Rolling Out

Spelman’s Women of Color Conference showcases leaders in digital culture

Shelly Jones Jennings,Vice President of Digital, Black Enterprise; Mary Hudetz, editor of Native Peoples Magazine; Nina Terrero, correspondent, Entertainment Weekly; and Doris Truong, The Washington Post
Shelly Jones Jennings, vice president of Digital, Black Enterprise; Mary Hudetz, editor of Native Peoples Magazine; Nina Terrero, correspondent, Entertainment Weekly; and Doris Truong, The Washington Post

Spelman College’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement wrapped its 11th annual Women of Color Conference on Thursday, May 14, 2015 at Atlanta’s Georgia International Convention Center. This year’s theme, New School Leaders in the Digital Era, was a two-day presentation curated to showcase the technology trends and the leaders in digital culture.

The two-day event included a session with today’s “Game Changers,” including Kimberly Bryant, founder, Black Girls CODE; Chevara Orrin, chief creative catalyst, EQ3 Media LLC; and Marietta Davis, VP of dynamics, Microsoft. The Legacy Awards Dinner honoring Joanne Xu, application development manager, UPS Supply Chain Solutions; and Dr. Ayoka Chenzira, founder and director of the Digital Moving Image Salon at Spelman College.

During her acceptance speech, Dr. Chenzira spiritedly pointed out how conference convener, Dr. Jane Smith, is always so energetic and she shared her technology journey. “I like to tell the story how I created the film, Zajota and the Boogie Spirit, with the first Apple computer because it really wasn’t about the computer. It was about my ideas. That’s something that people interested in technology at an emerging level, neophytes, don’t understand. Oftentimes, we get possessed by the ‘oh wow’ of what technology can do. Sometimes people are seduced by that magic and sometimes people are afraid of it. None of these things are more powerful than us because they don’t do anything unless we tell them to do something,” Chenzira said.

There’s no question that we need more women engaged in technology on a professional level. According to the Department of Labor Current Population Survey (2012), women made up only 26 percent of the computing workforce. Also, only 18 percent of computer science majors were women.

In 2012, Dow Jones VentureSource revealed women hold only 11 percent of executive technical roles at privately held, venture-backed companies.

The LEADS program, which is an acronym for leadership, economic empowerment, advocacy in the arts, dialogue across differences and service learning, is the brainchild of Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, and the vision in action of both Spelman class of 1981 alumna Kim Davis, a JPMorgan Chase executive; and Pamela Carlton, an independent consultant in leadership development. Davis and Carlton were the center’s first co-directors. They began what is now the anchor program of LEADS, the annual conference that showcases Spelman’s interest in having a leadership voice for all women.

In her 2003 inauguration speech, Dr. Tatum expressed leadership was at the heart of Spelman’s mission: “a holistic understanding of leadership development that includes mind, body and spirit – an understanding of leadership that includes the cultivation of wisdom and an understanding of social justice.” In 2004, Dr. Smith was appointed the executive director. This year marks the end of Drs. Tatum and Smith’s journey together. Dr. Tatum retires this year after 13 years in the leadership position.

During the conference’s Closing General Session Luncheon, 13 students did a tribute to Dr. Tatum with each student sharing how she helped to keep the academic institution progressive, including improving the Internet experience by increasing the Internet speed and making wireless coverage accessible throughout the campus, moving student email from Lotus Notes to Gmail, developing a mobile app to register for classes, implementing the student technology peer support center and SpelTech, the MySpelman portal and developing online housing registration.

“I am particularly excited in this moment in 2015 about the work that has been done. Entrepreneurship is a big piece of economic empowerment. When we think about the economy and the impact of the Great Recession in 2008 on the future of all these graduates … of course we are excited that a lot of these companies in this room [sponsors] are recruiting our students and there is no lack of opportunity, at the same time we know we live in an economy where for people of color, the wage gap, income inequality is growing and there is no way to solve that problem other than take your destiny in your own hands and create opportunities, and that is what entrepreneurship is about,” shared Dr. Tatum.

This year’s sponsors included Georgia Power, JPMorgan Chase, Comcast NBCUniversal, Georgia-Pacific, PNC, The Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Delta, Genentech and SunTrust.

Follow my conversation on IG and Twitter: @Sistarazzi & @Yvette Caslin and using the hashtag #SpelmanWOCC.

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