FORBES: Why Women Shouldn’t Have to Justify a Seat at the Table
Having grown up in Ghana, Abena had always envisioned the ways that African countries could leverage the digital revolution to solve key challenges such as poverty and access to education and healthcare. She saw technology as a key in propelling Africa towards becoming a major player on the world stage. Yet while she kept abreast of the fast pace of technological change, she hadn’t had a chance to truly immerse herself in its potential to drive business value. That is, until the day she was presented with an opportunity to take on a lead role in the Advanced Digital Capabilities Group at Hershey. Although challenging, the role enabled Abena to leverage her background in strategic thinking, partnership building, and enterprise relationships in an exciting new way.
Today, her role as Senior Director of Advanced Digital Capabilities affords her the opportunity to investigate the diverse ways that technology such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence can transform the seemingly non-tech industry of consumer goods.
Admittedly, while Abena does not work in the tech sector per se, she’s faced some situational issues of her own. How is one to network when there are seemingly very few in a similar field to connect with? Also, beyond the reality of holding a tech position in a non-tech sector, she quickly realized that there were very few women in her field that looked or sounded like herself, but refused to allow this to hold her back. Instead, she focused on building a diverse network across demographics and sees her distinctiveness as a plus, and an incredible opportunity to improve the industry for future generations. With the right education, career pathways, and workplace programs, there can be tremendous opportunities for women in tech — and Hershey is a perfect example of that.
Hershey has long-since been a trailblazer for female advancement. Women have held board positions at the company for decades. Today, the company’s CEO, CFO, Chief Growth Officer, and Chief Legal Officer are all women! The company is proof of what is possible when a company invests in women by providing opportunities for, skills building, mentorship and performance recognition within the workplace.
Having worked at such a diverse company, Abena finds questions regarding what women ‘uniquely’ bring to the tech industry ridiculous, saying, “I have never seen an interview that seeks to justify the unique skills that men bring to tech. We shouldn’t have to justify why 50% of the population should be included in creating their own future.” Abena isn’t alone in her concerns about having such a homogenous group of individuals in charge of algorithms that increasingly control so much of what we do. Just as she cannot fathom the technological needs of a 75-year-old white male retiree in Montana, those in Silicon Valley are unlikely to understand her unique needs either. We need diversity in tech.
In Abena’s mind, diversity isn’t a charity project and it’s certainly not about ‘giving up’ seats at the table. It simply comes down to good business. If companies want to succeed, they need to know their consumers, and who knows them better than those who are actually living those varied experiences? There are countless qualified women eager and able to make a difference as peers; anyone making excuses that the table is already full or not right for women is eroding shareholder value!