When asked what piece of advice she would give to women technologists, Connie Smallwood, Vice President of Innovation Programs at CA Technologies, replied, "First, find a support network. This could be your manager, colleagues or mentors – women or men. These people can help you navigate an organization’s culture, provide valuable professional advice, and be a resource throughout your career.
"Second, give back to your community. This could be volunteering or mentoring, related to technology or not. Not only will this provide personal satisfaction, but also gives you valuable skills for the future."
Connie has certainly taken her own advice to heart. She not only created CA Technologies' first networking group but continues to support the tech community by volunteering at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC). But just how did Connie get into the tech industry in the first place?
"I really didn't get into tech until college," she said. "No one in my family was in tech, so I wasn't really exposed to it." While Connie was good at math and science, and although she knew basic computing, she did not pursue a degree in computer science. Instead, she studied English literature (with a focus on technical writing) and minored in business.
Connie's interest in joining the tech industry was piqued thanks to her friends who were majoring in engineering. "My engineering friends were pursuing internships opportunities, so I decided to apply as well, even though it wasn’t as common for liberal arts majors at the time." Connie submitted her application and waited to see if she would be accepted.
"A Lucky Break"
Connie's decision paid off. Despite not being a computer science major or a classically trained developer, IBM offered Connie an internship as a multimedia developer.
"I really caught a lucky break of being offered an internship," Connie said. "My first manager saw something in me and gave me a chance. I eventually moved to other roles in my career, but I am forever grateful to my first manager and team, because they believed in me and gave me the opportunity to learn."
In 2006, Connie left IBM to work at CA Technologies. Her early days at CA Technologies, however, were a little challenging. Out of the 10,000 employees, Connie only knew one person, meaning she had to rebuild her entire network.
"I'm a total introvert," she explained. "It's not easy for me to be in a large group setting. Nevertheless, I haven't let it stop me from doing my job."
In order to be successful in her corporate-wide position, Connie made connections both through her manager and by reaching out and contacting people herself. She soon became well versed in the company culture and was able to navigate the organization very quickly.
"Today, I am often the go-to person if people want to find out who knows what."
Creating CA Technologies' First Networking Group
The same year that Connie joined, CA Technologies also partnered with AnitaB.org to increase its representation of women technologists. While Connie was pleased to see her organization was dedicated to promoting diversity, she was surprised by the lack of diversity programs within CA Technologies. She decided to do something about it.
In 2010, Connie started the Women@CA Network, CA Technologies' first employee networking group. This online global group is open to all CA Technologies employees, men and women alike. The group, dedicated to promoting gender diversity, grew quickly by word of mouth.
"Its mission is to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth by delivering programs designed to empower individuals to take control of their careers and support the growth of the company," Connie stated. "Our speaker series provides a forum to educate our members on topics such as unconscious bias, crucial conversations, and career growth."
By addressing these topics and by providing support to employees, the Women@CA Network hopes to increase its recruitment, engagement, and retention of women across the organization.
Giving Back through GHC
Another way Connie provides support to women in technology is by participating in GHC. Although she had heard of GHC during her time at IBM, she had never attended herself until she joined CA Technologies. She not only continues to attend GHC every year but also volunteers to be on our GHC Committees. She is currently serving as a GHC 17 Program Committee Co-chair, helping us create unique programming for our 18,000 attendees.
"GHC is important because there are very few conferences targeted toward technical women," she said. "Not only is the content very high quality, but the speakers are inspirational, and they discuss topics relevant to the community. Women can be more open and come away from it feeling energized and inspired."