UPMC

By Hank Walshak

We hear talk nowadays about empowering women in the workplace, but few companies take steps to walk the talk. One such organization in Pittsburgh, UPMC, renowned leader in healthcare innovation, enables female employees to initiate two women-oriented programs–Women in Information Technology (WIT) and Female Leadership, Innovation and Growth in Healthcare & Technology (FLIGHT).

The core team for the FLIGHT initiative
The core team for the FLIGHT initiative is: (back row from left)Varalakshmi Anantharaman, Belinda Koontz, Tanisha Smith and Morgan Ghinassi; and (front row from left) Lisa Madden, Coilynn Buford, Tara Williams and
Jennifer Brown

Launched in 2017, WIT is thriving thanks to the support and commitment of Ed McCallister, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of UPMC. “In reviewing our diversity and inclusion metrics, it became obvious to me that our technology workforce did not reflect our society and the diverse consumers that we serve,” said McCallister. “We must have a diverse workforce to meet the needs of our patients, employees and consumers.”

The percentage of women employed among the 1,800 in the UPMC Information Services Division (ISD) is 35 percent, better than average for technology companies but still not reflective of the population UPMC serves.

So McCallister enlisted Shireen M. Thomas, ISD Staff Associate, in his efforts to change that. “I jumped at the opportunity,” she remarked. “Our division is responsible for all the technology infrastructure and clinical information systems that clinicians use. I knew that this work would make a difference in the lives of many women, in addition to our customers at UPMC.”

With the help of a steering committee, she and McCallister created a multi-part strategy to better retain female employees who work in ISD and to attract more women from inside and outside the company. Their strategy promotes technology-career paths for women by highlighting flexible work arrangements and rewriting archaic job descriptions.

 “Our previous job descriptions were based oftentimes on outdated requirements for old technologies,” said McCallister. “Changing the criteria to reflect today’s technology jobs – like cloud engineers and project managers – opens the door for a more diverse applicant pool, including women.”

McCallister and Thomas recently launched a pilot mentorship program and bi-monthly training and development efforts that focus heavily on topics relevant to women in technology.

Members from the WIT Committee
Pictured above: Members from the WIT Committee attending the United Way Women’s Leadership Council “Power Up!” Breakfast in September 2018.

At UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of UPMC,  Product Manager  Tara Williams and her colleagues have created a separate, but complementary effort to boost the careers of women in technology. “There are plenty of women in health care, but not on the technology side,” said Williams. “I decided we should do something about that.”

With the support of UPMC Enterprises President Tal Heppenstall, Tara Williams and Jennifer Brown formed a team of 10 individuals from Enterprises in January 2018 and started FLIGHT. Their goal is to raise awareness about opportunities for women in technology and to create new opportunities for them through networking and mentorship within and outside of UPMC.

Since its start, FLIGHT has held two major panel discussions of particular interest to working women, with a third planned in December, and built a community of more than 350 interested women.

Now Williams and the FLIGHT team are planning a mentorship program and want to broaden their efforts to reach the wider tech community in Pittsburgh. And Williams hopes to attract more men to FLIGHT’s events, too. “We want men to be our partners, aligned with our goals.”