EXECS SHARE THOUGHTS ON WOMEN, DIVERSITY IN TECH DURING LOUISVILLE CONFERENCE.
Panelists discuss women and diversity within the tech industry at the TechKNOW conference on Thursday, Feb. 20. Picture from left are Meechelle Parker, corporate member services manager of Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, Brenda Stallings, founder and CEO of Matrix Integration, Wendy Dixie, chief information officer at Kentucky State University, and Condrad Daniels, president of HJI Supply Chain Solutions.
By HALEY CAWTHON – Reporter, Louisville Business First . (Feb 21, 2020)
Brenda Stallings, founder and CEO of Matrix Integration, started her entrepreneurial journey at age 19 by purchasing a music store in Southern Indiana. Now, four decades later, her company has developed within the ever-changing technology industry and expanded to new markets.
Stallings shared how she found success in a male-dominated industry during the TechKNOW conference at Old Forester’s Paristown Hall on Thursday. She was joined on stage by Meechelle Parker, corporate member services manager of Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, Wendy Dixie, chief information officer at Kentucky State University, and Condrad Daniels, president of HJI Supply Chain Solutions.
Matrix Integration, a strategic IT company, has 85 employees within its offices in Louisville, Indianapolis and Jasper, Ind. About 35% of its business comes from the Louisville area, and a few of its local clients include Spalding University, LifeSpring, Louisville Metro Housing and Bluegrass Cellular.
The company had humble beginnings before diving into the computer and telecommunication industries.
“I started in the computer industry in education technology within the K-12 arena,” Stallings said. “I basically sold things during the day and installed them with the custodians at night.”
Matrix Integration became certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise in the 1980s, which allowed business clients to incorporate diversity within its purchasing of services.
Here are a few more takeaways from the topics discussed at the conference:
Women in tech
Daniels said that 60% of women graduate college, but only 26% make it to executive, senior level teams at S&P 500 companies. In Louisville, nearly 27% of tech-related jobs are filled by women, according to a recent report from SmartAsset.
Coming from a small town in rural Kentucky, Dixie said getting access to tech education was a challenge within itself. Now, since beginning her professional career within the technology industry, she said her voice is not always heard.
“Instead of taking it personally, I decided to develop myself professionally and see what values I could bring to an organization,” she said, adding that women need to have confidence that they can perform well in any circumstance. “You need to remain knowledgeable of your industry, the trends and make sure your bringing something to the table.”
Generations of family-owned businesses
While diversity and inclusion were at the forefront of the discussion, family-owned business challenges also worked their way into conversation because Daniels and Stallings both have family-owned and operated enterprises.
Stallings said her four children grew up walking to her office after school and sleeping under her desk. Now those same children work within various areas of the company, including her son Nathan Stallings, Matrix’s president.
“It’s about sitting down and figuring out people’s strengths and minimizing weaknesses, and sometimes that difficult to do with family members,” she said. “You don’t want entitlement to slip into your business.”
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum
Stallings said it’s important to include as many people with diverse backgrounds as possible to continue innovation that is critically important for tech companies.
“To me, diversity is more than gender and race, it’s recognizing our broad differences, from physical abilities to economic status,” Dixie said. “It’s being able to embrace that we are different, including that and being open to receive.”
The only way to verify inclusive efforts is to measure them, Daniels added, noting that HJI’s workforce is 56% minority and female. Additionally, the company focuses on increasing the percentage of its Tier 2 diverse spending in Louisville.
“Good faith is absolutely wonderful, but like everything else, measure what you treasure,” he said. “I think when we start to put numbers to these things, that’s true intentionality.”