By Brian Heuberger
On Fri. June 10, the Colorado Technology Association‘s Women in Technology Conference celebrated the many women who contribute to the thriving technology industry in the Denver area.
Held at the Botanical Gardens, the all-day event featured about 600 attendees along with numerous speakers and a keynote address from Comcast CFO Catherine Avgiris. Many advantages accompanied the event. The conference celebrated the women in the technology industry, addressed issues that still challenge women in the industry, and offered beneficial advice and powerful inspiration to help the attendees achieve success for themselves and maintain solidarity as a group.
The roundtable setting was an essential aspect of the conference. The attendees were divided into round tables with approximately 10 women at every table. Each table was led by a luminary, or discussion leader. After every program of speeches, the luminaries would facilitate table conversations, enabling the women to share their experiences, foster connections, and exchange their ideas.
Many themes were addressed in the soaring keynote speech of Avgiris. She summarized the journey of her impressive career while also incorporating messages of encouragement. Avgiris discussed the start of her career in finance roles, her transition to the cable industry, and the many challenges she overcame and triumphs she achieved while working with Comcast for 23 years and while serving as a leader in the organization.
Avgiris emphasized the significance of setting goals and relentlessly striving towards those goals.
“It doesn’t matter what shape the goals take or what they are,” said Avgiris, “but if you don’t set goals the long and winding road of life will lead you nowhere. If you don’t set goals then you can’t see whether or not your everyday actions are helping you climb the mountain. I’ve always set goals for myself, both personally and professionally.”
“As women, we have to be bold enough to take nontraditional roles and break down the barriers that can hold us back.”
Avgiris also expressed the importance of performing at exceptional levels to fulfill our potential and progress towards our goals. “Title was always much less important to me than my ability to keep moving forward,” said Avgiris. “I live by the motto, ‘You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.’ I really believe that you have to be excellent and I challenge you to be excellent in whatever you decide to do.”
The keynote speech also focused on learning new skills to accommodate the tech industry. Many of the attendees at the event worked in the tech industry but served nontechnical roles, such as marketing, sales, and HR positions. This was also the case with Avgiris, who had a finance background and then needed to learn about technology to effectively lead Comcast projects.
“You have to get out of your comfort zone, you have to develop new proficiencies,” said Avgiris. “To be selected for top management jobs, it’s necessary to have diverse experience across different functional areas. That means breaking down the glass walls so you can break through the glass ceiling. As women we have to be bold enough to take nontraditional roles and break down the barriers that can hold us back.”
Solidarity was a primary theme of the speech and of the Conference. Throughout the speech, Avgiris frequently returned to a metaphor of multiple people climbing up a mountain. She described how each climber must reach up to receive help from those above them and then reach back to help the climbers below them.
It’s a device that accurately describes the crucial function of solidarity and mentorship among women in the tech industry.
“I really believe that you can’t reach the mountaintop if you don’t have great coaches, and that’s how I think about mentors,” said Avgiris. “Leaders are looking for ways to inspire the next generation of leaders; to share their learnings, pay it forward, and help the next climber ascend; to encourage potential in someone, and help them set goals and make sure they strive towards them every day.”
Avgiris also encouraged the attendees to capitalize on having mentors. “Be proactive, take advantage of the opportunity you have, be ready to implement new ideas, be willing to listen, show commitment, ask questions, and extend your hand out.”
The theme of unified solidarity was also perpetuated in the speeches that followed. In the Art of Being a Sponsor program, mentor Molly Rauzi and her protégé Dionne Gomez urged the attendees to receive support from mentors who have experience in the tech industry and who understand the challenges women often face in the industry.
However, an ongoing problem in the tech industry was addressed by Molly Kocialski, the Director of the Rocky Mountain U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although women have made progress, the overwhelming majority of jobs in the tech industry are still occupied by men. As a result, Kocialski remarked on the lack of women in the tech industry and the disproportionately small number of women who hold patents. This is detrimental to the tech industry, for it would benefit from having more women offering diverse perspectives, generating innovative ideas, and helping to target female customers.
Kocialski also articulated solutions to alleviate these issues. For instance, TechWomen and STEM programs can equip women with tech skills and encourage them to join the industry. Celebrating prestigious female inventors and engineers can also entice more women to work in the field. Additionally, events like the Women in Technology Conference can substantially increase the size of the female tech workforce.