ARA event a real encouragement for Chicago women in tech

December 16, 2014

  • Jessica Smith

Everyone, regardless of age or professional accomplishment, needs a role model.

This is true of women in technology, and for this reason Lextech product owner Laura Puckett and I attended a recent ARA event in Chicago at tech incubator 1871. ARA is a organization that seeks to attract, retain, and advance women in technology though mentoring and events. This particular event we attended last Wednesday, December 10, was called “Breaking Barriers: Lessons Learned from Trailblazing Women,” and was a panel discussion of female entrepreneurs and leaders in various traditionally male dominated fields.

The panel, introduced by ARA’s accomplished founders and moderated by Sandee Kastrul, president and founder of i.c. stars, provided inspiration, advice, and plenty of levity to women in IT. These same women packed the house at 1871, which at over 300 attendees had a waitlist and standing room only.

A great event that encouraged

It was one of those events that was just a pure pleasure to attend. It was well organized and coordinated. They thought of everything. There were ample volunteers, name tags, a coat rack (probably needed two more of those), plenty of delicious food and drink (catering by Girl and the Goat care of event sponsor enova), and a great audio visual setup, including screens with the WiFi password, speaker bios, and event hashtag, and instructions for connecting to the Q & A web portal.

More than the sum of the logistical parts was the quality of panelists. I enjoyed the joyful but encouraging timbre of their stories and advice. Rather than the usual lament over barriers for women in business and technology, the questions and panelists’ answers focused largely on how they did and do what they do.

A few key takeaways

  • “Remember to have a sense of humility that allows you to remain open to learning.” – Connie Lindsey
  • Don’t try to be something you’re not – Sarah Spain
  • You have something huge to offer as a woman, so celebrate and live that—don’t try to be “like a man”
  • “I saw a lot of my female peers trying to be like a man. The key, actually, is to  be yourself.” – Col. Jill Morgenthaler (Ret.)
  • Seek out honest feedback, and be receptive, even if it’s tough feedback – Stephanie Izzard
  • Have confidence when your mentors tell you you’re ready for that leap into the unknown
  • People look for three things in a leader—competency, confidence, and compassion. – Col. Jill Morgenthaler (Ret.)

Read the Chicago Tribune’s piece on the event here for other highlights and quotables, and check out the event hashtag here. You can also see some of the video here and here.

Let’s keep the conversation going

Are you a woman working in technology? Were you at the ARA event? What is some of the best advice you’ve been given? Also, do you have a mentor, and how did you find them?