Women of Color in Technology Reception

Our Presence. Our Power.

by Holyn Kanake, Head of Finance at Black Tech Women and Consultant/Graphic Designer

The Women of Color in Technology Cocktail Reception, presented by Digital Diversity Network in partnership with HBO, began with a group of women (and men) connecting in a room overlooking the New York City skyline. Women representing media, tech, and even banking created a sense of community around a fireside chat and panel. You would’ve never guessed that many of these women were strangers considering how easily conversation flowed between them.

Image by Digital Diversity Network. Soledad O’Brien and Jenna Wortham

The fireside chat between Soledad O’Brien, creator of CNN’s Black in America, and Jenna Wortham, a writer for New York Times Magazine, was intimate and full of stories, laughter, and invaluable advice. Wortham began the chat with praises of O’Brien’s recent book, The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities. This book helped frame the conversation as O’Brien gave insight into the many hats she has worn throughout her career, and specifically the successes and challenges she’s encountered as an entrepreneur.

Image by Digital Diversity Network. Soledad O’Brien and Jenna Wortham

As a woman in a predominantly male industry, O’Brien spent her early years in media wanting to prove that she was competent and capable. She did this by using several strategies, which she shared with the audience. This advice can be bucketed into three categories: people, your work, and yourself.

People

O’Brien advised the audience to surround themselves with quality people that can help you consistently improve. She shared that it’s important to know the difference between those who give constructive criticism versus those who only criticize and the importance of seeking to build relationships with people who do the former. She reminded the audience that to be surrounded by quality people you must work hard, invest time to build relationships, and help people if you want them to help you.

Your Work

One of the most memorable quotes of the night from O’Brien was, “The magic of hard work is underplayed.” O’Brien shared that if you want to be good at something, do it 100 times, and maybe you’ll be decent at it.

“The magic of hard work is underplayed.” — Soledad O’Brien

In her early days as a reporter, O’Brien covered stories about fires around the city. This wasn’t a glamorous gig, but it taught her the importance of persistence and perfecting one’s craft. Now, O’Brien can assess her own quality of work. Being confident in her work helps others to be confident in her.

Yourself

As the conversation evolved around O’Brien’s many hats, one thing was clear — women must advocate for themselves. O’Brien encouraged the women in the audience to not only build relationships and work hard but to marry the two. Women should find allies that know the right time to be constructive and find advocates who are comfortable taking risks.

Image by Digital Diversity Network. Soledad O’Brien and Jenna Wortham

It was inspiring to hear O’Brien and Wortham converse. They are two established women (with Wikipedia pages to boot), and their stories were vulnerable and relatable to the women in attendance. If there is one thing I took away from the hour we spent together, it’s this: how do you think about helping yourself? If you have a vision, take that next step and make it a reality. If you can do something, show people instead of telling them and if you want to accomplish anything, forge your own path!


Image by Digital Diversity Network. Soledad O’Brien and Jenna Wortham

Following the fireside chat, we heard from a panel of four outstanding panelists and moderator that shared sound advice. Their words were a great reminder that women should shape the narrative to fit their perspective, and I hope you find some of their words of wisdom as impactful as I did.

“Women who found their own startup should consider four things:

  1. Do you have a network and an advisor/advocate to break barriers and make introductions?
  2. Do you really need funding?
  3. Have you done your due diligence when picking an investor?
  4. Are you ready for the challenges? Do you have thick skin?” — Asmau Ahmed, Founder & CEO of Plum Perfect

“What are your desired versus dreaded images? Know how these affect how you project to the world.” — Deborah Berebichez, Ph.D, Chief Data Scientist at Metis

“People take notice of great ideas.” — Kejo Clark, Director of Media Servicing Operations at HBO

“Know when to let go.” — Dr. Mitu Khandaker, Chief Creative Officer of Spirit AI

“Learn when to say no: delete, delay, diminish, delegate.” — Angela Lee, Founder of 37 Angels, Chief Innovation Officer & Associate Dean at Columbia Business School

Image by Digital Diversity Network. Soledad O’Brien and Jenna Wortham

Digital Diversity Network is a unique, non-profit trade association offering one-stop, national access to top-tier diverse talent & thought leadership in digital media and hi-tech.

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