As the 2014-2015 president of the popular DC networking group Women in Technology (WIT), Kellye Sheehan is determined to introduce more professional business women to the 20-year-old organization that isn’t just for the tech-savvy.
An experienced senior manager, Sheehan currently leads the Program Management Office (PMO) for a $1.06B segment of Hewlett-Packard’s US Public Sector Enterprise Services organization.
She has 34 years of experience in the Systems Engineering and Information Technology sectors. Her assignments have included serving as program manager, program director, division director, and vice president for large and medium-size companies, leading teams in solution delivery, product management, and business development.
Sheehan studied computer science and electrical engineering (digital systems design) at Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering, and later she studied artificial intelligence at the University of Texas at Austin.
Scroll down to learn more about WIT, and discover Sheehan’s top networking tip.
Women in Technology: Taking Networking to the Next Level
Inkandescent Networking: Tell us about Women in Technology and how it has grown in the last few years.
Kellye Sheehan: WIT just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and I’m proud to say that we have worked hard to stay on top of the changing needs of our 800+ members. What initially started as a speaker program, with one sales and marketing special interest group, has become an organization with several dozen missions and program areas.
- For instance, we are working with younger women with the goal of taking them from the classroom to the boardroom. So we offer mentoring for girls at the junior high and high school level who are thinking about pursuing STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] careers. In fact, when WIT decided to encourage STEM programs for girls, the organization founded the Women in Technology Education Foundation (WITEF), as a fund-raising charity to fund scholarships and educational programs.
- We also offer adult mentoring for women who have been in a STEM industry for fives years or more and pair them with an experienced senior woman. This Adult Mentor-Protégé program is probably our signature program.
- We also provide workshops in Workforce Development, Job Fairs, and Meet the Company sessions with area employers who are looking to hire qualified women.
- For more experienced business professionals, we offer Board Service Training and certification, which helps women who would like to serve on corporate boards.
- And, of course, our regular Leadership Lunches in Maryland and Virginia provide women with opportunities to network during their busy day so they have time to leave work, travel to lunch, and get back to the office.
Inkandescent Networking: What was the major crossroads in building this organization? How did the leadership handle it?
Kellye Sheehan: Time is always an issue. We have a small number of paid staff to manage our administrative office, and the majority of our programs are planned and executed by professional women in technology or STEM-related careers who volunteer. And that is always a challenge.
I also believe that a major crossroads came when we were trying to figure out how to structure our board, which provides leadership and governance, and the various committees that plan and execute our programs. We tried several models before evolving to something approximating our current model.
Another crossroads was how to make women in technology-related careers aware of what we offer, how they can benefit, and what the volunteer opportunities are where they can serve. We now have a communications committee, a social media manager, and regular communications that go out twice monthly from our wonderfully talented office staff. All that has helped tremendously.
A continuing challenge is finding those experienced, dynamic women to lead our programs and committees, and to serve on our WIT board of directors. So it’s back to the time issue. Since many of these women are also busy in their demanding jobs, WIT remains a place where we work out how to juggle and balance all the opportunities at our disposal.
Inkandescent Networking: You host regular networking events, which are really fabulous. What makes them work? And what do you think is the secret to networking success?
Kellye Sheehan: Most people come directly from work, so we offer food at the beginning of our events. We try to plan interesting topics and interesting speakers, with a goal in mind. Then we leave an open segment of time either before or after, which encourages conversation and interaction. You can either “work the room” or stand in one place, and you’ll still come across interesting people and interesting conversations.
Inkandescent Networking: What do you believe is most important about networking?
Kellye Sheehan: If you network regularly, you’ll meet an amazing number of people with similar interests, relevant experience, something to offer, and something they need. Networking fosters making new connections, so we’re not restricted to just the people in our company or work group.
Inkandescent Networking: What are your top three secrets to networking well?
Kellye Sheehan: In order of importance, I’d say:
- Decide before you go what you’d like to get out of it.
- Go prepared to do that.
- Be open to “serendipity.” After all, you never know whom you will meet. Nice surprises often occur.
Inkandescent Networking: What advice do you have for the women in your network about being successful in business?
Kellye Sheehan: Pay your dues. Work hard. Develop skills. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or negotiate for what you want.
Inkandescent Networking: Tell us a little more about your business, and your top leadership lesson for other women? Do you live by that lesson?
Kellye Sheehan: I’ve always been in the engineering industry, working as a leader or executive. I help build complex solutions for customers with very hard problems. I’ve often been aware of navigating new territory by being a woman in a very male-dominated industry.
But, the reality is that I’ve had many men serve as mentors and positive advocates for me over the years. So I would say, look for those who will help you learn, help you develop, and enable you to achieve amazing things.
Take advantage of those opportunities, and just step around any discouraging or thorny people or situations. Show what you can do. Get good advice. Be willing to tell the story of your successes. Negotiate well.
Inkandescent Networking: Looking back, what advice would you have for the founders of Women in Technology?
Kellye Sheehan: When looking to create a new organization or a new program, you may not see the benefit in the same year as when you start. But keep after it, take a good concept and refine it, and eventually a good result comes forward. And so the rest of us are now benefiting from their earlier vision.
Inkandescent Networking: What are your big dreams and goals for Women in Technology in 2015 and beyond?
Kellye Sheehan: I would love to provide services and programs to an ever-larger number of women and girls, and to start successful chapters in other locations around the country. Ideally, our members will also include more women in senior executive and board member roles for technology-related organizations.
For more information about Women in Technology, visit womenintechnology.org.