I was a 30-year-old single mother, I had a steady job, and I did the unthinkable. I quit my job to start a business. I actually thought it would be easy, but I was mistaken. Shortly after starting my company, I became pregnant with my second child. Then my former employer sued me. Later, my child was diagnosed with autism and developmental delays and I thought he would never walk.
I eventually won the lawsuit (though it cost me $30,000 in legal fees). I fought the motherly battles to get my son the services he needed and see him progress (he starts kindergarten this fall). In 2008, I married my husband, a physicist, and welcomed a third son.
Having a third child brought a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. I had been happily developing a client base I loved when the prospect of maternity leave forced me to think deeply about my clients’ needs. How could I keep them happy and still have time for my family? As frightening as it was, I knew I had to hire a technician. And that is when the mentoring began.
Ryan, my technician, was an auto mechanic when I met him. A former colleague and friend knew I was looking for help in the business and told me about Ryan, who had a good work ethic and an aptitude for computers. So I interviewed him and unofficially took him on a few all-day client visits to assess his thought processes and troubleshooting ability. I hired him and taught him everything I know.
Sharing knowledge is the key to a successful mentoring relationship. That belief is reinforced for me every Monday when I mentor 15-year-old Tayler, who is my auto mechanic’s daughter. (What were the odds?) Tayler is my shadow and goes where I go. She is bright but quiet, so we started out working on her “soft” skills. How do you present yourself when you show up at a client’s office? Conveying self-confidence is critical. These are the skills I spend time on, because I can teach almost anyone to be a technician. Tayler is now working on her Windows 7 certification!
I have been speaking with my colleagues in the IT community about getting involved in mentoring. I want young women to know that IT is a viable career option. In the work I do there are multiple career paths—networking, hardware, operating systems, mobile, servers, information security, and so on. And when young women work with me they realize that these different jobs are possible, because they see me doing them. In 2011, I was awarded the Microsoft MVP for my work in the IT professional community.
I’d like to see the Sit With Me campaign (sitwithme.org) at each of the technical conferences I attend, like TechEd and SMB Nation. Sit With Me was created by members of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a nonprofit coalition that works to increase diversity in computing and IT. Microsoft has partnered with NCWIT and asks conference attendees to sit in a red chair and make a short video, and talk about why it’s important to get more women interested in technology as a career. I’m also participating in Microsoft’s MVP Student Partner mentoring program.
It’s critical to coach women on how to deal with the less-talked-about situations that can arise in technology companies. These include a lack of role models, mentors, and sponsors; inequities in performance and promotion procedures; gender-based stereotypes; and unconscious bias.
My long-term goal is to establish and build support for a nonprofit organization that coaches individuals and companies to address harassment and discrimination and teach mentoring as the solution. By speaking at events and consulting with companies, universities, and K–12 schools about these issues, the entire technical community will benefit. Companies that embrace diversity are significantly better positioned to attract and retain technical talent and have higher ROI, profits, and customer loyalty.
Ultimately, I want to give women the confidence and tools to not only embrace technology as a career, but address challenges they may face in the workplace as their career progresses.
Founder and CEO
Location: Santa Monica, Calif.
Established: November 2005
Number of employees: 3 full-time employees and 5 contractors
Company focus: We are a complete technology provider for entertainment and VIP clients in Los Angeles, in their homes and offices. Work includes managing complex messaging/Exchange environments for clients in the music business. These clients require a high level of service, are very demanding, and present unique challenges that are not present with more mainstream business clients.