Reflections from Women + Technology: EmpowHER

Amy Gilliland and Nisa Moore speaking at Women + Technology 2019

GDIT held the Women + Technology: EmpowHER conference on October 8 at the Fairview Park Marriott. The event was sponsored by major tech players Dell, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Splunk and attended by women IT professionals from all over the DC Metro area. The day was dedicated to the empowerment of women at all levels of their IT careers by providing actionable tools, knowledge and networking skills.

Kristie Grinnell, GDIT’s VP of IT and Supply Chain and Global CIO shared in her opening remarks that only 29% of the IT workforce is currently filled by women when women make up 50% of the total workforce – that needs to change. She said the purpose of EmpowHER is to demonstrate IT is a great field for women to pursue and to spotlight some of the women already there.
“We make sure to show the increase in representation of women in this field, so girls growing up are seeing themselves in these new roles that are being created each and every day in areas like artificial intelligence, robotics processing automation....”

Attendees heard from accomplished women in IT, many of whom never thought they would end up there. No woman’s path was the same, but their stories had many overlapping lessons.

The event was more than an afternoon of speaker sessions. It was a set of powerful themes for us to take back to our work and personal lives.


The first theme and maybe the most popular throughout the day other than IT was tribe. Melinda Garvey, founder of AW Media and the keynote speaker, said the fastest way for women to succeed is to find and build a tribe. A tribe is a close group of friends and colleagues who advise each other on career moves and challenges each are facing in their professional and personal lives.

When asked by the audience what her number one tip is for handling self-doubt, Melinda said she turns to her tribe. “There is nothing better than having people who will encourage you and will pick you up off the floor, because this is really hard, and it’s always hard. You get a lot of no’s whenever you’re starting anything…my tribe is critically important.”
The act of building a tribe was proactively encouraged as attendees were challenged to connect with five new people via LinkedIn throughout the course of the event.


We heard about “resiliency” or “the ability to snap back, to get up and go again…and show up the next day” from all of the day’s speakers. However, in the “Stories of Resilient Leadership and Career Success” session, each panelist shared a specific time when she had to tell herself to keep going.
Kelli Furrer, VP, Channel and Alliances, Dell recalled when she had asked for a promotion and was discouraged by being told she didn’t want to work that hard by her boss. Following this encounter and knowing it was her decision to determine how hard she wanted to work, she decided to pivot and keep moving forward.

Kari VanderVeen, VP and CIO, HPE Financial Services, said she has had to tell herself over and over again, over the course of ten years, that it will be uncomfortable moving into new situations, “but just do it anyway.” She closed the session with strong words encouraging resiliency: “Step out there. Stay curious. Know that a failure isn’t a permanent setback…it’s a learning opportunity.”

Technology Certifications and Continuous Learning

In a time where technology is changing each and every day, it is important for IT professionals (and even non-IT professionals) to be continuous learners. Speakers from the Certifications for Success panel shared several examples where certifications helped shape their career and set them up for advancement.

Luckily there are several free, online certification offerings. Twinkle Malhotra, Alliances Manager, GDIT spoke to Salesforce’s online courses based on career interests and Christine Halvorsen, Public Sector, National Security Team, AWS, advised keeping an eye out for AI/ML training offerings being made available in the near future.

Certifications can also bring financial gains, but Melina Scotto, Federal Health CISO, GDIT noted that aside from the monetary benefits, there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment and self-confidence when one receives their first certification.


During her fireside chat session, Amy Gilliland, President of GDIT, stressed the importance of delivery and doing things well. “There is nothing that speaks louder than execution. When we perform, that is a testimony to what we can do.”

Melinda also spoke to this saying “You can’t sit back and feel bad about something, complain about something and not build those networks…you’re here! What are you going to do with it, because we can’t wait for others…” You have to make your opportunity and then follow through with the delivery. Focusing on what we do, and doing it well will set us up for success.

Final Thoughts

Events like Women + Technology: EmpowHER is where the work of growing the next generation of female leaders begins to flourish. If young girls can see women in c-suite and technology roles, they’ll believe they can do it, too, and GDIT takes this seriously. After winning the EmpowHER cyber hackathon, Nadia Osman, a college student from George Mason University, was offered a full-time job with GDIT once she graduates in May 2020.

Excited and inspired, I’m eager to take these powerful lessons of tribe, resiliency, continuous learning and delivery forward into my career. I’ll share them with my own tribe and encourage other women to pursue careers in IT. It’s up to all of us to lift women up, align ourselves with allies and close the representation gap in the IT workforce.

Video from Women + Technology: EmpowHER

If you weren't able to make it to Women + Technology: EmpowHER or want to relive some of the moments, you can watch the sessions below!

Welcome Remarks & Keynote

Melinda Garvey, founder of On the Dot and Austin Woman, and Kristie Grinnell, GDIT’s Vice President, Global CIO & Chief Supply Chain Officer, discuss how the answer lies in creating an ecosystem where women are supporting women – all the time, no matter what and if we, as women, invest in each other’s success we will all rise together.

Certifications for Success

This accredited panel provides the opportunity to learn more about certifications in the industry that will validate your core technical knowledge and enhance your technical credibility to enable success in your career.

Panel featuring:

  • Twinkle Malhotra, Technology Consultant, GDIT
  • Kathlean O'Connor, Director, GDIT
  • Jennifer Fisher, Senior Lead Technical Curriculum Developer Amazon Web Services;
  • Pamela McComas, Program Manager, GDIT
  • Melina Scotto, Federal Health CISO, GDIT
  • Jill Lawson, Partner + VP of Solution Delivery, Itero Group (Moderator)

Hot Technologies and Trends

*Gain insight into new and emerging technologies that panel members or their respective entities have brought to the market. Panelists will provide perspective on trends and customer hot buttons in the AI, Cloud and Cyber markets, leaving you with valuable knowledge on the emerging trends and technologies in this space. *

Panel featuring:

  • Holly McKenzie, Partner, PwC
  • Juliana Vida, Chief Technical Advisor, Public Sector, Splunk
  • Brigitte Custer, VP, Chief Technology Officer, GDIT (Moderator)
  • Nancie Torrence, GVP Global A&D and Specialty Solutions, JDA Software Inc.
  • Christine Halvorsen, AWS

Stories of Resilient Leadership & Career Success

Hear from top information technology leaders about the challenges and successes they have experienced throughout their careers. Learn about the positive impacts they pioneered through resilient leadership at their individual companies and the IT industry at large. You’ll gain valuable insights to put to use in your career.

Panel featuring:

  • Rachelle Putnam, Director, Information Technology, General Dynamics Land Systems
  • Kari VanderVeen, VP & Chief Information Officer, HPE Financial Services
  • Freddi Donner, Team Engagement Specialist, Business Stamina (Moderator)
  • Kelli Furrer, Vice President, Channel and Alliances, Dell
  • Felicity Coe, Supervisor, Information Technology, General Dynamics Mission Systems
  • Brittany Ninman, General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB)

Closing Remarks

Kristie Grinnell, GDIT’s Vice President, Global CIO & Chief Supply Chain Officer, closes the day with some notes of inspiration.