Men should be Involved in Women in Tech Initiatives, Panelists Say at Tech Council Event
Photo: Panelists for the Women in Tech forum at Vonage in early August. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Panelists for the Women in Tech forum at Vonage in early August. | Esther Surden

Men are essential to the success of women-in-tech movements as mentors, supporters and as guardians of company cultures said  panelists at the New Jersey Tech Council’s Women in Tech Forum, held on August 2 at the headquarters of Vonage, in Holmdel.

The standing-room-only event highlighted the role of men in women-in-tech initiatives, and there was an exciting conversation that revealed diverse perspectives among the panel and audience.

The morning kicked off with a networking breakfast sponsored by Vonage in a room packed with men and women who were at various points in their careers. The crowd was welcomed by Laura Colon, regional director at Vonage.

The panelists included Zina Hassel, president of ZLH Enterprises (Manalapan); Brittany Jacobs, product developer at Vydia (Holmdel); Cathy C. Smith, co-organizer of Women in Tech NJ & NY Meetup(Newark); and Elaine Zundl, research director at the Center for Women & Work, at Rutgers University. The panel was moderated by Nikey Saint Elien, New Jersey Tech Council events and outreach coordinator.

Since the New Jersey Tech Council began its Women in Tech program, there has been discussion about how men should be included in this initiative, St. Elien told the crowd. Some of the questions that came up were, “Should men be included in panels for their points of view?,” “Should they be encouraged to attend these events?” and “Should events remain ‘by women and for women’?”

Most panelists said that they appreciated men’s points of view, wanted to involve them in solving the cultural problems that crop up in tech workplaces, and appreciated the men who attended the event. Men in the audience talked about what they do on a day-to-day basis to level the playing field for their women counterparts.

Some other takeaways:

Several panelists agreed that mentorship was essential for individuals who are progressing in their corporate careers. Here is some of what they said:

  • “Find a mentor. A mentor is just the best thing that can happen to anyone,” Hassel told the group. She was mentored in management for about eight years, and learned how to never take “no” for an answer. “And that is a credo I live by.”
  • Smith explained that some of her best mentors were men who helped her climb the professional ladder.
  • Smith added that it’s important for women to have mentors to help guide them in the right direction for their careers, but they should seek mentors regardless of gender.
  • And she noted that the Women in Tech Meetup has been a resource for women in her region, helping them to find mentors to enrich their professional endeavors and to help them handle challenging situations in the workplace.

Discussing how women in tech roles handle subtle sexism in the workplace, panelists and audience members agreed that times are changing in some organizations.

  •  Jacobs said that as a product developer, her ability to move up or be accepted into a job has been solely based on her abilities as well as the quality and efficiency of her work.
  • She feels that sometimes women might not feel ready for a new role or may not necessarily aspire to move into higher positions, so they choose not to, which is also okay.

The panel agreed that men should be involved in the initiative, so that they can help women-in-tech movements progress.

  • Hassel said that excluding men from movements to promote women in tech would only further the gap the movements are trying to bridge.
  • Panelists agreed that the point of the women-in-tech movements is not to create a divide, but to help the culture at tech companies evolve to become more supportive of all employees, regardless of gender.
  • Encouraging men to attend these forums and conferences is integral in helping them realize exactly how they can become involved and engaged in the discussion.
  • Audience member Jennifer Barker, senior business development strategist at SEMGeeks (Belmar) digital agency, commented on the narrative women are often giving young girls. She pointed out that, if we continue to harp on the inequalities of the past, we are planting a negative and untrue seed in their minds about men in their future.

Zundl shared some valuable insights from her own research on women in tech industries, including statistics that she had gathered and accounts that other women had given her about their own experiences.

  • She is working on a study about the barriers women face on entering the tech sector.
  • Her research includes interviews with women who feel they cannot talk about their families to their colleagues at tech companies, or that there’s informal networking going on among the men in their groups, from which they’re excluded.
  • A cultural shift needs to happen in order for women to feel embraced by the tech sector, she concluded.

[The New Jersey Tech Council is holding a Women in Tech Conference, to be hosted at NJIT, in Newark on Oct. 11.]

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