Having grown up in Ghana, Abena had always envisioned the ways that African countries could leverage the digital revolution to solve key challenges such as poverty and access to education and healthcare.
She saw technology as a key in propelling Africa towards becoming a major player on the world stage. Yet beyond her vast dreams for Africa, she never thought too much about how technology impacted her personally through her work. That is, until the day she was presented with an opportunity to take on a lead role in the Advanced Digital Capabilities Group at Hershey. Although challenging, the role enabled Abena to leverage her background in strategic thinking, partnership building, and enterprise relationships in an exciting new way.
Today, her role as Senior Director of Advanced Digital Capabilities affords her the opportunity to investigate the diverse ways that technology such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence can transform the seemingly non-tech industry of consumer goods.
Admittedly, while Abena does not work in the tech sector per se, she’s faced some situational issues of her own. How is one to network when there is seemingly no one in a similar field to connect with? Beyond the challenge of holding a tech position in a non-tech sector, she’s also faced with the challenge of finding a network and building relationships in an area where there are so few women and even more specifically women of color. Abena quickly realized that there were very few women in her field that looked or sounded like herself, but refused to allow this to hold her back. Instead, she recognized an incredible opportunity to improve the industry for future generations. With the right education, career pathways, and workplace programs, there can be tremendous opportunities for women in tech — and Hershey is a perfect example of that.
Hershey has long-since been a trailblazer for female advancement. Women have held board positions at the company for decades. Today, the company’s CEO, CFO, Chief Growth Officer, and Chief Legal Officer are all women! The company is proof of what is possible when a company invests in women by providing opportunities for networking, skills building, and mentorship programs within the workplace.
Having worked at such a diverse company, Abena finds questions regarding what women ‘uniquely’ bring to the tech industry ridiculous saying, “I have never seen an interview that seeks to justify the unique skills that men bring to tech. We shouldn’t have to justify why 50% of the population should be included in creating their own future.” Abena isn’t alone in her concerns about having such a homogenous group of individuals in charge of algorithms that increasingly control so much of what we do. Just as she cannot fathom the technological needs of a 75-year-old white male retiree in Montana, those in Silicon Valley are unlikely to understand her unique needs either. We need diversity in tech.
In Abena’s mind, diversity isn’t a charity project and it’s certainly not about ‘giving up’ seats at the table. It simply comes down to good business. If companies want to succeed, they need to know their consumers, and who knows them better than someone of the same demographic? There are countless qualified women eager and willing to make a difference; corporate America simply has to stop making excuses as to why the table is already full.
By Amy Blankson
How can leaders integrate belonging into DEI strategies without overreaching or using problematic rhetoric? The answer begins, like so much of DEI work, with getting clear about what exactly you mean by belonging, and articulating your organizational identity—what you do, and how you expect your team to do it.
It’s been nearly 60 years since the Equal Pay Act, and while women have made major strides both in the workforce and in higher education, the gains are far from equitable. In honor of Equal Pay Day, four Chief Members share the barriers women face when it comes to earning fair pay, and the policies and practices leaders should implement now to really move the needle forward.
The good news is that some progress at the board level has been achieved, particularly in the UK and the EU. However, much more work must be done to attain gender-equal boards and c-suites with people from more diverse backgrounds.