This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Record.
For the first time, there were 27 women leading Fortune 500 companies in the first quarter of 2017. Although this beats previous records, 95% of CEOs in the list were still male. However, McKinsey research suggests companies with a gender-diverse workforce have stronger relationships and could be 15% more likely to reap greater financial returns. Consequently, Microsoft is proactively championing women in technology.
“We recognise the systemic issue in the disparity of the number of women in technology,” says Dawn Conner, event marketing manager for Microsoft’s Global Events team. “Providing awareness, education and building a community is imperative to making a change, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to take the lead in being part of that change through our Microsoft events.”
In July 2016, Microsoft launched the Women in Business and Technology initiative (WIBT) to provide opportunities for business and tech-savvy women to connect through its flagship events.
“Microsoft aims to lead the way as an inclusive organisation across all customer and partner engagements,” explains Conner. “We’ve created a platform for women to build on the ideas of others, collaborate across boundaries, learn about the industry and develop a strong and supportive network of like-minded professionals.”
Each year, Microsoft hosts multiple WIBT programmes during its flagship events. This year, the WIBT community will have its largest-ever focus at Microsoft Ignite from 25-29 September.
“We’ll deliver sessions that drive awareness around challenges females face in the workplace, leadership development, personal and professional growth, and many networking opportunities for participants to build business relationships,” Conner says. “We’re excited to launch our first Hack for Innovation challenge at Microsoft Ignite, which will take place from 7am to 6pm on 24 September.”
The crowd-sourcing hackathon is designed to empower female leaders in computer science to foster the business development of Microsoft patents that have not yet been brought to market. “The top three innovations will be presented to an Innovation Tank panel at the WIBT Luncheon on 26 September,” Conner says. “All winners will receive a licence to the Microsoft patent they used to build their innovation, as well as seed money to further develop and market it.”
Conner urges women worldwide to get involved in the WIBT programmes to help drive much-needed change in the workforce. “Individually we’re strong, but collectively we’re powerful. Women should get involved in a WIBT community, find a mentor who can guide their growth, become a mentor, and volunteer with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics organisations – they may be the one to inspire a young girl to be a future technology leader.”