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Women in tech face even more isolation than simply being a minority in the industry. As tech grows and the gender gap persists, many womxn and those identifying outside the cisgender male experience are entering roles as diverse as marketing, operations, and people. This means women could be the only woman in their company and the only woman they know in their role in a tech company. Three women in the growing Ann Arbor tech scene set out to build bridges for womxn in tech: Alison Todak, Kristina Oberly, and Rachel Phillips are all key players in the Ann Arbor tech scene with experience that ranges from community building to HR and marketing in tech startups. They founded Shine & Rise in 2019 to address the isolation of women in the tech industry. Even after a pandemic forced operations virtual, the organization is growing and expanding beyond Ann Arbor. Now, Shine & Rise is taking an active role in helping organizations diversify tech from the inside out.
Diversifying Tech From the Startup Phase
Kristina Oberly is co-founder and CEO of Shine & Rise, former head of people at Voxel51, and currently consulting in people and operations for Dynamo Metrics. She says Shine & Rise started in a grass roots way out of a group of women working in tech in Ann Arbor. “They were in various business roles,” she explains. “Marketing, HR, operations. They were siloed. We created Shine & Rise to connect those people, to share resources and stories. Many of these women were the only women at their companies.”
Alison Todak, co-founder and Chief Partnership Officer at Shine & Rise, helped build community at tech co-working space Cahoots, is currently an ecosystem developer for Bamboo Detroit, and has experience building partnerships to create bridges that encourage diversity in tech. “There’s no cost to join,” Todak says. “If you identify as female or outside the cis male experience, have a connection to tech or are interested in breaking in to tech, it’s open to anyone.” And Todak is focused now on helping Shine & Rise actively partner with business organizations from venture capital firms to tech companies to create diversity initiatives that start from day one when a startup is hiring key roles.
Shine & Rise runs a Slack channel, professional development and networking events, and aims to be more than a place to connect. “We’re focused on scaling the organization to tackle the diversity issue in tech,” Oberly says. “How can we increase women’s participation in tech?”
We love the focus on partnering with organizations within the tech industry to create initiatives that actively address the diversity issue. More and more organizations coming out of recent movements in that direction are becoming more active in their role to mentor business leaders in creating real change. Events are listed on the Shine & Rise calendar, and the networking on Slack and other channels creates opportunities for more women to both support one another in professional development and get involved with these initiatives. Keep an eye on Shine & Rise for news of partnerships and programs that support tech companies in their shift toward greater diversity.
Mentoring Women in Midwest Tech
Shine & Rise co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Rachel Phillips is a transplant who went to undergrad at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, moved to San Francisco to work for about 6 years, and came back after hearing about the momentum and energy of the tech startup space taking off in Michigan. “One of the draws was hearing so many stories out of Ann Arbor and Detroit about the explosion of talent that is active here,” she says. “That pulled me back, and when I got involved at Cahoots, the energy was amazing.”
“I was mentored well when entering tech,” Todak points out, “and realized that was rare. This motivated me to do that for others.”
Where Is The Best Opening for Increasing Diversity In Tech?
“It’s really incredible to be part of this,” Oberly adds. “When I joined tech, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was the only female working with a group of technical founders who were looking to me for answers. Being part of a community who had been where I am and could connect me with resources [was huge]. The men were great, but even then I felt pressure. Having a community of women is helpful, and it’s nice to know that other women in this situation won’t feel alone.”
With Shine & Rise, the goal is to normalize support of women in tech so that women wanting to break in have resources, meet people who can help speed professional development, and won’t ever feel like they’re the lone holdout in a tech company for years on end.
How does this happen? Shine & Rise is working on plans with VCs directly to increase diversity in teams within startups from the get-go. “If you don’t start with diversity, it’s going to be hard to bring it in,” Oberly says. This is a great point, and one that highlights how many opportunities have gone untapped so far in the effort to diversify tech. As one end of the industry pushes for diversity in the board room, groups like Shine & Rise are working on the flip side of the equation: the birth of startups and how they begin their hiring from funding to growth stage.
As more organizations like this one take on the issue of diversity in tech from all angles, it seems change is starting to break into tech.
Phillips says it has been wonderful building authentic connections: “People have found new jobs, and met new people.”
“Shared resources also helps propel women’s companies,” Todak says.
Phillips adds: “Shine & Rise is a great resource, not only for those moving back to [the Midwest tech industry] but those who have been here for a while, to feel better about their community.”
To learn more about Shine & Rise, you can visit the Shine & Rise membership page to learn about events and membership.
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