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Women in Tech Group Aims to Connect, Empower

The group, Women in Technology at the University of California, Irvine, finds its origins in part in its founder’s realization “ ... that we need more of us to be at the table, participating in projects, being in the classroom.”

This article was written by Yvonne Tevis and is reprinted with permission from the University of California IT Blog.

A new diversity affinity group at UC Irvine was announced in August — Women in Technology at UCI (WiT UCI).

Shohreh Bozorgmehri, founder and inaugural chair, said the group aims to connect, inspire, and empower women working, researching, and teaching in technology-related fields across campus.

As a member also of the universitywide UC Women in Technology (WIT) Committee, Bozorgmehri had been considering forming an Irvine WIT committee for some time. But she wanted to make sure others on campus agreed it would truly benefit women, minorities, and the campus.

So she asked. She spent a lot of time over the past year talking with faculty, colleagues in other departments, her own leadership, and her team. The overwhelmingly positive response told her, she said, “even if you’re not in tech, you can appreciate we can do better for this group.”

That message resonates with her own experience. “Throughout my education and career, I’ve always looked around — in every classroom, meeting room, every project — and the first thing I realize is there are very few women. I came to the realization that we need more of us to be at the table, participating in projects, being in the classroom.”

Bozorgmehri, who in June was named “Dynamic Womxn of the Year” by the UCI Womxn’s Hub, very intentionally structured the committee to bring together diverse perspectives: That meant women and their male allies; faculty, staff, and leadership; people from departmental IT organizations and the central Office of Information Technology. She simply believes everyone needs to be at the table to help improve the environment for women and minorities.

The advisory board is a good example of the diversity she seeks. It brings together staff and faculty in technology roles who are committed to diversity and represent the central IT department along with the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, the School of Social Ecology, the School of Medicine, and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

The WiT UCI also has four executive sponsors:

• Kirsten Quanbeck, Associate Chancellor, Equal Opportunity and Compliance

• Tom Andriola, Vice Chancellor of Information, Technology and Data

• Doug Haynes, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Director of ADVANCE; Professor of History, Office of Inclusive Excellence

• Ramona Agrela, Associate Chancellor, Chief Human Resources Executive

“They are our advocates,” Bozorgmehri said. “They help send our emails to the campus. They come to the events.” She said she learned a great deal talking with the sponsors about forming the committee, and believes their champion role will be critical to furthering the committee’s goals.

The pandemic hit right after the committee began forming, but it has not slowed the committee’s progress. Two subcommittees have been formed — one to look into gathering gender-based data and the other to develop educational resources and activities. The education subcommittee’s first event took place Sept. 10. It was a panel session called “Women in Tech Virtual Panel: Altered Environments, New Opportunities” and featured faculty and technology leaders from UCI and UC campuses who spoke candidly about women’s experiences working in tech.

Other events will be developed, informed by feedback about this first panel. Bozorgmehri is developing partnerships with organizations and programs on campus, engaging them in shaping WiT UCI activities. These partners include the UCI Libraries, Academic and Professional Women at UCI, the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and the UCI Office of Human Resources.

When asked what success for the committee would look like for her, Bozorgmehri said, “When someone asks me where I work, and I say, ‘UCI,’ I want them to say ‘you’re such a lucky woman,’ because we have a reputation that we’ve created a really good environment for women. I know change takes time. But we’ll work toward that change.”

Yvonne Tevis is editor of the UC IT Blog, and chief of staff, Information Technology Services at the UC Office of the President.