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Women in Technology Group Promotes Male Perspective on Diversity

Panel discussions held to address the challenges of women and technology can be pretty predictable. Breaking the mold, one chapter of Women in Technology (WIT) is taking a creative approach to drive conversations that are as inclusive as the partner channel they envision. And as a side benefit, participants are likely to gain as much as they give.

For the past four years, the WIT special interest group of the Chicago chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) has held a panel presentation, "The Male Perspective -- Women, IT and Leadership." The brain child of Sharan Hildebrand, vice president of sales at Capax Global LLC, the annual event takes a unique approach to the women-in-tech topic.

"It's a provocative title. It does sometimes spark, I wouldn't go as far as to say controversy, but people will roll their eyes and say, 'Really? Women in IT and you have like an all-male panel,'" said Hildebrand, who also serves as IAMCP's U.S. central region WIT chair. "I stay true to it and I think taking a provocative approach does pique people's interest. There's nothing garden variety about it."

The intention of the panel is to give men in IT the opportunity to share their experiences of working with, working for and leading teams that include women. Hildebrand identifies the three to five participants for each panel through the IAMCP network.

"They are hand-picked typically because we know that they have strong agendas or they're strong supporters of women in leadership and entrepreneurship," said Hildebrand. "So, it's typically a mix. We always have one or two people from Microsoft plus a number of male executives in the IT industry."

To avoid the standard panel discussion format where participants take turns answering the same question, Hildebrand interviews the panelists ahead of time to find the deeper stories that will deliver more impact.

"Some people talk about women that they work for, you know, lessons learned," explained Hildebrand. "Some interviewees have gone back to childhood and talked about how diversity inclusion and female influences have impacted them at a very early age. Some start at college, some start at their first career. I'll ask a bunch of open-ended questions, but I'm looking for something just meaty and delicious that we can turn into a lesson, or maybe even an 'a ha' moment for the audience."

One such story is documented in the thoughtful post, "'Women in Technology' Panel: I Learned More Than I Contributed," by John Simpson, CEO of One North Interactive, who shared his experience participating on one of the WIT panels. In preparation for the panel, Simpson met with a group of women from his company for an open conversation about their challenges and opportunities. As he details in the blog post, he learned much and was "absolutely floored" by some of the comments from the women.     

Awareness is only one of the outcomes the events are aimed to address. "There are takeaways we want people to have like, 'OK, well that's an interesting idea. Let me try that at my workplace. Or maybe it's a program that I need to be more aware of and let me suggest this to HR. Or maybe I just need to be more mindful,'" said Hildebrand. "If one person even has the idea and shares that idea with somebody else, it's a win in my opinion."

The "The Male Perspective -- Women, IT and Leadership" event has grown over the past four years with over 60 people attending the last session. The percentage of men in the audience has also grown from about 10 to 30 percent, reflecting the value of inclusive dialogue. Promoted through IAMCP to Chicago's greater tech community, the panel has become the premier annual event for the Chicago WIT chapter.

The success of the male perspective panel is likely to launch similar events in the fast-growing network of IAMCP WIT chapters around the globe. After successfully hitting their goal of 50 WIT chapters before July's Microsoft Inspire conference, an additional 16 chapters are in the process of forming.   

While there is no easy solution to the diversity challenges we face in the Microsoft partner community, putting all our heads together to solve those challenges together is the only way out. Programs that promote conversations from all perspectives will help point us in the right direction.

How are you promoting diversity in your business or community? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 31, 2017 at 8:26 AM