Bethany Plaza is the director of WITI's (Women in Technology International) Phoenix Network. Julia Miglets, WITI's media manager, talked to Bethany about her role as a network director.
Julia Miglets (JM): How did you get into IT?
Bethany Plaza (BP):
Truthfully, I had gone through a divorce and was looking to reinvent myself, and I learned things quickly. I owned a couple of companies already, and I thought, "What changes fast enough that gives me some excitement to learn?"
I decided on technology.
I got a job with a system integrator, and there was no training and no Google. I asked open-ended questions so I could learn how to do my job. I started solving technology problems, selling technology solutions, and working as a BSA for delivery on one project.
JM: Tell me about your transition to WITI.
When I moved to Arizona, the network was all men. I learned quickly and volunteered with different organizations. I volunteered to teach for the YWCA. I've worked for Casa and AZ Tech Council on some of their committees.
I read a report that 60% of all our hires in the state of Arizona were coming from outside of the state. I said, "Maybe it's time to go to WITI and see if we can get something established." I saw there was an opening for a WITI chapter here and launched WITI Phoenix about three and a half years ago.
JM: Have you faced any adversities as a woman working in a male-dominated field?
Absolutely. I can remember meeting with one leader in D.C., and I knew the technology well, but he tried to treat me like an idiot. Without responding to it, I opened his question up by saying, "Do you mean this or do you mean this?" Then he was like, "Oh snap. She knows what she's talking about."
There's always been adversity, but a lot is about perception and how it's taken. Do I take it personally? Is it my problem, or is it their problem? I choose to think that if there are those issues, it's not my problem.
Those issues have nothing to do with my capabilities, and I ignore them. I'm at a point in my career where I can pick and choose whom I want to deal with, and I won't choose anyone who doesn't have a decent level of respect for me.
JM: Tell me about your specific network and some of the creative avenues you use to stand out from other networks.
I go back to WITI's mission. I make sure everybody understands WITI is not about male-bashing. This company isn't about women versus men, and we aren't trying to start a feminist movement. We all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table.
Low self-esteem is one of the major factors contributing to why women leave STEM. In dealing with the different networks, I try and make sure everybody knows this is a safe environment. Everybody's opinions are welcome.
I reiterate the fact that this is our network; it's not Bethany's, and it's not WITI's. I also create the feeling that in these walls, this is a safety zone, and we don't do male-bashing; we do problem-solving.
JM: Does your network have a mission statement?
I use WITI's mission statement. I identify the highlights and what "empower" means. I make sure my networking is in keeping with the core of WITI's mission because it is valuable and creates differentiators.
JM: Is there anything that you would say to inspire girls and women to take advantage of opportunities in STEM?
Women have this tendency to think they have to have a million degrees. I disagree. The most successful people I've dealt with in technology have not had any college degree. There needs to be a balance.
Women think they have to have a master's to be able to compete. Women want to match up to a job description 100%, whereas a man might fit 60% and say, "Yeah, I can land this job."
Women need to believe in their capabilities. There's more women can bring to the table besides the technical aspects. Women have strengths that men don't have. They're great communicators. They have compassion, empathy, and intuition.
Embrace the things that make a woman, and look at all the options. People think STEM means to be a mathematician or a programmer. There are many STEM roles where women can be an asset.
JM: I want to go back to what you said about how some of the most successful people you've worked with in STEM haven't even had college degrees. I'm curious how they got involved and how they were able to find opportunities if they didn't have degrees.
My ex-husband was a mechanic, and he wanted to get out of the field. He went down the path. He was good at understanding how he could take things apart and put them back together, so he used that capability in his technology career. Much about technology is understanding how to solve problems. He had no college degree, and now he works for one of the large software companies because he used the tools he already had.
I graduated high school at 16, and I have no college degree. I took in kids who came from drug families when I was 17 years old. I didn't have an opportunity to go to college, but I was smart, and I looked for ways to break into the field. I started at the bottom and put the time in.
There are tons of opportunities. Volunteering is a great way to start out. There are opportunities to help with technical support and showing that experience on a resume can open a door.
My ex-husband, for instance, volunteered for an organization, and he was able to show that experience, and then he was able to talk to it. Don't undermine volunteer opportunities to get to some hands-on experience.
JM: Why is technology something that interests you?
Technology is ever-changing. I love to learn, and I'm a problem solver. Technology accomplishes both of those things for me. I will never know everything there is to know about technology, and it also has proven to be able to solve many problems we face.
For 25 years, Bethany Plaza has been an energetic and outspoken leader in the IT industry. As CEO of Conscientia Corporation—a management, consulting, and technology services firm—she's played a pivotal role in helping individuals and businesses thrive. Drawing on her unique blend of solutions-oriented strategic thinking and person-centered leadership development, she has helped a wide range of organizations meet and exceed their goals in business.
Bethany is a master of team dynamics. Having endured the devastating effects of domestic abuse in her own home, she has devoted herself to studying healthy family and team dynamics. Bringing those principles to bear upon the professional sphere, Bethany is able to help leaders develop cohesive models that value and integrate the myriad skill sets located within the organization.
More than a savvy professional, Bethany is a leader of leaders. While her clients regularly need help in the mechanics of developing a successful organization, they also need wise companions to motivate and guide them; to instill hope and confidence in otherwise uncertain circumstances. Bethany makes it her mission to help these individuals find success and fulfillment for both their businesses and themselves.
Julia Miglets is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She studied Professional and Technical Writing and wishes to pursue a career in editing.