Blog Category: Women in Tech

In Celebration of Black History Month

In honor of National Black History Month this February, we sat down with longtime friend of Catalyst, Ellen Turner, Founder, President and CEO of the William Everett Group (TWEG) with over 20 years’ experience in IT and the public sector. TWEG is a Black-owned, women-owned consulting firm based in Chicago and has been a close collaborator of Catalyst for several years.

Conversations like these help us gain perspective on the challenges, advantages, and importance of minority-owned businesses working in the government technology space.

Here’s what Ellen remarked in our interview.

What path led you to founding TWEG?

After spending many years working and starting other firms, I decided that I wanted to create a women and Black-owned management and technology firm. Over the years, it was clear to me that there was a market for such a firm. I had worked hard to ensure the success of others and thought perhaps I could do this for myself.

I also had some very specific goals and purposes for my firm: I wanted to focus on offering careers in consulting to folks in brown and Black communities. In all my years working with and for consulting firms, I still believed there were not enough opportunities being afforded to people in those communities.

I also wanted to engage in work that fulfilled my need to be in the public sector and a quasi-public servant, as well as working on projects that helped improve the lives of people in our communities.

It was wonderful to find a group of highly qualified team members that shared my aspirations.

When your team is working with a public sector client, how do you keep accessibility and inclusion front of mind? How do you make sure your solutions work for all constituents?

The beauty of having a diverse consulting firm is that we don’t have to work hard to achieve this goal. We think very strategically and intently about where and who we place on our consulting engagements. Sometimes it can be intentionally in an environment that isn’t particularly diverse. We believe that most people are caring and appreciate the opportunity to learn and engage with others and to understand the experiences of people who may have different life experiences.

We find that this helps everyone grow and become better leaders and colleagues.

What public figure, living or deceased, do you look up to most and why?

Of course, the main person was my grandfather, William Everett Rozelle. He was most admired for his love for his family, his dedication to our community, and his influence on my dreams. The person I also admired the most is President Barack Obama. His presidency, which I thought I’d never live to see, gave me so much hope for my children and grandchildren. My grandchildren grew up only knowing at first that there was a Black president, and it seemed very normal to them. I was elated and so encouraged for the future.

In your opinion, what unique perspective do minority-owned businesses bring when deploying public sector technology?

Most minority-owned firms have worked extremely hard to start and maintain a business. They have had to make investments of their hard-earned dollars and have such a deep desire to showcase the fact that we perform as well as Tier One firms (sometimes because our teams come from those firms).

We don’t take the opportunities that we win, whether as a prime or subcontractor, for granted and we truly have the desire to succeed. When we do, our clients also win.

We have a deep understanding of their challenges and look at them as partners that we advise in a way that will help them shine. We genuinely care and want to prove that they can get great value and performance from our companies.

What advice and/or resources would you recommend for underrepresented youth who are looking to work in the government technology space?

Part of our company’s corporate giving and culture is preparing the next generation of youth in at-risk communities for working in consulting and particularly government technology. We connect with students from the Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges, Chicago State, and the Austin community to offer them an opportunity to shadow our teams. They learn the discipline of working on projects that require a great deal of listening, patience, and high standards. We showcase the projects we have worked on that relate to their lives directly, so they understand how this work improves the lives of others and those that live right in their homes and neighborhoods. It is extremely rewarding.

As technologists in the public sector, we must always strive for inclusivity, accessibility, and transparency in our solutions, which includes learning more about underrepresented communities and constituents alike. Thank you, Ellen, for taking the time to chat!

This blog is a continuation of our reflections on the importance of minority-owned businesses in the government technology industry. Check out our celebration of Asian American History Month from May 2021 here.

Audrey Mathis

Let’s give a warm Women in Tech Tuesday welcome to Audrey Mathis, the Director of 311 City Services at Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC). 

Audrey oversees the City of Chicago’s 24/7 non-emergency 311 contact center, the agency responsible for addressing City service requests and offering information regarding city programs, initiatives, and events.

Audrey attended college at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then accepted a position with the City of Chicago. Over time she worked in several departments with an emphasis on project management and eventually joined the 311 team before being appointed 311 Director nearly nine years ago. Citing the trailblazing astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison as inspiration, Audrey notes that we can create a more inclusive tech industry by advocating for and focusing on STEM programs for women in minority communities beginning in the early elementary school levels. 

Outside of work, you can find Audrey singing, spending time with family and friends, and discussing good reads with her book club. 

Sarah Emas

It’s the last Women in Tech Tuesday of June! To close out this month, we’re recognizing our Senior Salesforce Consultant, Sarah Emas. Sarah manages Catalyst’s 311 product; as such, she engages with users and stakeholders to get their feedback, and then relays their insight to Catalyst’s development team to make the suggested enhancements.   

Since she interacts with clients so extensively, Sarah recalls some of the most influential advice that she has ever received is to never use acronyms in front of the client. She explains that acronyms can confuse clients and make them feel like they’re not making an informed decision. The underlying advice there is to always make clients feel as comfortable, empowered, and knowledgeable as possible, and this is a practice she brings to her day-to-day work at Catalyst.  

Sarah advises fellow women in STEM to speak up in meetings and offer ideas to supervisors in a one-on-one setting. Perceived inexperience can hinder a lot of women from leaning in, but Sarah notes that everyone, including and especially those with a fresh perspective, can be integral to bringing great ideas from idea conception to project closeout. 

Stacey Mansker-Young

Stacey joined the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology 18 years ago, where she currently serves as the Deputy Commissioner of Policy, Planning, and Management. In this role, she holds the awesome responsibility of overseeing the Project Management office, Technology Policy Program, Information Technology Strategy Committee, Information Research Services, information and communications, and organizational change management.

Stacey’s career path in technology started during her high school years, in which she participated in STEM programs; she ultimately minored in Computer Science in college. Both experiences allowed Stacey to see first-hand that women were excelling in technology, giving her the confidence and assurance that she could successfully carve out a space for herself in male- dominated industries.In order to instill this confidence in other women, Stacey advises fellow women in STEM to use their voice and positions of power to stand up and empower one another. Advocating for access to STEM education, fostering networks of support, and opening up opportunities to fully lean in are the routes through which we can increase women’s representation in this field. Outside of the office, you can find Stacey volunteering at Ronald McDonald House Chicago with her family, as well as supporting the Glass Slipper Project, Mayfair Academy, Chicago’s Food Bank, and Working in the Schools.

Cindy Talwar

Welcome back from the long weekend, folks! Believe it or not, it’s Tuesday…#WomenInTech Tuesday to be exact. Today, we recognize our Office Manager, Cindy.  

Cindy handles a variety of accounting functions and general administration in the office to keep the wheels of our firm turning. She is also responsible for the monthly payroll, employee benefits, on-boarding tasks for new team members, and supply inventory. Cindy was brought on board when “temporary” help was needed in 2005…here she is in 2019, as integral to the day-to-day functions of our company as ever! 

Cindy advises women in tech to always believe in themselves and take advantage of opportunities to lean in. 

When she’s not in the office, you can find Cindy at work in her garden, crafting, cooking, and snuggling up with her best furry pal, Toby. 

 

Nicole Nicholson

We’re back for another #WomenInTech Tuesday feature! Say hello to Nicole Nicholson, who is one of Catalyst’s stellar Project Managers and our Marketing Lead. 

As a PM, Nicole plays a critical role on our City of Chicago 311 modernization initiative. She manages the external/public-facing components of the project, particularly the CHI311 mobile app and the Community Portal available at 311.chicago.gov, keeping the end user and their experiences using our platforms front-of-mind at all times. Internally, she leads the marketing efforts for our firm. In both roles, Nicole leverages the creativity cultivated from her content management and journalism background.  

In fact, Nicole’s background informs her approach to advocating for diversity in STEM. She insists that people who don’t have an educational background in a “pure” STEM field can certainly carve out a place for themselves in this industry. Nicole is a living example of this advice, and she has been a superstar on the Catalyst team for the past 5 years because of it! 

When she’s not in the office, you can find Nicole rock climbing at @brooklynboulders or diving into her next good read. 

Alissa Ahn

Happy Women in Tech Tuesday, friends! Today, we’re delighted to share more about one of our Business Analysts, Alissa Ahn. As a BA, Alissa learns more about clients’ business processes, identifies their pain points, gathers requirements for an ideal solution, and employs best practices along the way.  

Alissa recalls that her most memorable experience at Catalyst was the day of her interview. She met with our COO and one of our Senior Project Managers, and the group ended up talking for hours…literally, hours! 

For Alissa, Catalyst came with more than a new job; it came with a family. It came with leaders that challenge our teams. It came with incredibly smart and supportive co-workers. Finally, it came with the opportunity to learn and to innovate in an ever-changing industry. 

When Alissa first started working at a different firm, a former colleague once asked her, “If the lead on your project was out sick, would you need to cancel meetings? Or could you step up to continue the project?” Since then, Alissa challenges herself every day to not fall into a pattern of mediocrity and leans in at every chance to do so. For that reason and many more, we are so grateful to have Alissa onboard! 

Catherine Au Jong

She is responsible for communicating with clients to gather business requirements, analyze their pain points, and ultimately deliver a transformative solution.

Catherine is also Catalyst’s resident fashionista. Outside of work, you can find her sewing, exploring fashion trends, and taking pictures of murals around our great city. This creativity informs Catherine’s work at Catalyst, as the problem-solving and design stages of product delivery require a great deal of innovation and ingenuity.

Catherine advises fellow women in STEM to realize that the power for change starts from inside each and every one of us.

In combatting negative internal voices, Catherine notes that she finds the confidence to start something new. In starting something new, Catherine constantly pushes herself outside her comfort zone, gathering more experience and becoming more and more confident in her work. Catherine is an instrumental part of our team, and we thank her for her insight and inspirational words of wisdom!

Komal Shah

Today, Catalyst is pleased to unveil our #WomenInTech Tuesday campaign! We’re thrilled to kick off this initiative that showcases the talent and spirit of the ladies of Catalyst. 

Starting things off is Komal Shah, one of Catalyst’s Software Developers based at the Chicago Department of Aviation. Komal believes that the first step to producing great work is to love what you do. It is for this reason that she thrives off the challenges presented to developers like herself. She enjoys that software development is an ever-evolving field that allows for continuous learning, and she remarks that this constant learning is facilitated by Catalyst’s inviting atmosphere and support from other friendly faces at the company. 

Outside of work hours, you can find Komal playing tennis, painting, or finding her next travel destination. 

Komal urges STEM workplaces to celebrate the diversity on their team, pushing a step beyond simply having women’s representation on board. 

You are an inspiration to us, Komal! Keep on shining.