When Wendy Pfeiffer came back from maternity leave at a major internet company more than a decade ago, a male co-worker took her aside to talk to her about her appearance. He told Pfeiffer that she had lost her edge, let herself go and now looked like a mom.
Alarmed, hurt and embarrassed, Pfeiffer went home, hopped onto the internet, and searched for advice on what women in tech should look like, how women in tech should dress. “I found some fascinating porn sites,” Pfeiffer jokes, “and I also found a link to the San Francisco chapter of Girls in Tech.”
Girls in Tech in a California-based global nonprofit that connects women working in the tech industry through dozens of international chapters. Founded by longtime Silicon Valley executive Adriana Gascoigne, the organization produces technology education and training programs for women around the world.
Pfeiffer is now chief information officer of Nutanix, a publicly traded cloud computing software company. Based in San Jose, Nutanix has thousands of employees and an active partnership with Girls In Tech. In fact, more than a decade after she stumbled across — and ultimately joined— the group, Pfeiffer is the newest addition to Girls In Tech’s board.
“I’m one of the few CIOs who are female, especially in Silicon Valley, but also around the globe” Pfeiffer says. “Suddenly I’m the elder stateswoman in this space. I can think of no better place to put my energy into than Girls in Tech.”
Women, especially American working women, are experiencing a watershed moment. The Women’s March after the election of President Donald Trump, followed by whistleblowing about sexual harassment within the tech world, and assault and harassment allegations against powerful men in industries like show business, technology, politics, food and — let’s face it — just about everywhere, have mobilized the women’s movement. Organizations like Girls In Tech and industry leaders like Pfeiffer are capitalizing on the momentum.
Membership is up. Girls in Tech has more than 100,000 members in 60 chapters in cities around the world, along with numerous corporate partnerships, to help facilitate and fund annual hackathons, bootcamps, global classrooms, friendly competitions and mentorships. All are designed to provide female technology workers with increase education, confidence and opportunities.
“There is power in this unifying force of technology,” Pfeiffer says, “and from my perspective, attracting women to be makers of technology and users of technology and extenders of technology puts that power in our hands. Being able to understand how [technology] works and being able to make more is also incredibly important for women to make sure we have our fair share.”
Girls In Tech’s newest program is one inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Gascoigne, Pfeiffer and their team are developing a curriculum to train tech companies on how to deal with accusations of harassment and abuse among their employees, and how to teach men to zip it when it comes to situations like the one Pfeiffer experienced. They aim to develop systems and software to allow employees to privately report incidents to a company’s human resources department. The system will have built-in timeframes of response and resolution, and will allow employees and companies to document and track incidents of sexual harassment and abuse.
As for that “friendly” coworker whose sartorial opinions Pfeiffer was forced to endure, she eventually confronted him. “Sometimes people say things or do things and they don’t understand the impact of what they do,” Pfeiffer says. “So everyone gets ‘one’ with me.”
Gasciogne is pleased with her new board member. “I really like her attitude and her personality in life,” she says of Pfeiffer. “At the end of the day, we’re all about relationships. We’re all about helping women around the world in their careers, and Wendy has this innate passion and nurturing side of her.”
Without missing a beat, Pfeiffer responds, “I really like you too.”