Carolyn Finch is the executive director of Charleston Women in Tech, a local group of about 900 members that was founded in September 2014.
She previously worked for the City of Charleston as its business development manager for about two years. Finch has also worked on CODEcamp, an initiative of the Charleston Digital Corridor.
She has a bachelor’s degree in U.S. history and communications from the University of California-Los Angeles and a law degree from the University of New Hampshire.
A: There are so many amazing women leaders in Charleston doing incredible things, so I would have a hard time naming just one. One of the most notable women leaders in our community would have to be Mary Beth Westmoreland, chief technology officer of Blackbaud, who is setting the bar for women seeking careers in tech, as well as setting an example as a woman who is truly passionate and engaged with the Charleston community. Not only is she concerned with the ability of her company to embrace women in tech and sees the need for increased diversity, but she extends this hope to the Charleston tech community as a whole.
I would also like to mention a few notable women leaders in the entrepreneurial community: Krissa Watry, founder and CEO of Dynepic, and Suzette Bussey, director of operations at Left Right Now Ideas in addition to her new venture as principal of Open Road Trading LLC. Both women have a fearless, impressive entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed them to successfully launch their initiatives and achieve great success in business. They are an inspiration to other women, especially to those who may doubt their abilities and fear diving head first into their own company.
A: Adriana Gascoigne, founder of Girls in Tech, has grown an incredible nonprofit that aims to get more girls into tech and even out the odds of survival and success. I share a similar vision with her, in that the landscape needs to be changed. It is troubling the amount of women pursuing degrees in computer science has dropped from 36 percent in the 1980s to just 12 percent today. Gascoinge’s leadership has inspired women worldwide to pursue opportunities in the tech industry and break down the stereotypical mold of what it takes to be successful in a tech-based business.
A: Be fearless. One thing I think women carry with them constantly is a sense of self-doubt. We second guess our abilities, overanalyze and worry endlessly — to our detriment. Successful women in business operate regardless of worrying about, “What will everyone think?” Trust your instincts. This is something we should all remind ourselves of each day.
A: Be a good listener. This allows you to stay in touch with what you are trying to accomplish. You can’t run a dictatorship and be successful in a community. It has to come from the bottom up.
Q: What is the best book on business or leadership that you’ve read and why?
A: Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” We need to approach life without the belief that to put yourself out there is to expose yourself to the possibility of failure. Instead, Brown suggests we need to embrace feeling vulnerable, and never look back and think, “What if?”
A: I was asked to speak at the White House for Charleston Women in Tech for the first White House Tech Meetup. I had the opportunity to speak to the growth of the tech community in Charleston and reflect on the engagement of our women members. By meeting and listening to similar organizations, I gained a national perspective of what the current situation looks like for tech-based companies and was inspired by their stories.
A: A great business is one that truly values their employees. Companies need to examine what pro-employee policies are in place (such as paid maternity and paternity leave and flexible sick time) to not just attract the best candidates but also retain them. Companies that embrace their employees as an “asset” should expect far greater returns in employee loyalty.
A: The people in Charleston are just amazing. There is such a sense of community here, and a desire to work together that makes doing business that much easier.
A: We have a long way to go in terms of breaking down old stereotypes and moving the community forward. Embracing change isn’t a bad thing, as long as it is met with an appropriate amount of concern for preserving what makes Charleston so special.
A: Changes need to be done to the computer science curriculum in our education system. Currently in South Carolina, computer science does not qualify as a math or science credit and there are no clear standards for K-12 curriculum in computer science. This is not just a problem in South Carolina, but exists nationwide. We need to make computer science a fundamental part of our public schools, which would require changes within our current system.
A: Charleston has seen a tremendous growth in the tech industry, and we still have a long way to go to compete nationwide. I personally see the need to close the gender gap as one of our most pressing issues to face. In 2013, only 20 percent of computer science graduates were female and I would expect a similar or lower percentage make up the local tech workforce. With women making up 50 percent of the job market, we need to be equally represented in the tech industry. That is what Charleston Women in Tech hopes to accomplish – by supporting, connecting and preparing women of all ages for careers in tech. We plan to increase our current efforts to educate, mentor, and network women in the tech industry, as well as advocate for gender equality by celebrating our local women leaders and addressing existing gender issues.