Cincinnati hears from women leaders in tech for International Women’s Day

The room buzzed with early-morning excitement. Before work started for most, Cintrifuse and Together Digital were kicking off the day in style. Welcome To The Table: Women in Tech was an opportunity on March 8 to hear the expertise of women leaders in tech across Cincinnati. International Women’s Day, first celebrated in 1911, has long been a celebration of women and a day to draw attention to inequalities that still exist.

The digital and technology fields present many opportunities to advance equity for underserved entrepreneurs. The need for systemic change that grants access and knowledge is desperately needed.

“My true power came when I became an entrepreneur. As a black woman in tech, I gained quite a bit of confidence. I think 2020 with the pandemic illuminated some of the inequities that Black Americans face every day, and we can place a layer of tech on top along with education. 2020 also showed many Black-owned businesses that closed/lost business because they didn’t have a digital presence or way to sell their products/services online,” according to panelist Jessica Shely.

D. Sangeeta, a current cohort member of Flywheel’s Elevate Equity program, noted that companies were not getting the full picture of why women were leaving the tech field from exit interviews. She’s grateful her platform Gotara is a safe, confidential space for women in tech to share their challenges and upskill in their field.

From entrepreneurship to attrition rates to working mothers to extending opportunities for women, this panel event touched on many of the issues that resonate with the women of our city.

Panel speakers shared their expertise and experience. Pictured left to right: Donna Zaring, Jessica Shely, Nicole Armstrong, Amy Vaughan, Anu Vora Panel speakers included Anu Vora, Founder of Candid Ventures and Pay Tile, Nicole Armstrong, Founder & CEO of Ellequate, D. Sangeeta, Founder & CEO of Gotara, and Jessica R. Shely, Founder & CEO of GPD Creative Agency. The event was moderated by Donna Zaring, Director of External Relations and Development, and Amy Vaughan, Owner & Chief Empowerment Officer of Together Digital hosted.

Technology is a male-dominated field. 75% of tech workers are men.

For Anu Vora, starting Candid Ventures to fund other women and underrepresented founders has been the most rewarding part of her career. Vora shares "Composure and clear communication is so important as a founder. And one of my primary jobs is to manage egos. Everyone that works for me is older than me, and many of my employees are men. So, I'm playing psychological jujitsu all day long to manage egos and push my idea forward."

The panel shared their experiences of being underestimated, seeing other women pushed out, and of the roles allies can play.

Nicole Armstrong commented that “there is no ideal archetype for being a tech entrepreneur. There is no checkbox you have to tick. But I think we have to acknowledge that the stories we tell have a particular individual. It tends to be white, and it tends to be male. I was in a very male dominated accelerator, and I was talking with a mentor. It was 2016, I was already running a successful business with revenue coming in. I was told “Well, you’ll have to prove that it works before you get any funding.” And I think of how that is compounded for those individuals with intersecting marginalized identities.”

After the panel, four women were honored with Power Awards for their work as mentors and community leaders throughout the City of Cincinnati.

Power Award Winners
  • Mentor Extraordinaire: Sarah Ditlinger
  • Community Empowerers: Ciarra Wooten and Jessica Shely
  • Rising Star: Elizabeth Gilbert

There’s no guidebook to being a leader. Women are not a monolith, and that’s why there is a continued need to fight for system change.

This is part 1 of a 2-part Women’s History Month series showcasing the female founders and leaders of Cincinnati.
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Read more articles by Miyah Byrd.

Miyah Byrd is a storyteller and advocate based in Ohio. Her work has been featured in KIIONA Magazine, Forge, Human Parts, and ThriveGlobal. She is a former educator whose interests include food insecurity, green energy, and the self-sufficiency of the black community.