It takes initiative to enact change, and sometimes the right opportunity lands on just the right person to make it happen. That’s what happened to Microsoft’s Sarah Wulf in early 2014, when her employer came to her with an idea.
“Our (human resources) and diversity and inclusion group had some funds last June, and they asked if I could do something external for women in search (technology). I was like, ‘Yes, please,’” Wulf said.
Wulf is the senior events marketing communications manager for Bing, and she attends multiple search technology conferences every year. She said the offsite networking events had a tendency to be very uncomfortable, with loud music and dim lights that made conversation and networking inconvenient.
When the opportunity to create an event that coincided with Search Marketing Expo was presented to her, she created Janes of Digital. Since the program launched in June 2014, Wulf has organized four events with panel discussions focusing on women’s issues in the workplace, from finding a mentor to asking for a raise to building confidence.
The first SMX to be hosted in Seattle since the conception of Janes of Digital is SMX Advanced, held this week at Westin Seattle. Wulf originally planned for 150 attendees at the event, which took place Monday evening in South Lake Union, but expanded registration at the last minute to accommodate demand.
Wulf said the growth of the program has been amazing but not very surprising. “It’s been a huge hit because people are actually getting to know each other and learn about the human side of women in tech,” she said.
After the success of the first event, Wulf said she was given a budget to produce the event again. Each subsequent event has generated more buzz.
Monday’s event featured a panel of women from the Seattle area who talked about the confidence gap some women face in the workplace, either as subordinates, coworkers, or as leaders. The panelists spoke to a full room of both men and women, and many audience members offered comments and asked questions during the discussion. In addition to the lively conversation in the room, Twitter was ablaze with the #JanesofDigital hashtag. During the event, Trendsmap Seattle tweeted that the hashtag was trending regionally.
“The social media response to Janes has been amazing. We have the panel, but the conversation is continuing after the event and the presence is growing online,” Wulf said. “It’s been fun to hear from these women who are incredible and likeable and all very different, and to hear their different perspectives.”
Wulf said anyone could start a similar program. “I didn’t have a blueprint for this; I made it up as I went along. It’s been a success and a lot of work, but it’s not difficult. Anyone could do something similar.”
The next Janes of Digital will be this month at SMX Paris.