MORRISVILLE — In celebration of Women’s History Month, global tech powerhouse Lenovo hosted a virtual event on March 9th seeking to further advance the conversation surrounding gender equality in the workplace. Lenovo, along with The Female Quotient, an organization dedicated to helping Fortune 500 companies advance gender equity, hosted “A Seat at the Table,” which included panel discussions with key business leaders that centered on the importance of cultivating and retaining women in an industry that has historically been dominated by men. Lenovo’s Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, Marsha Mansfield, recently spoke to The North State Journal about the significance of the event, her hopes for bringing more women into technology-related positions, and also shared part of her personal story in terms of her own path to discovering career success in the tech sector. Mansfield’s own story is compelling in and of itself based on the fact that she grew up in rural Mebane with little to no exposure to STEM subjects in grade school (science, technology, engineering and math). She went on to study communications at North Carolina State University and says it was not until after graduation that she was really first exposed to the tech industry, when she took a job selling Personal Computers for IBM over the phone (the PC division has since acquired by Lenovo). She has been with Lenovo for 24 years.
NSJ: One of the points in the “Seat at the Table” event materials is that when women are an active part of a discussion, businesses experience “radical innovation.” How have you seen that play out in your career personally and in business environments you’ve been a part of?
Mansfield: “Lenovo believes our workforce should mirror our customers. Our opinion is that the diversity of our customer base is what allows us to make successful products for a wide range uses. Women are in only 30% of total technology related positions within the labor force which is disproportionately low. Until we have equity in how many women are represented and involved in tech roles, it is my belief that we still have a lot of work to do. I mentor a lot of women in my role here at Lenovo and I always say to them “Have an opinion, have a voice and don’t be afraid to use it.”
NSJ: You’re leading the segment of the event about women navigating the tech industry. Can you offer a sneak preview of your journey within this industry historically populated by men?
Mansfield: “Women need to have a voice especially in a male dominated industry like the technology sector. I think we need to pour more resources into STEM education at an early age in school. I grew up in rural Mebane, N.C. and was not exposed to STEM subjects in school. I had no idea there was this whole other world out there as it relates to science, tech, engineering and math. We need to open girls eyes to the possibilities in order to get them excited and involved.”
“A shocking yet true statistic is that women make up 57% of the US workforce but only comprise 30% of all US computing and technology related positions.”
Marshae Mansfield, VP and Chief Customer Officer, Lenovo
NSJ: What advantages does being a woman in this industry have at this moment in time?
Mansfield: “I think a challenged world is a productive world. Men and women working alongside each other in the workplace is a good thing because men and women challenge each other. But I do think Lenovo among other companies recognizes that women need to take on even more leadership roles within the industry. For instance, in 2014 we started a global corporate initiative….a women’s executive leadership program and this was in addition to the other programs we’ve had in place for women over the years. Lenovo puts a lot of resources into supporting the career paths of women. It’s wonderful.”
NSJ: What are the biggest obstacles the tech industry faces in terms of gender equity and fostering innovation from women?
Mansfield: “We have to be keenly aware that men and women bring different perspectives to everything in life and that is a good thing. We need diverse customers (students, men, women, children) to be able to successfully develop and market a broad range of products. Lenovo remains successful because of the diverse client base we have and continue to make products for. We recognize different genders have different needs for technology in their lives.”
NSJ: How can the tech industry bring more women to the table, and how, specifically, would the industry benefit from focusing on gender equity?
Mansfield: “We need to get women interested in tech related jobs from a young age and again this goes back to exposing them through STEM subjects in school. Lenovo is also recognizing that women may value a certain device or product that men simply don’t see the value in. For example, we just designed a laptop that is so small it can fit inside a purse or lab coat pocket. It is really pretty tailored to a woman’s lifestyle. I think more product design like this would be hugely successful as we focus on equity.”
In addition to Lenovo’s global leadership development program they also founded Women in Lenovo Leadership (or “WILL”) in 2007. WILL is Lenovo’s flagship employee resource group, active in more than 40 countries worldwide. WILL provides events, forums and workshops for career advice, skills growth and development, mentoring and networking opportunities, and community service activities. Lenovo also partners with Dress for Success of the Triangle to provide women the tools they need to succeed in the workplace, achieve economic independence, and break the chains of generational poverty. To date, they’ve helped over 16,000 women in the Raleigh-Durham area by providing professional attire, cover letter and resume writing workshops, career counseling, and employment retention services. Lenovo began partnering with Dress for Success in 2012, supporting the organization through donations and employee volunteerism.