Imagine a Charleston hot spot on a Friday night - fun, energetic and electric. That was the vibe at the Wednesday, Sept. 28 evening meeting of Charleston Women in Technology, a group devoted to connecting, supporting and preparing women of all ages in the tech industry. Founded in 2014, the group has already made an impact on the local community with its CodeON initiative, recently featured in CNN Money, that converted an inner-city laundromat into a learning center teaching kids to code.
A record-breaking 225+ women (and several men too!) squeezed into the café at Benefitfocus’ Customer Success Center for an evening of nosh, networking and noodling. The meeting theme centered on encouraging young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and included breakout sessions led by Benefitfocus women discussing: data, diversity and inclusion, innovation and ideation, and, of course, motherhood.
Benefitfocus Senior Vice President of Engineering Jessica Brewer gave a rousing keynote address. “I think this may be the most spectacular crowd I’ve ever presented to in my entire career,” she said as she shared her inspirational story of the challenges she faced being a woman engineer in a male-dominated field. A working mother, a grad student with a three-year-old and one on the way epitomizes “time management to the extreme,” she said adding, “Without the encouragement of the people around me, I would have quit.”
Jessica described how the past 10 years at Benefitfocus, with its family-friendly policies, gave her the flexibility to strike the career-family balance she needed and adapt it as career and family needs continue to change. “It’s not just good for women, it’s good for business,” she said, citing a number of studies indicating the business benefits of developing women into leadership roles.
"Companies with more women on their board of directors had higher returns on equity, better stock performance, and higher payouts of dividends.”
– Forbes, Why There are Still Few Women Leaders in Tech
“We deserve to be here and play a role in our companies’ success,” she said. Jessica added that she wants her now 16-year-old daughter to see that women can be successful in whatever career they choose, and her 13-year-old son to see that it’s the norm for a woman, who is also a mother, to have a successful career.
The crowd dispersed into several breakout sessions each led by a Benefitfocus associate. Senior Product Marketing Manager Cindi Van Meir, Vice President of Customer Success Management Kadedra Kiner, Manager of Platform Control Anita Clark, Manager of Engineering Anthea Rajasukumar and QA Analyst and moderator Leo Hernandez shared the challenges of and opportunities for diversity in technology companies. Data Scientist Jen Clark and User Experience Researcher Julie Choiniere teamed up to discuss the intersection of machine learning and data science. A panel led by Engineer Kate Wilson, featuring UI Engineer Amber Joyner; Senior Manager of Engineering Anissa Williams and Guest Speaker Stefanie Swackhamer discussed how former educators and marketers transitioned to tech careers. Manager of Engineering Kim Poremski led an interactive workshop where attendees explored techniques that foster creativity and innovative thinking. Finally, Agile Coach Chanel Floyd, Team Lead of Product Consulting Ashley Aluise, Vice President of Engineering Rachel Downing and Manager of Global Delivery Lise Turner discussed how to apply technology to be a more effective worker and parent.