Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
Author: Janie Aggas, Fidelity Investments
I became interested in technology in junior high school and took some programming classes in high school. I really enjoyed them and decided to sign up for some computer science courses my very first semester of college but, having second thoughts after reflecting on my perceived inability to excel in math courses and recognizing how many math courses were required for a computer science degree, I backed out before the semester even began. Instead, I opted for a combination of business classes and word information processing classes. Once I obtained my associates degrees, I started a career in the title insurance industry and became an Escrow Officer conducting commercial real estate closings for clients. While doing that, I became known as the ‘technology guru’ in the office and co-workers came to me for help solving technical issues because our technical support team was not in-house. When I had my son, I started working from home and transitioned to a function helping the attorneys with legal research and ‘unofficially’ helping with technical issues in the office from time-to-time. My co-workers joked that my son’s first words would be ‘server’ as I always had him with me when visiting the office and working on technical issues.
As time passed, my passion for technology continued to grow and I decided to go back to school to get a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Math was still intimidating but I was determined to get thru the tough math courses and, in the end, I found out math was actually pretty easy for me as I finished up my final Calculus class with ease and conquered some Statistics classes to complete my MBA at the top of my class.
I share my story because I want to encourage and support girls like me, who may think that they aren’t good at math (or science, technology or engineering) and who may shy away from STEM in college. I want to inspire them to overcome whatever may be holding them back from pursuing a technology career. My quest to inspire others came to life after joining Fidelity Investments. I had the opportunity to join the steering committee for our regional Women in Technology Special Interest Group (WITSIG) in Texas. It was the perfect platform to unleash my passion around women in technology.
The lack of women in technology is a pervasive problem and, given Fidelity’s focus on diversity and inclusion, we formed WITSIG in 2014 starting in North Carolina and branching out across the globe in 2015 and 2016. We now have chapters in the Northeast, North Carolina, Texas, China, India and Ireland with the number of members nearing 2500 and growing every day. With a focus on ensuring we have diversity of thought at the table, the WITSIG community is empowered to create, cultivate and coordinate a thriving community of women in technology and the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign has become an enabler for us.
I learned about the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign after viewing the NCWIT resources available to Fidelity Investments. I viewed videos produced by NCWIT, Google, Facebook and others. Hearing their stories and reflecting on their use of the iconic red chair and launch of their campaigns, I became excited about the possibilities such a campaign could provide at Fidelity but I didn’t know how to get started in such a large company. Shortly after I learned about the campaign, I attended the 2016 NCWIT Summit with Ann Lorbes, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Fidelity Investments. At the summit, we had a chance to see the red chair in action and learn more about the campaign. After talking with Ann and discussing how to kick off the campaign with our NCWIT representative, Dori Farah, I came back to the office feeling empowered to make it happen.
I recruited two very special ladies, Genesi Patterson and Jen Pan, to serve on a committee with me to get the campaign started. Genesi agreed to serve as our spokesperson and lead the initiative and Jen agreed to help with developing our internal website, taking video of the executives and helping out in whatever capacity was needed. With the committee formed, the support of WITSIG and our executive team behind us, we set out to launch an internal campaign locally in Texas to start with.
We began with a stealth campaign by strategically placing the iconic red chair in various locations across the Westlake, Texas, campus to spark interest and curiosity. We followed-up by ending the suspense with the reveal of the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign during a networking event held in July. Roger Stiles, Head of Technology for Personal investing, and Mike Gabree, CIO for Fidelity’s Pricing & Cash Management Services, graciously helped us kick off the campaign by recording videos, sharing their stories, sitting in the red chair for pictures, serving as keynote speakers during the event and sharing the purpose of the red chair and the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign. It was a truly inspirational event with nearly 100 people in attendance.
Sharing stories and pictures is a great way to show support but we decided to take the campaign one step further. We partnered with leaders across the organization to host the red chair in and around their office areas. They use the red chair during staff meetings, all-hands events, ad-hoc meetings and round table discussions to get the word out about the importance of women in technology. Each month, the chair is relocated to a new leader and a new location. A video of the leader is recorded and shared on our internal social networking site to inspire associates across the firm. As the success of the campaign in Texas grew, we decided it was time to take a bigger step – expand the campaign beyond the Texas region and expand we did.
The WITSIG chapters across Fidelity partner together, to host a unified, global event annually. On January 18th, 2017, the event kicked off with live audiences in Texas, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York/New Jersey, Rhode Island and Ireland. The event was also streamed live to desktops across the firm. ‘Women Leading Change’ was the theme of the event and the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign was launched across the globe. The event was a panel style event, featuring senior executives. Each region’s panel shared highlights of WITSIG initiatives they had embarked upon throughout 2016 and the impact the events had. The panelists shared their experiences with events such as advocates and allies, round table discussions, workshops focused on careers for girls, STEM day and ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work’ events. At the end of the event, the purpose of the red chair and its role in the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign was revealed to everyone and the campaign was officially launched across all regions. We closed with each region hosting lunch/snacks while executives from their region shared their own insight about the ‘Sit With Me’ campaign, its importance to diversity and inclusion here at Fidelity and their ask for everyone to sit in the red chair to take a stand for the important role women play in creating technology.
Reflecting back on my career, I realize that there has been a lack of women in technology throughout the course of my career. I have held multiple technology positions including roles in technology architecture, service management and information security and, while I didn’t recognize the lack of women in technology early in my career, looking back I realize how very few women there are. Having women at the table is important for many reasons. To name a few: (1) at a time when information technology occupations are projected to grow 12% from 2014 to 2024, women can help fill those positions at a time where demand far outweighs the supply; and (2) diversified groups are better at solving complex problems and do so faster than homogenous groups. Today, I’m asking you to join me and Fidelity Investments and sit to take a stand for women in technology.