SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit 2022: The Strong Impact of Female Tech Leaders

During the panel session “Leading (Women!) Through Technology Innovation” at the SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit 2022 on 4th Nov in Los Angeles, Women in Technology: Hollywood (WiTH) Leadership Award nominees discussed their impact as technology leaders within their organisations.

The Summit was co-located with the Infinity Festival Hollywood event, and held as both a live, in-person event and online via the MESAverse virtual platform.

Panellists discussed their individual career paths while focusing on the technology innovations that made the most impact on their career paths as well as the mentors and allies who helped along the way.

They also discussed how to motivate teams and inspire women to move beyond their comfort zones.

Anna Claiborne, co-founder and CTO of PacketFabric, noted that company is her third startup.

Meanwhile, it was “like a dream coming true” for Albertina Cardiel Chavez, IT governance, risk and compliance director and CyberSec evangelist at Softtek Integration Systems, to come to the US and see Hollywood for the first time “coming from my very small town in Mexico,” she said.

Light Bulb Moments

Moving on to discuss the intersection between leadership, career paths and technology, moderator Guy Finley, executive director of WiTH Foundation and president and CEO of MESA, asked panellists “when the light bulb moment” happened and they decided “I want to do this” as a career.

For Claiborne, it was after she applied for a shotgun genome sequencing position at Genentech and was told she needed a PhD for that role, she recalled, adding they instead offered her an entry-level position, which she declined.

She instead decided to get involved with her first technology start-up, a company doing distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation, she noted, adding: “That kind of launched me on my entire trajectory for where I am now in technology…. I guess I just didn’t see that it was the path until I got that kick.”

For Chavez, it was after learning how to do computer coding at an early age that she convinced her parents to move to another city in another state where there would be more career opportunities for her, she recalled. At university, she received a scholarship because of her programming skills and was able to go to Spain, she said. “That really helped me to see that there was another opportunity for me, not just to stay at my home, but even to travel. And since then, I have been traveling a lot.”

Chavez eventually shifted to a career in cybersecurity after studying while on maternity leave, she said.

For James Andrews, founder of Creator Mode Studios, it was after becoming  interested in programming computer games at a young age, he recalled, noting he became a computer tutor in junior high school and then went to Palo Alto High School.

“I went to a high school where even thugs who would beat you up … wrote code,” he recalled with a laugh.

He went on to work in the Black music division of Columbia Records, where he said, none of the artists he worked with, including Beyonce and Lauryn Hill, understood websites. Andrews said he felt it was really important that Black artists understood websites and he encouraged them to add web maintenance to their contracts because all the other bands had that in their contracts already.

He went on to work at Ketchum’s Omnicom public relations division and said he convinced that firm to let him build a social media division within the agency to sell social media services (inspired by work that Barack Obama had been doing).

He went on to move to Los Angeles to work in venture capital and said he “became disillusioned with the lack of opportunities” for creators. “I felt there was an opportunity for them to do more, and so that’s when I recently raised some capital to launch” Creator Mode Studios, he recalled.

And Eric Iverson, director of product strategy at Amazon Studios, said he “grew up as a musician and played competitive baseball” in school and then became interested in computers and learned software development, which he called similar to writing music.

The Need to Take Risks

What Chavez has learned over the years is that some female leaders “don’t want to take” risks at the companies they work at, she said. “There is a thing that we tell ourselves that we cannot do it or, if I do it, someone is going to say something back and I don’t want to take that challenge.”

Three major issues remain obstacles for females in the workplace, she said, pointing to the lack of equal pay, not asking for salary increases and the need to make girls familiar with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at an early age.

When it comes to salaries, she said, many women have been given the flexibility to work from home and that’s enough for them and they don’t ask for salary increases also.

Agreeing, Claiborne said: “Out of all of the younger people that I’ve worked with throughout my career, one of the biggest things that I see is young women especially are afraid to ask for what they’re worth. That is one of the most interesting trends that I’ve noticed. And time is valuable. Your time is always valuable. And that’s the mantra that I keep preaching especially to women because they need to hear it.”

Claiborne went on to say: “Whenever you go to … a start-up, people are going to call you an idiot. They’re going to call you incapable. They’re going to call you insane. And maybe even more than that. And, to me, if anything, that’s a signal that you’re on the right track because anyone who’s ever done anything great has been called exactly those things. And it takes a long time for people to come around.”

That, she said, is one of the big similarities she’s noticed between the telecom and media and entertainment sectors. What both industries suffer from tends to be a “very long legacy of entrenched thinking that needs disruption to function better in the next generation of the world,” she said.

Meanwhile, when it comes to mentorship, she said, “just because you can’t help everyone doesn’t mean you can’t help anyone.” Similarly, it is also important to encourage females from a young age to show them what’s possible when they get older as far as careers are concerned, she said.

Concluding, she said: “That’s the one thing that I would encourage…. Just because you can’t do, just because you can’t do anything on a big scale, if you change one person, like even one girl’s mind about something, you’ve essentially changed the world.”

The SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit was presented by Ateliere with sponsorship by Amazon Studios, Softtek, Fortinet, Prime Video, SHI, Amazon Web Services, PacketFabric and Presidio.

To learn more about MESA’s events, contact [email protected].