It’s hard to think of someone more plugged into the cause of advancing women in technology than Caitlin Sellers Castevens.
Castevens is one of three co-founders of Carolina Women in Tech, a non-profit membership group that “embraces the role that technology plays in [any woman’s] career, business, and life.” She’s also the co-host of the podcast Lady Tech Charmers and recently partnered with a non-profit called She Flew the Coop, rolling out a podcast series about “Waking the flock up,” getting out of your comfort zone, and going after your dreams.
“I think the flexibility of the tech industry and the fact that it is ever-changing — it brings the playground to an even more even playing field regardless of your age,” says Castevens. “If you’re willing to put in the work, get the education, learn the skills, and keep up with the industry, it allows a variety of generations to be able to gain success in the tech industry.”
We talked more with Castevens about her start in technology and her journey to becoming an impassioned community leader.
When did you become interested in technology?
I’ve always loved technology. I worked in IT staffing right out of school for a little bit, and I always thought it was weird that there weren’t a lot of women, there weren’t a lot of BIPOC or openly LGBTQ people. Even people who identify with the fact that they were in technology had to have this really finite skill set. For example, if they were a coder or they were doing quality assurance for tech specific product development then they considered themselves technical but people in education, health care, and blue collar workers didn’t (and still don’t) often identify with being in tech.
It was and still is a very very technical, male-dominated field, and I was like, wait a second, I’m in marketing. I work with a lot of women who use a lot of technology tools. Why aren’t we identifying with being in technology? And so I started asking those questions like, “What does it actually mean to be in the technology field?” And that’s when the [Lady Tech Charmers] podcast and the [Carolina Women in Tech] non-profit as well as other diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging community initiatives started to form.
Why do you think there aren’t more women in technology in the Carolinas?
I think there are a lot of women who don’t realize they’re in technology. Even if you look at teachers. Teaching is a very female-dominated field. They’re using technology every day. Think about this pandemic. [Think about] Zoom, and email, and slack, and videos, pre-recorded videos, audio, online homework assignments — this is all technology. It’s become a table stake in careers across the spectrum. We use technology with everything. So if you’re a female and you are in the workforce, there’s a very good chance that you’re embracing tech in your career.
So it sounds like the definition of what it means to be in technology is a much broader definition than simply being a technical coder or big data analyst, for example.
If you embrace technology in your career, and you specialize in a particular field of technology, then you become a facilitator of technology within your organization.
Say you have this office administrator [in the construction industry] who is implementing BuilderTrend, which is an industry-specific project management tool. She is not technically a woman in tech, but she’s using QuickBooks Online, she’s activating BuilderTrend and setting it up, integrating the bookkeeping tool with a project management tool. She’s doing all the invoices using this technology. She’s helping the superintendent and the project managers get [data] on their phones and learn how to input information on their phones when they’re out in the field. That’s a woman in tech. Even if she’s not technically a programmer, that doesn’t make her any less valuable as a facilitator and user of technology.
Community seems to be a central cornerstone of your mission to advance women in technology. Do you have a personal story in which the value of community was really solidified for you and points to why you continue to be involved in so many communities?
hen I was trying to network and build my business as I was getting started as an entrepreneur in 2013, I got involved with the Plaza Midwood Merchants Association, because I live in the neighborhood and I wanted to get involved with the local business owners. So they brought me in to help them update their website and simple things like Facebook groups. And that was all fine, well, and good, but where I saw the biggest need was being able to serve the schools that were in our area.
I thought, “How can I make a difference with some of our neighborhood schools?” I decided to plug in with one of the leadership teachers at Garinger High School, and we brought some business owners together and created a speed mentoring event. We had 30 students, 10 volunteers at Advent Coworking. Common Market provided lunch. And it was a huge success. We started out simple and organic.
And then we got incredible feedback from students, teachers, and community members. We agreed that, “This is awesome. We should do one better next year.” So we turned this small group networking event into [the Charlotte Student Entrepreneur Summit], which, over the course of three years turned into this huge conference with 150 plus people, five Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, tons of businesses, nonprofits, leaders, city council — a lot of big people showing up for these students at these at-risk high schools.
And we were able to bring the technology field to the forefront. We were able to show [students] different opportunities and connect students to specific people for mentoring and intern opportunities and looking at their resumes and helping them upskill in different areas.
Wow. That’s incredible. Growing a small networking group into a large summit takes vision. It also seems like it takes a willingness to build and serve a community.
It was a lot of little things, you know, and that really is what community is all about. It’s a million little things. A million connections, a million touchpoints, a million opportunities and connections, a lifetime of resources and relationships.
A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of networking for personal gain. And I think if they switch their mentality from this sort of armored leadership approach to this daring leadership approach — with an open heart and an open mind — and just looking to share their gifts with the world, and look to connect other people with their connections, or in so many words- seeing the greater good and taking action to make a positive impact on the world. Having that mindset of seeing the greater good and helping people see what’s possible.
That’s really what we’ve done with Carolina Women in Tech. We’ve had conversations with women in all different types of industries, and at the end of the day they have a light bulb moment and often end up responding, “Oh! I am a woman in tech.” It’s cool to see our members and sponsors own that and lean into that more.
What are you especially proud of?
The student Charlotte Student Entrepreneur Summit is pretty high up there and something that I’m proud of. It was purely volunteer work, I made no money but the reward is priceless! It is a repeatable, scalable project that we’re actually exploring being able to implement in more urban and rural areas across the Carolinas as well as in other regions for other school districts. So it was, it was a hard project and a labor of love that is actually kind of evolving into other opportunities for making change and doing good.
What’s next for you?
My husband just started his construction business Midwood Homes, LLC, so we have a new business adventure. I’m also a big gardener and plant lover, so I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate my love of plants and gardening into my entrepreneurial endeavors.
I’m also looking for ways to use technology to create a better customer experience for our construction business because construction is kind of an old school, good old boy kind of industry and so the way that they do business is kind of like that. I feel like with my experience, my background, being able to change the game of how homeowners experience a contractor, wrapping my head around that. That’s cool and exciting.
What is a new skill you’re learning right now?
I’ve been leaning into a lot of historical optimization projects for my inbound marketing clients at Clariant Creative Agency, and some of the technicalities of recent Google updates lately. But also understanding human design and understanding how people work together, how to read the room, and how to set boundaries and expectations with myself and others. Those are harder skills for me, actually, than these tactical technical skills
For example, how to work with people and how to set yourself up for success. And creating space to perform at your best while allowing peers to do the same. Because if you’re depressed or sad or grieving, or frustrated or if there’s tension in the room, or if there’s any kind of conflict, it’s really hard to do well. Especially in an industry that can be volatile. Marketing, technology — there’s a lot of competition, and it’s really hard to break into the field sometimes. So being able to have emotional intelligence and mental resilience, being self-aware, and understanding yourself and other people. Leading with compassion and empathy are skills I still practice daily. I will always be a student, both in tech and with people.