This year Association TRENDS’ has chosen two women to receive its top awards. Melissa Hockstad, American Cleaning Institute, and Rebecca Achurch, Achurch Consulting, have been named the Salute to Association Excellence’s 2023 Association Executive of the Year and Partner of the Year, respectively.
Inspired by these women, and to continue to shine a light on women in association technology, we interviewed three Fonteva & Protech women executives about their careers. These women prove that there are many paths into the industry and provide valuable advice to those seeking to advance their careers.
Belonging in Tech
It’s a common misconception that coding is the only career available in technology. If you are evaluating or using software, you are involved in technology – even if you do not have a direct line to the CTO or CIO of your organization.
Plus, there are many functional areas that work together in bringing technology products, like Fonteva & Protech, to market. These can include accounting, finance, human resources, partnerships, marketing and sales, product development, and operations.
Angela Siefkes, Director of Partner Programs for the Associations Product Group which includes both Fonteva & Protech, was brought on board to revamp and revitalize the Fonteva partner program in 2021 and now oversees the program for both product lines.
As Senior Vice President of Operations for the Associations Product Group, Janine Lamm-Roy helps drive new initiatives to completion and optimize operations across both the product lines.
“I’m passionate about professional services. The work we do to elevate our team and refine our internal processes translate to better customer service and a better customer experience in the long term,” says Janine.
Erin Lemons, Senior Director of Marketing for the Associations Product Group, explains her role, “Over my career, I have done almost everything you can think in terms of marketing – from advertising and events to demand generation and e-mail marketing. Now, I lead a team of experts in their disciplines and work across the organization to bring our products to market.”
Taking a Unique Path
There’s no one path to becoming an association technology leader. Angela, Erin, and Janine each took a different path to the technology field and the association space.
“I found my way to the association space in a roundabout way,” says Erin. “I was working at an environmental advertising agency. Over my decade there I gained experience in print and digital advertising and account management. Then we developed this department called experiential marketing – where consumers would experience the brands in person.”
She continues, “I wasn’t even thinking about a career in technology when a friend who was a software sales engineer called me and said, ‘we’re hiring, and I think you do this.’ I ended up being hired to run the Events Department at a company that provided association management technology, and never left this beloved industry!”
Angela was a marketer for a jewelry company and worked in university development before leaving the workforce when her daughter was born. When she was ready to reenter the workforce, she found there were plenty of high-tech jobs available in her town of Austin, Texas.
“I connected with a high-tech placement firm that placed me as a project manager for a creative department for a semiconductor company. Over the five years I was there I worked in project management, marketing, and their partner program. It was an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately, as is the case with a lot of tech companies, I was laid off,” says Angela.
Angela then took a leap of faith and joined a company that didn’t even have a name at the time.
“During the interview process, they recognized the value of my partner program and fundraising experience. So, I took a leap of faith. I started managing the company’s resellers partner program and a year after that we acquired an AMS which got me into the association industry. All of a sudden, the partner program grew exponentially to include implementation and other technology partners, which was exciting.”
Janine was working in retail when saw her husband successfully make the jump out of retail and into a 9-to-5 job. Janine soon decided to leave retail and found herself working at a privately held construction firm.
“Our CIO knew I wanted to get into technology, and he said, ‘Hey, there’s this new science coming up called business analysis. I think you would be good at that.’ He also put me in charge of the firm’s Y2K project. That was my introduction to technology and structured analytical thinking, and I loved it.”
“I am super fascinated by the marriage of technology and people – what we now call human factors. I made an intentional decision to pursue a position at Fonteva and enter the association industry. Fonteva was one of those companies that I wanted to work for because I thought it was full of smart people. The puzzles they were solving were fascinating – how to use technology to help associations build a sense of community through their membership in a world where community can be hard to find.”
Inspiring More Women in Tech
Over the past five years, Association Women Technology Champions (AWTC) has cultivated a community that empowers, advances, and recognizes women working to champion technology in associations. Fonteva knows this is important work and is proud to say it is one of AWTC’s Founding Friends and continues to support the organization and its mission.
Today there are more technical career opportunities available to women than ever. We’ve asked our women technology champions how we can make it easier for women to break into, and thrive, in the field.
“We need to continue to remove the stigmas around what it means to be in technology,” says Erin.
“I was a writer, creative, and project manager, who never thought about a career in technology because of the perception that only highly analytical people were suited. Now I’m confident in my role within the industry, which shows, anyone can have a place here. The skills you developed outside of ‘technology’ are valuable in many industries.”
Angela believes, “We need to foster an environment where people can show up the way they are and encourage that all paths to technology are valuable. It doesn’t matter if you decided in your 40s that you wanted to go back to school and get a degree in Cybersecurity or transferred your skills from another industry, we need to recognize that it’s OK to start over. Your path to technology is valid – whether it was a short, straight path or it was filled with twists and turns.”
“I have so many ideas on how we can encourage more women to pursue careers in technology,” says Janine. “Technology companies should be working with nonprofit incubators, local community schools, community colleges, and organizations that are lifting people out of poverty. Show them a path to a career in technology that offers a living wage where their everyday critical thinking skills have value.”
Whether you are an experienced association technology champion or someone just starting your career, there is always something you can learn from the experiences of others. Here is some advice from our executives that they wish they had known earlier in their careers.
Erin encourages you to, “Raise your hand if you want to be on a committee or a task force, or there’s a project that you’re passionate about. The worst they can say is ‘we are full.’ Going forward you may be considered for a similar opportunity.”
“In the same vein,” she continues, “don’t be afraid to look for new opportunities to get involved in the industry. I let fear of the unknown keep me from getting involved with the Colorado Society of Association Executives (CSAE) sooner in my career. Now I’m so glad I dove into the middle of everything at CSAE. I even ended up receiving the Association Member of the Year in 2021!”
“It is OK to set boundaries – and they have to come from you,” says Angela. “I am a servant leader. It took me 25 years to learn that I needed to set boundaries. I am now able to produce high-quality results and have energy in reserve for anything that is thrown my way.”
“Whatever this thing is that’s happening today isn’t necessarily long term, it’s not the end of everything, right? I’ve been laid off before and it may feel like it’s the end of your career when bad things happen to you. So go ahead and grieve but then look for your next opportunity. Many times, that next opportunity will push you to the next level of greatness.”
Janine wishes someone had told her that, “your experiences that did not have an official label – like project management, analysis, process engineering – count. The labels might not have been there, but I was doing the work, and it had value in the market.”
The technology industry is constantly changing. While it is still mostly male dominated, we are seeing more women taking their seat at the table. The diversity of voices and experiences can only enhance the industry and its people. After all, at the end of the day it’s all about people.