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When the two Allstars who attended the Women of the Channel West conference in May talked about their favorite speakers, Keisha Jackson was top of mind. After speaking to Keisha myself it became clear as to why: Keisha is a refreshing woman in the tech industry who, after one conversation, will leave you with the lasting impression that anything is possible. Don’t miss Keisha’s wise words below:
Q: What are your barriers as a woman in tech and how do you overcome them?
A: I just started in the tech industry 15 months ago. Previous to that, I was working in the higher education and non-profit sector. I think it goes back to an issue of where and when you even learn about tech as a potential career.
For example, Microsoft is 72% male-identified folks, and 28% female-identified. Those are pretty startling numbers, but it’s pretty typical of what we see across the entire tech industry, unfortunately. I learned about tech-related careers in middle school or high school. Now that I look back, I see how educators mentored that pathway. Although I was involved in STEM-related activities, I still lost touch with computer science. I did an internship that involved HR, safety, coding and all of these different elements in my local city when I was in high school. But the mentorship and the engagement, both on my side and the side of my mentors, wasn’t quite there. I majored in sociology and communications as an undergraduate. After graduating from college, I worked at a non-profit organization for nearly 6 years. Then, after I earned my master’s degree in student affairs administration, I worked at two different higher education institutions. That’s where I saw mentors who looked like me, professionals who were women, people of color and had diverse backgrounds. I think that a lot of what we see in the tech industry is “where can I see myself represented in positions of leadership and management?” That’s where many people tend to flow, where they see themselves represented.
Q: What made you want to go into tech?
A: I was working at the University of Washington in Seattle, specifically in the Foster School of Business. With my master’s degree and professional background, that made perfect sense. I spent 11 years working in the higher education and non-profit sector, but the last three years I was at the Foster School and my job was to recruit small and medium business owners who were women, or minority folks from diverse backgrounds who owned and operated businesses of all varieties, including tech, law, catering, so on and so forth. Working with those business owners, really opened my eyes to the type of work I could do with my background, with my various skill sets, and how I can take having a decade-plus of professional experience within higher education and non-profit and move into a different area.
The work that I was doing with small business owners in the community really led me to a connection at Microsoft that was focused on “how do we look at business strategy? How does Microsoft engage their partner ecosystem?” Meaning the hundreds of thousands of small, medium and enterprise businesses that build their business on Microsoft technology. We call that our partner ecosystem. Learning about that and thinking “I can take work that I was doing in higher education around program strategy and program management, and transition into a business strategy role at an amazing technology company,” wasn’t even something I considered. I thought if I moved into the tech sector, being somebody who had a higher education background, I would do that as a university recruiter. When I had the opportunity to connect with a hiring manager at Microsoft, she and I discussed how technology was foundational but the role she was hiring for and the team’s charter was ‘how do we build business strategy into our digital marketing engines to enhance our partnerships with our business partners at Microsoft?’ I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a job?” I had no idea. Networking and having the exposure of “how do you take your transferable skills from one industry into the next?” and access to the opportunity, of course, is huge.
Q: Do you have an example of a time in your career that you’re most proud of?
A: I would say the time of my career that I’m most proud of is ongoing. It is being able to mentor young women who are interested in whatever industry as they are going through their higher education pathway and trying to figure out where they will land as professionals. That’s been the most rewarding aspect of my career, both when I was in the higher education and non-profit sector and now in high tech, corporate. Being able to connect with young women who need guidance around navigational capital to figure out how this system or this employer works. That’s at the top of, I would say, of life experiences, not just career. Being able to mentor and guide and coach young women.
Q: Do you have any advice you’d give to your younger self?
A: I would just say fail faster so that I learn faster. That’s also my biggest problem I’ve noticed in this, my area for improvement, is the box that I put myself in. Even what I was saying earlier around the fact that I have a master’s degree in student affairs administration. If I was going to move into a different industry, it would have to have some connection to university and college. And I found out that it was not true. So I was limited in my career search for several years because I kept thinking in the box of “if I move into corporate or high tech, it needs to be as a university recruiter” because that’s the background that I have. Why would someone hire me in a role that is not a university recruiter or related to some type of function of that type? I was just very limited in my understanding of what was possible. Part of that is also my access to mentors and leaders, which was mostly in the nonprofit and higher education sector. I know a lot of people that have advanced degrees and have had successful careers, but they primarily work in higher education and nonprofit.