The Women in Design and Tech Leadership Forum

Lean In. A leading light in design and tech leadership, Sheryl Sandberg, has called for women to lean in to their work and leadership roles just as they might be considering pulling back. One recommendation is increased and focused discussions of leadership and mentorship among professional women. Together, Cooper and WebVisions heeded the call for questioning and discussion of how to move toward leadership equality in design and tech with this event in the co: here series.  

The Speakers

Sue Cooper opened the event with a framing of the importance of this conversation Her introductions of the panelists ranged from an artist-executive and an education leader to a healthtech executive and two tech marketing and sales gurus.

Within a background outside the traditional tech and design fields, Janet Holmgren, President Emerita, Mills College, broadened the application of these through a discussion of her work in the emerging field of education technology and design learning.

Caretha Coleman eloquently isolated the underlying assumption of inadequacy that constrains the growth of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards. Her comeback – What good would it do any organization to have unqualified, yet diverse leadership? A call for diverse candidates remains a request for capable nominees.

Maria Giudice of Autodesk charted her course from art student to design studio manager, and now software executive, through the people that influenced her and her visual creations.

Calling for women to be (and be portrayed) as the agents of their destiny and success, Kendra Shimmell, Managing Director, Cooper, challenged a children’s book’s portrayal of a girl engineer who waits for an aunt to pull her inventions into the light. Describing her own trajectory experimenting with different leadership styles, she expressed the power of being underestimated and cautioned against an aggressive, grasping approach to developing powerful leadership.

Mary Bihr described her experience growing with the emerging field at the intersection of computer technology, video games, and film, as it matured into a recognized art and multi-million dollar industry. She spoke of the value of bringing her skills in marketing, advertising, and sales into developing a new company in a new field into an industry leader.  

Below are sketchnotes of the event done by Shauna Jin 

The Questions

Shahrzad Samadzadeh, Business Designer at Visa, moderated the subsequent question session. When answering questions, Ms. Giudice shared a humbling story about unsuccessfully seeking mentorship from an idol, concluding that the best mentors choose you. Mary Bihr emphasized the value of traditional and reverse mentorship, as interns and new entrants have skills and knowledge to share with experienced leaders, and vice versa.

“What will you do tomorrow?”

A call to action closed the event. Ms. Samadzadeh asked each attendee to identify a concrete step she (or he) would take tomorrow to internalize or implement something learned during the session. Favorites include: “Writing the description for the job I want, called CEO;” “Locating the courage to leave a job that is a bad fit;” and embracing “seeing myself on top.” 

Check out the full video to find your newest quote for inspiration.  

What’s Next? 

Keep the conversation going with the next Women in Design and Tech Leadership Forum in New York City on September 7th. 

Madeleine Nelson

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