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
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Fawn Weaver started a distillery using her own money to honor the life of Uncle Nearest, a former enslaved man who was Jack Daniel’s first master distiller. She was deeply intentional about building in DEI best practices in from the start, which surprised some people who thought a company with a female, African-American leader wouldn’t have to think as much about DEI.
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