At Tonic Design, we often encourage our employees to take on new projects and explore different ideas. We recently held an event that was the first of its kind – and the results were phenomenal! Being a Force for Change: A Women In Tech Roundtable was created by two Tonic employees: Shannon Feck, our Senior Accountant, and Jen Torre, our Senior QA Engineer. Over eighty people came to discuss ways to solve the gender gap in tech, and we had five professionals from different sectors of the industry sit on our panel.
We wanted to give people a look inside the event, so we sat down with Jen and Shannon to learn more about the roundtable.
On event origins and the gender divide in the professional world
Shannon: “Jen and I had a chance to get to know one another during Tonic’s Housewarming Party during Philly Tech Week. I had just started full-time in January and had noticed how different the tech culture was, compared to the work that I do as a women’s college basketball referee. I was surprised by the lack of females in our office – especially given the amazing work that we do! Jen expressed the same types of feelings, given her own experience working here coupled with her background as a former English teacher. Our conversation that evening turned into us asking ourselves not only what we could do to bring exposure to the existing gender gap but how we could help improve it. I feel lucky to be at Tonic, and I think it’s an amazing place to work – but we can be better. We can lead, and this is one way I would like to see us do that.”
On event planning and their original vision
Jen: “We had an idea of what we envisioned our mentorship program to look like, but we really wanted to kick things off with an event that would bring together women in the Philly tech community. This led to our roundtable idea. We wanted to hear from some ladies who have taken diverse paths into tech (similar to ourselves) and who also work in a variety of areas. We captured this by having five women (a Designer, a Developer, a CEO, a Venture Capitalist, and an Educator) join our event as discussion leaders. We also wanted to ensure that we gave audience members opportunities to participate – especially when it came to solutions-oriented questions.”
On the planning team and company support
Jen: “During the three to four months leading up to the event, we worked with a diverse team of women here at Tonic – from account managers to project managers to designers to developers, you name it – who helped us turn our idea into a reality. Our discussions each week were candid and action-oriented. These women helped in whatever way they could, whether it was through generating ideas, questions and/or solutions, designing, planning, volunteering, marketing, etc. They were amazing, and we couldn’t have done this without them!”
Shannon: “One of the things that also stood out to me was how supportive our male counterparts were along the way. Our colleagues supported our idea and did whatever was necessary to make sure that this event was successful and also in line with our vision, including planning, operations management, event setup and take-down, and overall direction. It was awesome to have their encouragement!”
On the reaction to the event and sense of community
Shannon: “The event was more powerful than I could have imagined. Jen and I wanted to create a positive space that focused on solutions and action. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the negatives, no matter what subject is being talked about. My hope going into the night was that our discussion leaders and our audience members would be real and honest about their own experiences and that all of us would stay focused on how we can actually create change. We did just that. I felt a real sense of community that evening, and I think many others did as well. We have received nothing but positive feedback and gratitude from attendees and through various media outlets – it’s been humbling.”
Jen: “From a company perspective, it was awesome to see our Women In Tech team working alongside several of our male colleagues in the background to ensure that this event was the best that it could be. Not only was there a sense of community among the attendees in the room, there was also a sense of community within our own company. The gender gap topic can be a divisive one, but that night, we as Tonic Design came together as a unit for an important issue that affects all of us, not just females. It was really special to be a part of that.”
On the future
Jen: “Going forward, our goal is to host two roundtables per year (similar to this first one). Ultimately, we envision a room that includes us, our guests, and our mentees participating in these discussions, whether as audience members or as discussion leaders. We see a room where all of us are learning from each other.”
Shannon: “Studies have shown that by the time girls enter middle school, 50% of them who were once interested in computer science no longer pursue it. My hope is that our future events continue to bring awareness to this issue. We will also be kicking off a mentorship program for middle school girls in 2017, and we are hoping to give female students coming into the tech industry after us opportunities to shine and see what their possibilities are. We want to do our part.”