at the same company.

Another shared piece of advice among the panelists was to stay open to new opportunities.

Having goals shouldn’t mean being inflexible. Writing down your goals is a good idea, but if you’re staring at your list, you can’t see when the door is open.”

-Sue Taylor, CIO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Margaret Hopkins echoes this, sharing that you need to be open to the people around you — she says, “The people around you can help you understand your potential. The people supporting me along the way saw things I couldn’t identify in myself and pushed me to pursue higher roles.”

On Being Intentional

A critical piece of intentionally building a career path is finding the right mentor, and one of the best pieces of advice shared on the topic was to let the relationship evolve naturally. Lily Ley says of her mentorship experiences, “Your mentor needs to know your strengths and weaknesses and provide direct feedback — they need to know you well.”

Both [mentor and mentee] have to match the work. If you want a mentor, take an active role and don’t wait to be assigned one.”

-Julie Averill, EVP and CTO, lululemon

Our panelists also stressed the importance of gracefully receiving feedback when building relationships with a mentor, and not being reactive when it’s constructive advice. Hopkins says, “If you’ve built a trusting relationship, know they have your best interest in mind. Actively listen to what someone is saying, but wait to digest the information.”

On Being Memorable

As emerging leaders work to climb the corporate ladder, we often feel the need to strike a careful balance between speaking up and being seen as ‘acting strategically.’ Fortunately, for such a complicated topic, the advice we received from our experts was simple: Be genuine.

On this, Bob Bruns says, “The best thing you can do is be courageous and put your hand up. If you’re thinking it, others probably are too.”

Don’t overthink it, and don’t over-develop what you want to say. If you believe in what you’re saying, don’t worry about perception.”

-Lily Ley, VP and CIO, PACCAR Inc.

Hopkins also shared great advice for avoiding negative perceptions. She says, “Talk straight. Be specific, but also state your intentions. Make your voice heard, but by stating your intentions, no one can create their own story about what you’re saying.”

Final Thoughts

In Charu Jain’s opening remarks, she challenged the audience to consider our unique superpowers — to ask ourselves how we’ll use them to help ourselves and uplift others when the night is over. And after an evening of engaging discussion, thoughtful insights and new connections, we were left with a greater understanding that the key to a bold, intentional and memorable career as women in tech is exactly that: Harnessing our unique qualities, and remaining authentic even when times get tough.

Learn more about MSIS Women in Tech Leadership Series!