Today marks the three-year anniversary of the official launch of ARA. While these years have flown by more quickly than any of us could have imagined, it’s important that we take a moment to reflect on the incredible journey we’ve shared.
My personal journey with ARA started two years ago exactly and it’s been one of the most significant experiences of my professional and personal life thus far. I attended my first event as a cautious spectator, hoping to walk away with a connection or two. What unfolded instead was the expansion of my own professional network, meaningful connections with mentors, peers and coaches and the incredible opportunity to be able to fulfill some of my most ambitious professional goals.
I owe a lot of my professional success to this organization and in particular the three women who started this important movement those short years ago. Jane Gilligan Hamner, Megan McCann and Leslie Vickrey not only champion the advancement of women in technology, but they live their values each and every day. Because of their vision, dedication and endless drive, ARA has:
- Expanded to six locations (Chicago, NY, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Silicon Valley), with growth in the Connecticut market on the horizon for 2016
- Engaged over 2,500 women in ARA (and counting!) at events across the U.S.
- Provided a mentorship program for women to connect, engage and share knowledge with mentors in the technology industry
While there are many exciting things on board for ARA this year, I’ve asked Jane, Megan and Leslie to take a few moments to look back on what the last three years have meant to them and share some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
What was the driving factor behind starting an organization like ARA?
Jane: We saw the need in the marketplace. There are a lot of networking groups but none that focus specifically around mentoring. ARA’s goal was to build a community of women in technology, each one invested in the future of her passion by ensuring a new generation of talent could also succeed and support that growth via mentorship, events and programs.
Megan: We really aspired to impact the community and space in which we worked and lived. Our growth to other markets has empowered us to expand the footprint – and influence of ARA’s work. We also pushed to drive change, create awareness and ignite positive momentum around a topic that is top-of-mind for many.
What would you list as the biggest ARA accomplishment to date?
Leslie: The success stories of helping women find jobs returning to the workforce, getting promoted, making more money, being more confident in their roles – these women truly, first-hand, accomplish our goals of keeping women in tech and advancing women in tech. I’m also really proud of how many men have stepped up to get involved – we realized quickly that we have to make this about men and women helping women in tech, not just women helping women, to make a difference. And of course, having so much success that we hired a Managing Director to run day-to-day operations and have partnered with power houses such as Motorola, Salesforce, AOL, Mozilla, Viacom – it’s truly one of those “pinch me is this really happening” experiences!
Megan: For me, the greatest accomplishment comes in the form of success stories we hear from women who have been impacted by ARA’s mentorship program – or even by attending an ARA event. It is these anecdotes that fuel the work we do and inspire me personally.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced over these last three years?
Jane: Keeping up with the growth and the ability to provide value at each one of our events, which I’m very happy to say, we’ve done.
Leslie: Managing growth; we were overwhelmed (in a positive way!) by the outpouring of support and with all of us doing ARA on the side so to speak, it was difficult to manage. I’m sure we’d all like to focus full-time on ARA, but the reality is that we cannot. But we all have the vision, and see clearly what can and will happen – to now have a path to achieve those goals and impact so many women and make a difference for an entire industry, it’s truly inspiring.
What’s been your favorite memory so far?
Jane: My favorite memory so far was helping a woman who left the working world for eight years to raise her kids engage back into the industry and help her find a job as a result of attending an ARA event!
Why is mentorship so important to you?
Megan: Mentorship is about giving and receiving. It opens doors for learning and an exchange of knowledge. The wisdom, experience and perspective of others – life lessons which I call, “tidbits” – can create immeasurable impact, guiding us through self-discovery and to our greatest “ah-ha” moments.
What are some of the goals ARA has on board for this year?
Leslie: Our cornerstone is mentoring. Finally having a mentoring platform in place and providing a place for women to go and for companies to send their teams for mentoring will be a top priority. Of course, smart scale is key – perfecting events and engagement in the markets we serve while entering new markets will be critical. Better leveraging our advisory board for support and our volunteer network will be of the upmost value.
Looking back, what advice would you give to yourselves three years ago?
Leslie: I’m not sure I would change a thing, we’ve learned so many lessons along the way. Of course, leveraging a volunteer network and slowing down to set goals/milestones vs. running – but, we are who we are…entrepreneurs who had a vision and moved quickly. Now it’s time to bundle that energy, organize and prepare for the next stage of growth, taking those lessons learned and applying them along the way!
Jane: I agree with Leslie – I don’t think we anticipated how quickly we would grow and expand. It was certainly a surprise! That said, I’m proud of how we’ve managed so far and the learning lessons we’ve encountered along the way only continue to benefit us.
Megan: Ask because if you don’t, you don’t give someone the opportunity to say yes. A close second: seize the moment, never regret not taking it.