Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: Alexis Nicole White of North Highland Consulting on The 5 Leadership Lessons She Learned From Her Experience
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Do not be afraid to evolve. Always challenge yourself to do something scary to ensure you continue to grow. Never get comfortable and allow your skills to become stale. Technology is so progressive. If you’ve mastered one type of thing, push yourself to learn another. I am always learning something new with technology. While I am often scaring myself straight, I understand how things ‘should’ work to offer process improvement tips to make things more streamlined and effortlessly.
As a part of my series about “Lessons from Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Nicole White with North Highland Consulting.
Alexis Nicole White is a certified project manager and scrum master with over 13 years of experience implementing Information Technology and Telecommunications projects. Utilizing her expertise, she helps businesses solve their most complex challenges by achieving viable solutions to drive change. Her knowledge areas include infrastructure, data, cyber security, and the mobile workforce. Other previous experience includes voice (wireless and VoIP), audiovisual integrations, digital supply chain, and ERP augmentations. She also serves as a mentor for Women in Technology (WIT Atlanta) to mentor young women interested in pursuing careers in STEM.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me. Leading up to this moment was the economic downturn of 2008.
As with most college graduates, I did not have a job to transition to post-college. Nonetheless, I was determined that I would not become a “boomerang kid.” As a result, after three to six months of relentlessly looking for a job, I accepted a role at Dish Network as a Dispatch Specialist. At the time, I didn’t understand that my desperation birthed the catalyst for my entire career.
During that time, I learned a lot about technical concepts in business and operations. Simply by stepping out of my comfort zone, I learned field operations. I learned how to run cables (infrastructure), connect (integrate), and install (implement) on a small scale within customer-facing environments. I also learned the importance of quality assurance. It’s not enough to implement a solution, but it must also be nice work.
I began to understand the importance of conflict resolution. For example, when we couldn’t complete the installation due to inclement weather or couldn’t obtain a line of sight, I had to communicate those issues to the customer and offer an alternative solution.
Overall, I had to learn to adapt to ongoing changes rapidly and think quickly on my feet. Not only was I introduced to technology, but I was also forced to think creatively, strategically, and analytically so that I could complete as many jobs or “projects” within one day and in a certain period.
Lastly, I was responsible for improving the performance of my territory. If we did not complete the work as planned, it adversely impacted our performance. Therefore, it was my goal to complete as many jobs as I could within a day. I learned the geographic area to route the technician to as many homes as he could handle based on his skillset to reduce extended drive times and conserve gas. Inevitably, I improved my area drastically. We went from the last ranking team to the top-performing team just by planning our day better.
In essence, that one job introduced me to the fundamentals of project management, from managing the scope, finances, time, resources, quality assurance to communication. I was being prepared for a career in project management in information technology.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As I started to embark on my career as a project manager, I worked on a national project for an unnamed used car dealership. We were leveraging a job board to hire resources across the country to implement the solution. Since we were based out of Atlanta, I had no viable way to find technicians in Seattle, for example. Therefore, I was heavily reliant upon the efficacy of the job board to find contractors to handle the work. Reviews were paramount as other businesses would hire these resources to perform work for them as well. Thus, I wouldn’t hire anyone who has less than a three-star rating.
It was around Halloween, and I had a deployment scheduled for after hours as we could not be in the business during normal business hours. We installed new credit card and fax machines, workstations, and some other critical hardware and software. I was excited because I found one guy in this area with stellar reviews and assigned a few jobs to him. Unfortunately, he showed up hungover at the job site, still dressed in his Halloween costume during normal business hours. I was completely mortified! However, I learned to overcommunicate project start and end times to prevent confusion in the future. Somehow, he thought I said AM, and it was a PM job.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
North Highland believes in making change happen, and this level of commitment is not limited to the clients we serve, either. It is shown within our internal approaches to inclusion and diversity, our community outreach, and how we edify one another daily. Many people speak of ‘one team,’ but we legitimately are one team. Each day, I get to collaborate with very talented, dynamic subject matter experts to deliver results to our clients by simply adding value.
For years, I had heard about North Highland Consulting. I met with a personal career coach when the pandemic hit, mapping out the next ten years. I documented which companies I wanted to work for, and North Highland was on that list. I was beyond ecstatic when I accepted the offer to join their team.
The people are amazing. My team is awesome. The projects we’re working on for our clients are revolutionary and will improve how they do business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I volunteer with a tech start-up company called “YEP Nation,” founded in my hometown of Gary, Indiana. I am excited to donate my skills and expertise to this organization because they invest in young women identified as “at-risk.” Since it is well-known that Gary has been recognized at an economic and environmental disadvantage, most of the youth are considered “at-risk.” However, YEP is empowering them to gain vital, transferrable skills to establish a career in technology without previous programming skills and develop applications in high demand.
For example, YEP recently launched its mass communications platform, including the Private Virtual Metaverse (PVM). One may recognize the term “metaverse” from the recent Facebook announcement regarding their name change. With this state-of-the-art technology, companies have their own branded, noncentralized metaverse. However, what makes YEP Nation so unique is that they offer a three-dimensional full-body, humanistic avatar. Unlike its competitors, it does not restrict its use to an above the waist experience. So, the young girls can learn how to create applications such as this to establish their career in technology.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I am dissatisfied with the lack of progress regarding the status quo with women in STEM. While many conversations surround engendering STEM, and there are great initiatives to get more girls involved in the fields, it is very slow adoption in the workplace. I am still overly excited to see women in STEM-based positions, especially in high-ranking positions. I am super interested in who you are, where you came from, how you got here, and what motivates you to stay here because I understand the challenges we face.
For me, I am so empowered to accept the realization that there is a space for me here, in this male-dominated industry. I proudly served under two women Chief Information Officers (CIOs), a woman of color. I have collaborated with one female Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to identify financing for a strategic plan. I have supported at least one female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as well. Therefore, I have seen women in leadership in critical roles, which is a huge step in the right direction. However, the presence of women in mid-level positions has been staggering.
Although the uptick in growth for women in STEM and more companies are hiring women, it doesn’t change how they are perceived as women in that role. We need to see more women promoted into upper management within their current organizations, not just leaving their companies for better positions and higher pay. For women in STEM to break glass ceilings, we have to see the growth and development of their careers, not just celebrate the transition of their journey.
Yes, there is an overall cultural shift that is slowly taking place. Women are making great strides as scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. Please, let’s not forget the arts, either. It is full STEAM ahead for women all over this world. That said, I believe in making our career paths in STEM more tangible to young women. We need to be more strategic about letting our girls know that there is space for you in this field. Thankfully, young women are exploring complex ideas and notions by challenging them. Yet, we still have a long way to go. We cannot have them show up for work, and their voices are continuously minimized and devalued. Their ideas cannot be criticized without exploration. The table we all reference needs to be diverse and inclusive to be the change we wish to see. More importantly, their work must be valued with equitable pay for their efforts.
Failure to make small but impactful changes will result in a permanent delay in challenging the status quo for women in STEM.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges women face in STEM or Tech that their male counterparts don’t typically experience? What would you suggest to address this?
I perceive the biggest challenge is building and retaining her confidence. Establishing her belief starts way before she enters the workforce. I believe it begins in elementary school when careers are associated with gender roles. We need to let young girls know that women can be and do anything they want to do, including science, technology, engineering, and math. We need to debunk the myth that this is a man’s job and this is a woman’s job based on traditional gender roles.
Secondly, I would add those young women who are going to school for a STEM need as much support as they possibly can have. Suppose you look at any group of statistics regarding women in STEM. In that case, there is an unproportionate number of men to women in this field, and the achievement gap is exceptionally large.
Lastly, to answer your question, the biggest challenge does not have equitable pay and positions as their male counterparts. Statistically, she’s at an immediate disadvantage. One cannot help but assume the feeling of being here just to check a box. She’s here just to fulfill a diversity, inclusion, or affirmative action plan.
In conclusion, all of these things will erode your confidence over time. We must overcome being continuously discouraged from belonging in that room, sitting at that table, inventing this idea, and not be afraid to try.
What are the “myths” you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth I would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM is that you must know everything right now before belonging in this field. As a technologist, I learn so much every day as technology is progressive and is always advancing. Each project that you undertake is different. Although you may have implemented the same solution ten times, each result will differ because the requirements vary. Each customer’s environment is different. Therefore, you continuously work around problematic scenarios to achieve the desired outcome.
I am always learning something new, so collaboration with other subject matter experts is important. As you build those relationships with people, even if you’re no longer working together on a specific project, you can call them up and say, ‘hey, I need your help on something,’ and get their counsel on how to navigate through what’s hindering you.
As a result, it is impossible to know everything right now because everything is changing right now.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
First, I would always encourage individuals to ask the question, even if it is perceived to be a silly question. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in on meetings, and I’ve raised awareness of a potentially damaging issue just by asking a question.
Secondly, collaboration is key to long-term success. Generally, people love to work in silos which becomes problematic. If we are working on the same project, we need to treat every group as a part of the team. Often, you need to revisit your list of stakeholders to add or subtract people from that list. When I lead a project, I constantly identify new stakeholders impacted by a decision that needs a say in what will or will not happen. Failure to have the correct stakeholders present for vital decision points always results in total mayhem later down your project.
Thirdly, research is key. If you’re undertaking a new initiative and you come across a term or a process that you’re unfamiliar with, do not hesitate to research that topic. Once, I downloaded a manual of over 700 pages to read through to educate myself on how a specific software worked to have an informed conversation with a group of engineers. Once I empowered myself to be present in that conversation, I could navigate the conversation the way I needed it to ensure my project was a success.
Forth, people are people. We all have our good and bad days. We all have personal and professional lives that sometimes conflict with one another. Be compassionate, kind, courteous, and respectful always. You never know what that person is going through. I remember once working with a technician who was not so kind to others. He was aggravated, grumpy, and overall, just flat-out mean. So, one day, I decided to ask what was going on with him that yielded such a temperamental attitude. It turns out he was overworked, exhausted, and missing out on time with his younger children. With that insight, I was able to not only change his disposition by being more considerate of his work-life balance. Additionally, I could also forge a friendship with him, so whenever I needed something, he would do it simply because I asked. He went from being an underperformer to a top performer.
Lastly, do not be afraid to evolve. Always challenge yourself to do something scary to ensure you continue to grow. Never get comfortable and allow your skills to become stale. Technology is so progressive. If you’ve mastered one type of thing, push yourself to learn another. I am always learning something new with technology. While I am often scaring myself straight, I understand how things ‘should’ work to offer process improvement tips to make things more streamlined and effortlessly.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
As I have observed from other women leaders, I would say to continuously give back to your team by indirectly coaching them and providing critical feedback that will help them grow personally and professionally.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Strive to be a transformational leader by seeing yourself as a part of the team, invested in the project’s outcome. By being involved with the team, you see its strengths and weaknesses and build camaraderie. You’ll be surprised how your presence can build the momentum, if it is healthy, to lead that team towards success. Ensure that communication and feedback is a two-way street and not one-way transaction. Surely as you can critique your team, they should be able to give you feedback as well. Remember that your team is the performers; they understand what will or will not work.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am always so appreciative of everyone that I have met along the way because whether they are aware, their presence has taught me something that has made me better. However, I am always so thankful for the people who have invested in me by helping me realize a career in project management for sure.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I continuously look for ways to give back to our youth by mentoring others. Mentorship is paramount for everybody but especially for our young people. As a mentor, I get to shape and mold healthy perspectives for girls to be mindful of as they go out into the world. Regretfully, I cannot say that I had that type of influence in my life as a youth as it pertains to my career path. However, I take my success to let others know that I am an example of what you can achieve, and it is exhilarating.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would say give people a mental health break between large complex projects. Undertaking projects can be exhausting, especially when you have hard deadlines to meet and things are just not going as planned. When the project is over, give people the time that they need to relax, recover, and regroup. Typically, we are revenue-focused in that we don’t give our teams time to decompress between projects because they’re off to another project. It would be nice to give a team a weeklong break between tasks.
When I arrive at my C-Suite level position, I would love to work with the CEO to give our employees a free vacation period the week of Christmas, observing the holiday season. I would like to shut down the company for that entire week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day as most people take off that week anyway and are taking a paid vacation. I would give everyone time to be at home with their families, relax and enjoy without penalty. In the tech world, annual freezes are occurring anyways, and minimal work is happening. Therefore, I would give free vacations to my team as a thank you for their hard work throughout the year sustaining our business operations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” by Gandhi, has taught me that everything starts with you. If you want to change, you initiate the difference.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world or the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? They might just see this if we tag them.
Since we’re highlighting influential women in technology, I would have to mention Sheryl Sandberg at Meta Platforms. After watching her interview on Oprah and a few other outlets, I admire how posed, confident, and well-spoken she is. Like, she’s a big win for women like me seeking to achieve the corporate ladder and be successful. I would love to have lunch with her and Lean In.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
No, thank you for considering me and giving me your time. I appreciate it.