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Women + Technology: Driving Innovation with Diverse Perspectives

In a year like no other, GDIT held its third annual and first all-virtual Women + Tech event, sponsored by GDIT’s ForWARD Employee Resource Group. This year’s focus was on diversity in the workplace and its impact on innovation – with knowledge that the two are inextricably linked. The all-virtual nature of the event certainly felt different than in years past, but the inspiration and sense of community were the same. It was a fantastic day and an important event to make happen.

We began the day with a Keynote and Plenary Session featuring GDIT’s Global CIO and Vice President of Information Technology and Supply Chain, Kristie Grinnell, and Dr. Sheila C. Johnson, the CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts and Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. The two women talked about everything from leadership and respect, to resilience and innovation. They also discussed the pandemic and its impact on women in the workforce, with one of four women leaving it as a result. Dr. Johnson described the impact of that as “undermining our equity” with a disproportionate burden put on women at home. “I say to other CEOs – do not forget about these women! Stay engaged – your company will fail without the diversity of thought that they provide.”

Indeed.

The event’s first breakout session was titled: Be Present, Be Brave, Be Bold, Be You – and this roundtable discussion was certainly all of those things! It was moderated by GDIT Senior Manager of Business Innovation Services, Nadia Khatouri, and included Jennie Campbell, Acting Director of the Office of Information Management at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Janice Glover-Jones, Chief Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); Jylinda Johnson, Vice President, Federal Civilian Government Operations at GDIT; and Aisling MacRunnels, Chief Business Officer at Synack.

This remarkable panel of women with varied career experiences and backgrounds talked about the ways they’ve been challenged (and challenged themselves) to be their best selves at work. The group touched on the pandemic and its impact on women both in the workplace and at home; they talked about being your authentic self at work; and they discussed ways they’ve each learned how to advocate for themselves – and with confidence. It was a lively and motivating discussion that could have gone on for much longer, with tremendous nuggets of wisdom throughout.

At the same time, GDIT’s Technology Director for the Homeland Security and Telecommunication Sector Steven Oh moderated a breakout session titled: Innovate Early, Advice for Early Career Professionals. This discussion featured Tamika Abbott, Director of the Security Technology Operations Division at the State Department; Shaleen Braley, Senior Program Director and Program Manager at GDIT; Heidi Landford, Vice President of Enterprise Data & Analytics at Red Hat; and Alessandra Ginante Yockelson, Senior Vice President, Chief Talent Officer and Global HR Leader at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

The group shared their advice on how people who are early in their careers can share their unique perspectives at work. They talked about what future leaders will look like (hint: they’ll be more diverse) and how diversity has affected their own careers. This was a can’t-miss session for early leaders and we’re so grateful to the group for sharing their perspectives.

Next on the agenda was A Conversation with GDIT President Amy Gilliland. Our Director of Organizational Development, Scott Nycum, sat down with Amy to talk about diversity and inclusion and the importance of allyship within our company. On that topic, she shared three important ways the pandemic has actually helped GDIT become even better at diversity and inclusion.

First, she noted that the pandemic proved that we could be more flexible with our employees than we ever thought possible. Second, remote working created an ability for leaders to empower their teams and build a culture based on trust. Finally, the pandemic drove a more empathetic style of leadership, which required leaders to build relationships differently, to do more coaching of employees in virtual environments, and to really meet employees where they are.

She also talked about how a diversity of background leads to diversity of thought, and how everyone at GDIT has a role in advancing and embracing diversity – whether as a leader or a team member. Everyone has a voice. And everyone should use it.

Sound advice.

The day’s third breakout session was called Overcoming Bias in Artificial Intelligence and was moderated by Mike Wagner, Senior Director, International Biometrics Account Manager at GDIT. The panelists for this discussion included Dr. Sumeet Dua of Louisiana Tech University; Janice Kephart from Identity Strategy Partners; and Catherine Tilton, GDIT’s Chief Technologist for Biometrics.

During this session, the group discussed the inherent biases that all humans have that can – intentionally or unintentionally – impact AI. Panelists agreed that a lack of diversity in training data is one element at the core of the problem. Others include the availability of accurately labeled data, the cost of obtaining it, and privacy rules that are well-intended but ultimately make publicly available data less diverse. However, the group noted that there is encouraging news: researchers and industry groups are hard at work to standardize best practices and deliver solutions.

The day’s fourth breakout session, Embracing a Zero Trust Model, was moderated by GDIT’s Deputy Chief Information Security Officer, LaLisha Hurt and brought together panelists Anusha Iyer from Corsha; Melina Scotto, GDIT’s Federal Health CISO; Rinki Sethi from Twitter; and Juliana Vida from Splunk.

The group talked about the Zero Trust security concept, which is centered on the belief that organizations should not automatically trust anything inside or outside its perimeters and instead must verify anything and everything trying to connect to its systems before granting access. Of course, the pandemic impacted organizations’ ability to embrace such a model and required them to innovate. The conversation on innovation naturally segued to diversity and how unique perspectives foster more (and more dimensionalized) innovation. The group agreed that diversity is critical in all its forms – from race and ethnicity and gender to neurodiversity. It’s not just about bringing in more women, it’s about bringing in people with different abilities as well – and it’s not an option, it is a necessity.

The day’s EmpowHer Panel was moderated by GDIT’s Senior Director, Inclusion, Diversity & Giving Adrienne Alberts. Joining her were Darby Chellis Bade, our Federal Civilian Program Director; Nikoia Greene our Senior Director of Operations; Lara Rivera Lopez, a Senior Program Manager at GDIT; and Leigh Palmer GDIT Senior Vice President, Defense.

Adrienne kicked off the conversation by talking about how diversity requires uncomfortable conversations and asked the panelists to share examples of how they’d addressed those conversations by traveling out of their comfort zones. This led to a discussion on inclusive leadership – what it means, how to demonstrate it, and how the panelists have worked to bring people along on their leadership journeys. The stories were inspiring and encouraging and reinforced the event’s overall theme of how diversity – most certainly – fuels innovation.

The event concluded with a Wrap-Up from Grinnell, who closed out the event by inviting everyone to join a virtual happy hour and networking session.

This was such a special event – and the best part is that you can watch all of the sessions whenever you like! Kudos to everyone involved. We’re already looking forward to next year!

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