By Jennifer Gades
Photos by Hillary Ehlen
“I never thought I would be in technology. I never did. And I lived close to Microsoft Fargo,” stated Nicole Sayler, Partner Development Manager at Microsoft. Sayler has been at Microsoft for three years now after being recruited by some friends. When they first approached her about making the move, she quickly dismissed them, thinking there was no way she could thrive in a technology-based company. Not only has she been super successful, she is now leading a team of like-minded women through the Women in Technology group, a team that is quickly making waves in the Fargo area.
Microsoft itself hosts the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners where Microsoft employees and partners can come together and network. Within this group, members began to identify a small yet strong group of women and saw a need to form a special network around them. As of November 2018, this group of women has separated from the Microsoft name and become a chapter of Women In Technology (WIT), a global organization for any woman in the technology field. Becoming a chapter of WIT allowed the group to broaden their reach and include members who are in any technology career or pursing a technical career. With more than 80 chapters in 40 countries, local WIT members have found a great support system for what can be an isolating place for a woman.
“Right now, Microsoft is 26 percent women, which is insane,” Sayler explained. “Especially on this campus, we have a large sales organization, so you would think you would see the scales shift a little bit. The other interesting part of it is in the deeper technical roles and in management roles, there is only 19 percent women.”
Sayler explained that Microsoft has placed a focus on diversity and inclusion this year, making it one of their core priorities. They even brought Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, to a Women in Technology luncheon during their Partner Conference as a surprise speaker. Despite having a great amount of support from the company, the numbers of women in the field are just not where they need to be.
As of December, in a mere two months, the Fargo WIT chapter has already grown to more than 70 members, making them one of the largest chapters in the United States. The Fargo chapter is just getting started, so what makes the Women in Technology chapter in Fargo so different?
“I don’t know if it’s about technology, but there is definitely something different about Fargo,” explained Alice Ancel, Canada Channel Manager at Microsoft. “Here, it is a true community. I have lived in big cities, and you don’t find a community where any time you need somebody, someone knows someone who knows someone. Everyone is super welcoming here, and everyone wants to get involved in some type of way in the community. I feel like it is easier to have a greater impact here because everyone actually wants to do it, to lift each other up.”
Ancel moved to the United States from Paris, France, 10 years ago and relocated to Fargo through her work at Microsoft in October 2017. After working with Sayler, she was asked to help co-chair the local WIT chapter. “I am also using this as my network in Fargo,” she explained. “It is one thing to be in Fargo and meet other women. It is another thing to move from another area to Fargo and look for other like-minded women in the community.”
Each month, members of the local Fargo chapter attend a Coffee Connect event where they bring in guest speakers, recommend books and network together to support each other. They also stay connected to the members of other chapters with global network calls. On those calls, they talk about what they’re doing in their chapter locally and hear what other groups are doing to make a difference. They even have a WhatsApp group that encourages and supports each other on a daily basis. “We are really using WIT as that platform for any woman to get to where they think they can’t get,” Ancel explains.
A prime example of this mission is their partnership with the MISS WIT program. MISS WIT, which stands for Many Individuals Seeking Success, allows members to mentor college-going women on basic success skills. WIT members help the students learn how to do their finances, put together a resume, use LinkedIn and more. In the second half of their semester in the program, they create an application that a local charity can use. Each student submits a request for a scholarship, and then money is awarded to help put the applications into action.
WIT is also about giving back to the FM community. This winter, they are running the “What’s Your Power Suit?” initiative with the Jeremiah Program. The Fargo WIT team is mentoring six mothers who are part of the Jeremiah Program in Fargo-Moorhead and taking them out to pick an outfit they can wear to their first interviews, board meetings and other professional events as they enter the workforce. The women will also receive personalized baskets with feel-good, empowering items like face masks, jewelry, accessories and lipsticks. The WIT women recognize that these mothers are spending the majority of their money and energy on their children all while going to school to better their futures. They wanted to be able to give back to the mothers and do something for the women themselves.
Whether they are helping each other find new jobs, recommending a good book or podcast or helping educate young men and women on the opportunities within the technology field, Fargo WIT is making waves globally. Sayler explained, “It is not about the partnership between Microsoft and partners; it is about women and technology and networking and building each other up.”