A different kind of WIT: MIT’s Women in Information Technology employee resource group
November 20, 2018
Robyn Fizz
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Josee Lapointe and Donyatta Small
Image: Robyn Fizz

The co-leaders of MIT’s Women in Information Technology Employee Resource Group met when Josée Lapointe asked Donyatta Small to guess the number of Skittles in a jar at the 2017 IT Partners Conference. (The prize, won by someone else, was a gift card to Flour.) The two women started chatting and Lapointe asked Small if she might want to join Women in IT (WIT). Small was curious, attended one of the group’s Brown Bag IT lunches and was impressed with the vision. “I saw the potential there and figured ‘I want to be a part of this.’”

At the time, Lapointe, an IT specialist with Information Systems and Technology (IS&T), was scouting for a volunteer to help co-lead WIT. After three or four appeals, Small, an IT consultant with the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC), agreed to step up.

The WIT ERG group, started in 2014, sponsors Brown Bag IT lunches and the occasional breakfast and is planning an after-hours event. Lapointe and Small have also connected with Harvard’s Women in IT group. The Harvard group invited its MIT peers to an August mixer on the roof deck of a new building at 784 Memorial Drive. MIT’s WIT plans to reciprocate with its own rooftop event at MIT next summer, and will invite women from other Women in IT groups, including those at Boston University and Yale. MIT’s WIT has also reached out to Women in Technology International (WITI).

Making connections – and more accessible job descriptions

MIT’s WIT provides members with a productive way to connect, network and increase their visibility at the Institute. It’s a forum where women in IT and their allies can relate; men are welcome to join. At WIT lunches, group members talk about their experiences and provide support for each other. Lapointe notes that “It’s a place to vent but also a place where we learn what the issues and challenges are and what we can do to advocate for the group.”

One area they singled out for improvement was IT job descriptions at MIT. Lapointe asked WIT members to review them and offer insights as to how they could be written to make them more accessible to women. A lot of IT job descriptions focus on technical specifics but don’t describe the role, the kind of team you’d be on, and the work environment – will you mainly be working by yourself or collaborating? These are factors that matter to women in IT, and MIT Human Resources has worked to incorporate WIT’s suggestions.

Training and mentoring

In the near future, WIT plans to offer tech-specific training sessions to its members. Since people in the group have various job responsibilities, they can take turns describing a range of IT roles at MIT. Small, for example, is a Jamf Pro administrator. (Jamf is an enterprise mobility management tool for Macs.) At a Brown Bag IT lunch, she could give a basic rundown of how Jamf works, how her office uses it, and its benefits. Other potential topics might include basic networking – TCP/IP and setting up machines for DHCP – and the different languages used for web development. Small sees this type of training as a tool for raising awareness and helping members aim for other types of IT jobs at MIT.

While WIT has done some informal mentoring, the group hasn’t yet made it an official offering. They plan to have an internal group discussion about how mentoring would work best and to confer with the Harvard WIT group, which already has mentoring in place.

Looking forward

Lapointe thinks that MIT’s Employee Resource Groups serve an important function by providing a lot of support. But she also observes that it’s important to respond on a day-to-day basis to make the work environment better. “If you see someone having difficulty who needs training or support, be that person you might not have had when you were coming up in the world. Let’s help each other, support each other.”

Curious to learn more? Visit the Women in Information Technology Employee Resource Group website to join the mailing list, find out about upcoming events, and check out their resources.