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SALT LAKE CITY — As the bios of 21 female finalists were read during Utah's Women Tech Awards ceremony Thursday, two major themes stood out: family and inclusion. The eight awardees were a diverse group of women with specialties in everything from public relations to cybersecurity.
Categories included several for leadership and initiating change in various fields, as well as one for students. The winners of the 2021 Women Tech Awards are:
- Community leadership: Juliette Bautista, Club Ability
- Educational leadership: Lindsey Henderson, Utah State Board of Education
- Engineering trailblazer: Mandy Rogers, Northrop Grumman
- Change catalyst: Nikki Walker, Domo
- Transformational leadership: Dr. Sadiqa Mahmood, Health Catalyst
- Cybersecurity leadership: Sherrie Cowley, 3M Health Information Systems
- Technology innovator: Sujatha Sampath, Micron Technology
- Student pathway award: Anna Bell, University of Utah
The Women Tech Council, a national organization focused on the economic impact of women in the tech sector and the group behind the Women Tech Awards, has honored over 300 women in all aspects of tech since its organization 14 years ago. The organization is based in Silicon Slopes and focuses on the economic impact of women in the tech industry through programs that create a pipeline for women from high school to the boardroom. The finalists selected were required to have a tie to Utah, even if they are not currently residing in the state.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were disproportionately affected, women of color and women with children particularly so. A recent study from Harvard showed that Black women are more than three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white and Asian men.
The Center for American Progress noted that women have lost a net of 5.4 million jobs during the pandemic-induced recession compared to the 4.4 million men lost. This research also mentions that a large part of why women either lost their jobs or stepped away was increased family responsibilities as schools and daycares closed.
"As we face the first female recession and the great resignation, everyone is more acutely aware of the vital impact of women in all fields, especially technology, and the need to create opportunities for women at every level," Cyndi Tetro, president and cofounder of the Women Tech Council, told KSL.com in June.
According to the Women Tech Council website, the purpose of the annual awards is to "celebrate the women who are creating innovation in every sector of the technology industry and impacting our communities in fundamental ways." The hope is to accelerate the recipients' careers and inspire more women and girls to pursue STEM fields.
Award-winner Nikki Walker, director of brand experience and community engagement for Domo, creates and leads public relations programs and initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion, workplace equity and belonging and community engagement. Her previous work includes creating an ethnic beauty devision for a well-known mid-sized NY beauty public relations firm, and she previously told KSL.com that she hoped her nomination as a Black woman would show women and girls of color that "they are wanted and needed in tech."
Along with technology innovator award-winner Sujatha Sampath's many, many achievements she is also a diversity, equality and inclusion advocate within Micron and co-founded the company's first employee resource group to foster diversity and inclusion.
Featured speaker and former Olympian Shannon Bahrke spoke about how when she was ranked No. 1 freestyle skier in the world, she had a knee injury that required surgery and six hours of physical therapy a day to recover. At the end of every session, her physical therapist would say, "OK, one more." And one day when she absolutely did not want to do one more "something shifted in my brain that maybe that could be my competitive advantage," she told the audience.
If she could keep pushing herself to do just one more than her competitors during training, she would be able to outperform them later. And she made a dramatic comeback using that mentality.
She then went on to mention that she had several miscarriages when she was trying to have a baby and ended up retiring from skiing after a successful pregnancy. Instead, she started her own business and took every opportunity to grow that business by sticking with that "one more" mindset, especially amid trying to balance work and motherhood.
The majority of the 21 finalists mentioned being mothers along with their other numerous prestigious accomplishments in their fields and about how motherhood itself and the lessons they've learned from it has helped them to advance their careers.
Laura McCarty, vice president of technical support in the Americas for Pure Storage, tied family and diversity together by mentioning that her role as a single mother led her to want to help people achieve success, and thus inspired her decision to sponsor her company's diversity, inclusion and belonging initiative.
Another finalist, Jamie Lyon, who is vice president of strategy and business development at Lucid, said that her role as a mother of two small children led her to appreciate relationships over simply networks. By viewing networking as building relationships, she can emphasize the human connection rather than simply business opportunity.
Winner of the community leadership award, Juliette Bautista moved from Peru to Utah, so her daughter could have access to the health care she needed. But when Bautista arrived in Utah, she noticed that there wasn't an after-school program about coding for kids, which particularly affected Latino and disabled students. She decided to start her own program and founded Club Ability, a program that teaches children to code.
Bautista spoke about how she teaches her students to create their own video grams in order to understand that computer science can be fun. She spoke of one little girl who made her own games and said, "this student will be the creator of future technology and inclusive technology." But of all Bautista's accomplishments, in her bio she said that she feels that her biggest accomplishment is being a mom.