After a whirlwind month of learning and development in the Bay Area, Emerging Leaders, along with more than 60 TechWomen mentors, boarded a plane to Washington, DC for the final days of TechWomen 2018. There, they met with preeminent women leaders in the public and private sectors, learned about civic engagement and reflected on how to sustain and continue their TechWomen experience once they return home. Spending time in the United States’ capital city gave Emerging Leaders a unique opportunity to see where public policy decisions are made and further explore how they can effect change in their countries.
The power of women in public policy, tech and government
On Thursday, Emerging Leaders and mentors gathered in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room to learn about the intersection of technology and public policy from members of the Women’s High Tech Coalition and some of TechWomen’s own Emerging Leaders. Speaking about the importance of civic engagement, speakers highlighted ways Emerging Leaders can implement change and drive impact in their home communities. Moderated by TechWomen Director Jillian Scott, speakers included:
- Megan Brown, Partner, Wiley Rein LLP
- Melanie Tiano, Director, Cybersecurity and Privacy at CTIA
- Asma Ben Abda, Emerging Leader from Tunisia and Senior Engineer for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries
- Pascale Mugwaneza, Emerging Leader from Rwanda and Director of Communication, Technology and Documentation at the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration
Megan and Melanie explained the opportunities and challenges of their work, sharing how they have been uplifted and supported by mentors in their careers. Pascale spoke about her work in the public sector, stressing the importance of public service: “It’s not about how much you get,” she said, “it’s about transforming the lives of the people.” Asma, the first woman in Tunisia to head the Fisheries Department, spoke about creating an all-woman team, from engineers to boat drivers, in order to increase female representation and support other women’s success.
In the afternoon, former TechWomen mentor Teresa Williams, now a Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, moderated a fireside chat alongside congressional staffers. Erica Andeweg, Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer and Mimi Strobel, Legislative Assistant to U.S. Representative Susan W. Brooks, spoke to Emerging Leaders and mentors about life on The Hill and how women can effect change in public policy.
The day concluded at Symantec, which hosted the group for a panel discussion that explored the relationship between public policy, public service and technology. Moderated by Sheila Jordan, Vice President and CIO of Symantec, panelists included:
- Catherine Lotrionte, Brent Scowcroft Scholar for the Atlantic Council
- Jessica Wilkerson, Professional Staff Member for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Michone Johnson Ingrahan, Vice President of Federal Government Relations at Verizon
Panelists highlighted the successes and challenges of using technology in and with government, speaking about their work and answering questions from the audience on cybersecurity, leadership challenges and being woman leaders in their respective fields. Asked to share their biggest takeaways with the audience in the form of a hashtag, panelists offered these lessons: #NoBoundaries, #RuthlesslyPersistent and #I’mNotSorry.
A day at the State Department
The following day, the U.S. Department of State hosted TechWomen for an enriching day of panels, discussion and networking. Deputy Director for the Office of Citizen Exchanges Rene Hadjigeorgalis opened the day, introducing a women’s leadership panel comprised of distinguished women with diverse skills and backgrounds who shared their wisdom and expertise with the group:
- Chris Miner, Managing Director, Professional Exchanges
- Ambassador Makila James, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Africa
- Ambassador Molly Phee, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation
- Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Africa
During their remarks, panelists encouraged Emerging Leaders to think big, mentor others and never be afraid to take risks: “Nobody was looking for me,” said Makila James. “You can’t wait for someone to find you.”
The leadership panel was followed by a U.S. Digital Service presentation from Deputy Administrator Edward Hartwig and a panel comprised of digital service experts. There, they discussed the mission of the Digital Service and how the government can leverage private sector expertise to offer improved government technology solutions.
Before a luncheon in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room, Emerging Leaders were able to enjoy the reception room’s beautiful collection of art, furniture and historical artifacts.
At the luncheon, Emerging Leaders were joined by State Department officials and distinguished guests, including Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce. In her keynote, Secretary Royce addressed Emerging Leaders, urging them to never be afraid to fail and to represent themselves and their beliefs when faced with challenges. “Don’t be afraid to raise your hand,” she said.
The final panel of the day was an inter-agency panel of women in STEM moderated by Nina Murray, Deputy Director of Cultural Programs at the U.S. Department of State. Speakers included:
- J’Tia Hart, Executive Briefer to the Secretary of Energy
- Lisa Guerra, Senior Advisor, Technical, NASA
- Irene Qualters, Senior Science Advisor, CISE, National Science Foundation
The women spoke about the trajectories of their career and how they reacted to risks and challenges. Lisa Guerra, who was discouraged when she wanted to become an astronaut, made the best of her situation: “I thought to myself, If they won’t let me be the astronaut, I can be the person to design what the astronauts use.”
After learning from the Office of Alumni Affairs about ways to remain engaged with the Department of State upon return home, it was time for Emerging Leaders to receive certificates acknowledging their successful completion of the TechWomen program. One by one, Emerging Leaders went on stage, graduating from Emerging Leader to TechWomen fellow. The room was full of celebration as fellows reflected on the past five weeks – their challenges, their achievements and their new lifelong friendships.
Saying goodbye to #techwomen18
After the group had a day of free time to explore the sights of Washington D.C., it was time for the Re-entry Workshop. Led by Birgit Debeerst, the discussion-based workshop focused on how fellows can effectively integrate their TechWomen experiences into their lives back home. Fellows were given the opportunity to reflect on the last five weeks, sharing their personal journeys and supporting one another in finding proactive solutions to remain motivated and action-oriented.
After a celebratory farewell group dinner, we bid our fellows goodbye the following day. It was an unforgettable five weeks full of inspiration, growth and lifelong connections. Through their ingenuity, passion and ambition, our fellows will continue to be agents of local and global change in the months and years to come. We look forward to continuing to share their stories.
Cheers to #techwomen18!