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‘Support the Other Women Around You’

Donahue Center Helps Women Majoring in Business, Engineering Examine Diversity in Tech

Students are reflected in the UMass Club window with the Boston skyline in the background Photo by Ed Brennen
With Boston's night skyline in the background, students are reflected in the UMass Club window during the recent panel discussion on diversity in tech.

By Ed Brennen

Addressing a room full of aspiring women leaders in the fields of business and engineering, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney reflected on the countless women who had come before them in the 125-year history of the university.

“Those women who came to UMass Lowell in the early days showed so much courage,” Moloney told the students – all members of Manning Women in Business (MWIB) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) – who were gathered at the UMass Club in Boston for a recent panel discussion on ethics, social responsibility and diversity in tech.

Whether they were training to become teachers at the Lowell Normal School or studying engineering, science or management at the Lowell Textile School, those women were “ahead of their time,” Moloney said.

“Even for me as a first-generation college student, to think about going to college, it took courage,” she said. “And for a lot of you to go into a nontraditional field, I think it takes even more courage. And that’s why tonight is so special.”

Hosted by the Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, the panel discussion explored issues facing women in the tech industry, where it’s estimated that they represent just 20 percent of the workforce. The event also gave students a chance to practice professional networking skills with invited industry guests and alumni.
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney greets students at the UMass Club Photo by Ed Brennen
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney greets students at the Donahue Center's panel discussion on diversity in tech at the UMass Club in Boston.

“Students definitely appreciate coming into the city and being part of an event like this,” said MWIB President Kanya Derisme, a senior business administration major from Boston who helped organize bus transportation for nearly 80 students, faculty and staff.

The panel discussion, which featured Ann Barry, director of global risk management at Juniper Networks, and Jeff Levinson, vice president and chief legal officer at NETSCOUT, built on a similar event co-hosted by the two student organizations last year at O’Leary Library.  

“I think we are aware that engineering fields need to become more diverse, but it was interesting to learn all the different things you can do within a company to make sure everyone is making decisions with ethics and sustainability in mind,” said SWE President Katie An, a senior chemical engineering major from Franklin.

At Juniper Networks in Westford, Barry said the networking solutions company has programs in place to address diversity and inclusion, such as unconscious bias training and nonexclusionary language in job descriptions. She advised students to be authentic, seize opportunities and find mentors.
The panelists discuss diversity issues in the tech industry Photo by Ed Brennen
Donahue Center co-directors Elissa Magnant, left, and Erica Steckler, right, moderate the panel discussion with Ann Barry and Jeff Levinson.

“Find that person who will help you along and help you build out those nontechnical skills,” she said. “And support the other women around you. Whether they’re your peers or above or below you, support them for what they bring to the table.”

When Levinson noticed that corporate social responsibility wasn’t being adequately addressed at NETSCOUT, an application and network performance management company in Westford, he said he took it upon himself to help start the conversation.

“When you see something that needs to be done, raise your hand and volunteer,” he advised students. “You have professors here who are teaching you best practices. You will have opportunities to bring that to your company. When you face challenges, you can have a lot of value even at a very early stage of your career.”

“I really appreciated what Ann and Jeff had to say,” Derisme said. “Being the only woman in the room sometimes, you have to push yourself to be able to outshine everybody.”
Kanya Derisme talks with interim Engineering Dean James Sherwood Photo by Ed Brennen
Manning Women in Business President Kanya Derisme chats with James Sherwood, interim dean of the Francis College of Engineering.

According to Asst. Prof. of Management Erica Steckler, co-director of the Donahue Center, the event was also an opportunity for students to learn about key sustainability issues – including gender equality and women’s empowerment – defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Manning School of Business will soon be a signatory of the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), a United Nations-supported initiative that promotes the sustainable development goals to business students.

“We’re so grateful for the students’ stewardship of women’s inclusion and influence as central and motivating pillars of their student experience,” said Steckler, who moderated the discussion along with Donahue Center co-director Elissa Magnant, a visiting instructor of management.

Manning School Dean Sandra Richtermeyer and Francis College of Engineering Interim Dean James Sherwood both attended the event, as did SWE Advisor Linda Barrington. 
Students enjoy a laugh during the event Photo by Ed Brennen
Society of Women Engineers members talk during the event at the UMass Club in Boston.

Plastics engineering alum Martha Coxe ’99, who works as a client executive for State Street Global Advisors in Boston, was happy to see that students are thinking about such important topics while still in school.
“I’m very involved in my career in helping to think about how we can help improve diversity and inclusion, so a lot of the messages really resonated with me,” Coxe said. “I love the fact that we’re bringing messages like this to the students. When I was in school, there wasn’t as much of a focus on these issues.”

Information systems alum Deborah Riley ’91, who works as a real estate agent on the South Shore and is a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Society, said it was “inspiring” to see so many future industry leaders together in one room.

“I hope they’re able to advance women in tech and business and engineering and bust that glass ceiling,” Riley said.