Women in technology today still occasionally need to feel comfortable with being the only female in the room. To the women who gathered at Viacom's New York office recently for the fourth official Tech Bae networking event, comfortable as they are, the gender imbalance in tech is something they intend to change.
Tech Bae was born over an informal night out for Viacom's vice president, partnership development, Seema Patel; FreeWheel's senior vice president, strategic initiatives, Sarah Foss; Operative's senior vice president, customer success, Brenda Garcia; Railroad 19's business development executive, Heather McCrea; and Spectrum Reach's vice president strategic initiatives, Christina Villano. As they talked, they realized that while they were glad to have seats at the proverbial table themselves and to have peers with whom to discuss challenges, they wanted to open doors for other women in adtech. Opening those doors is the raison d'être for the organization they now call Tech Bae.
As Villano explained to those present at the start of the recent event, the term Bae, meaning "Before Anyone Else," sums up the approach they are taking: creating events and conversations that are inclusive (open to women, non-binary attendees, and men at all stages of their careers), welcoming, friendly and comfortable, and making the growth and success of others paramount.
"Whether it's about your work life, your home life, changes at your company — whatever your current challenges are, Tech Bae reminds you that you are not alone and that, together, we can make an impact. And for those of us at more senior levels, it's a reminder that we have an obligation to pay it forward, mentor, and advocate for our sisters to join us," Patel said during an opening panel at the recent event.
Garcia added: "I'll call it out to my colleagues when I walk into a room where everyone else seems to be white and male, and the imbalance is striking. But I know there are women who find it harder to speak up. Having access to a group like this makes it easier for them to know that it should be different."
Villano pointed out that while there are many professional organizations focused on empowering women, also supported by companies in the industry, Tech Bae fills a unique need. "While our founders are all at a fairly senior level, Tech Bae is about bringing women at all levels together — particularly those [who are] new to ad tech — in a natural, casual, organic way," she said, "as a force for good."
The founders' employers have been supportive of the organization. And the willingness of companies, such as Viacom, to host events has removed barriers like attendees needing to pay in order to attend. "It demonstrates their commitment to diversity and inclusion in tech," said McCrea, emphasizing the founders' gratitude for their employers' and colleagues' enthusiasm and support.
The attendees' enthusiasm for the messages of defining success on their own terms, seeing women like them in leadership roles, and encouraging newcomers was clear. Garcia, a self-described "Dominican from the Bronx" who mentioned her admiration for the bold attitude of pop star Cardi B, was immediately surrounded by a group of young women from Girls Who Code after the opening panel; they all exchanged contact information to become Baes for each other.
Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., a business psychologist and leadership coach, moderated the panel. She reminded the audience that women are underrepresented at senior levels across many industries, particularly in technology. Melnick spoke of her work fighting gender bias and encouraging executives, such as the Bae founders, to see the roles that resilience, confidence, and influence play in empowering women in the workplace.
The founders wore white to the event, making themselves easier for attendees to identify and connect with during the networking portion of the evening — a nod to their commitment to being accessible to others. The color also evoked the spirit of women's rights activism because American suffragettes famously dressed in white.
Foss acknowledged that wearing white was an unusual choice, particularly for an event in New York — even a summer one. "It doesn't feel entirely good, but it is good to stretch ourselves," she said. "What feels uncomfortable can be a key to professional success. And we've got each other's backs as we do it."
Villano noted that one challenge is to keep the spirit of a curated, friendly, and supportive movement authentic as the group gets bigger. She added that the founders encourage adtech executives who share their mindset to get involved: "From our first event last November to now, and to our goal of helping make connections across the country, Tech Bae is about the power of the human connection and how women like us can support each other — whether someone is an entrepreneur or a corporate executive or those just beginning to think about where work can take them."
Pictured above from left to right: Sarah Foss, Dr. Sharon Melnick, Heather McCrea, Christina Villano, Brenda Garcia, Seema Patel
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