Lonye Ford, CEO of Arlo Solutions speaks to some of the challenges she faces as a woman in the government technology workforce. Lonye has had success and challenges from her time at the U.S. Air Force help desk, to her current role of CEO at Arlo Solutions. Carolyn and Mark get a uniquely human perspective surrounding government technology.
Episode Table of Contents
- [01:18] Bringing the Women in Technology Together
- [06:24] Women in Technology Are Creating Their Own Lane
- [09:36] Issues Women in Technology Have to Deal With
Episode Links and Resources
Lonye Ford Brings the Team Together
Carolyn: Today, we have Lonye Ford, CEO of ARLO Solutions. Lonye served for over 10 years in the US Air Force. Thank you for your service, Lonye. She was named one of the Top 50 in Tech Visionary at InterCon 2021.
You talked about your superpower which is to get the teams, all these experts with these egos, to come together. I'm wondering, when you walk in a room you have to be a little bit disarming. You look super young, you're a woman and you're African-American. When you walk into a room, do you think those things help you with bringing the teams together? Have you seen it played against you?
Lonye: It's so important to ask those questions. To be honest, I have been feeling weird about addressing that directly. You come up in the military and you don't talk about sex, religion, color. Now, I'm asking a lot of diversity questions this year, because diversity has really been pushed to the forefront. It's really the first time I have been asked those questions before. We talk about it, but not in the open forum.
I'm getting more comfortable with addressing it. When I first started, it did not help me. It was very difficult to gain respect. So when I walked into the room, I would tell people I had to be over-prepared.
Not Because I’m a Woman
Carolyn: Dismissed because of the way you look. Tracy and I talked about this a little bit. I want to be known for what I can do, not because I'm a woman. So I haven't even wanted to address those questions. It's like you know what, it's not about me being a woman. It's about me being capable.
Lonye: I struggle with that. I'm going to give you an example. We're in an award for Moxie Group for DC, we're finalists. The category that we're in is women owned. My partner went back and she said, "Actually, I don't want to be in this category." That's how much we struggle with it. She was like, "I don't want to be in this category." We went back and forth. She's like, "Why would we get an award based on our gender?" So then, we went back and explained, this is where we're struggling too.
I told her to think about the message also, that people are trying to integrate and highlight the work that women are doing. Is it perfect? No. Sometimes it'll come across as odd. No, but you also don't want to always push back when someone is trying so hard, explain to them. And then, we're still competing with other women.
But her thing is, "I don't want to compete with other women, I want to compete with everyone. I don't want to be put in that category." I'd say that we struggle with that, too. We do.
Lonye Ford Probes for the Intent
Carolyn: I don't want to be on a panel for women in technology. I want to be on a panel for superheroes in technology.
Lonye: It's important if we think about the intent. Personally, I don't. But if you think about it, if our intent is to serve and to provide this ability, there are a lot of women and young women that are looking at that. That has a very positive impact on them.
So if you take out how you feel about it and if you look at it more as, "How am I serving the community," that'll help us change. We'll continue to mature. Right now, people are trying.
People are trying to integrate women and highlight women. The intent is right. As we mature, we start saying, "Hey, guy that's running this, maybe it's better to integrate us in this way," or have us join the panel. "Oh, well we have these talks." Once you gain that visibility, now different organizations are reaching out.
I started a lot on the different H.E.R. Talks, it was March, Women's Month. A lot of people asked me to come and speak. But, what happened was other folks in Tech Talks and MITRE, and those things, they heard me. Now they reached out separately. That may have been the kickoff to my conversations, so that provided visibility. If they hadn't done that woman talk, I may have even gotten that visibility.
Lonye Ford Created Her Own Lane and Space
Lonye: But anyway, I get what you're saying. It was very difficult coming into the Air Force, doing cyber. I’ve started in tech, a very technical domain, very difficult to gain respect. I remember when I first started, I would go back and forth. I’ve started acting more like the man because I tried to assimilate. I did a lot of performing in the beginning because I never saw anyone that looked like me that was doing what I was doing. Never, almost, until this day.
So you really have to create your own lane and space, and it's difficult. You have to have a strong belief system that you can do it because a lot of times, you are the first. A lot of times, people don't make it easy. They may not trust your feedback or what you're doing, just because of their own preconceived notions. It's difficult.
The way I've done it is I've been able to not take things personally. I'm very direct. I am the type of person that reflects what you do. So I may say, "Okay," and it sometimes makes people uncomfortable. If I'm in a room and things get out of hand, I'm the person to say, "Okay everyone, let's take a pause. Let's just pause for a second, think about how we're speaking to one another."
Pause and Reassess
Lonye: I don't care what the room looks like, I don't care what the dynamics of the room is. And I don't care if it's the SES in there. I don't care if it's an airman base. When you make people pause and reassess themselves, or allow someone to speak, or I'll jump in even at the defense of another woman. "Okay, all this person to speak."
But again, it's very difficult. It's still difficult. I am the CEO of my own company and I still have a difficult time with my own employees. All of my employees are very senior level folks as well, men. So I still have a difficult time with that, too.
Carolyn: You're probably still one of the only women in the room.
Lonye: Yes. Now, the difference is, because I've been in this field so long, at this point I'm invited to the room. Maybe leading the room, and sitting at the head of the table. It makes it a lot easier, where I am now. But for women that's coming up, it's still difficult. I understand what they're putting out about diversity and that's true.
But it's very difficult to change people's mind frames. These are people. It's just regular individual people that came from whatever their background is. They have been in technology for 40 years, running it. How do you change that?
Lonye Ford Asks What Issues Women Have in Tech
Carolyn: Coming back to that culture thing again. I have a book for you, it's called Soundtracks. It's by John Acuff. When I said, "Well, I don't want to be on a woman's panel. I want to be on a superhero's panel," you were like, "Well, let's change the perspective. Let's change what I think about it." I'm like, "Yes, cybersecurity has its own month, we celebrate that." You don't say, "We want to be like everybody else." Let's celebrate that we have Women's Month. I love that.
Lonye: It is really about the message that we're sending to all the other women and you are a superhero. Why not celebrate that? Our path is different. It is tougher in some spaces, there's a different perspective. People want to hear that perspective and sometimes you can't talk to that perspective. We're really not speaking that perspective on shared panels. So they want to focus on, "Okay, what issues do women have in tech." It's okay to talk about that. But, I get it. It is difficult.
Mark: Do you think that it starts with promoting women in STEM at an early age and getting them involved in the field? When I came into this field, there weren't that many women that were doing this.
Carolyn: There still aren't. We outnumber you today.
Mark: There's more than there used to be but it still is an issue.
Lonye Ford Couldn’t Imagine a Woman in Cyber
Lonye: Promoting women in STEM, that's the reason that I do like the women panels. What I struggled with was I did not have access or I did not see people like me. That's really the reason that I like the women's panels. I couldn't even imagine a woman in cybersecurity, I couldn’t even imagine a woman leading cyber. And I couldn't imagine a woman leading a meeting related to technology and cyber.
I had never seen that, not even leading a meeting, not even sitting at the head of a table with technical talks. The benefit to those is exposure. At a young age, they need to be exposed. Whether it's STEM training, whether it's through seeing it, whether it's Google, whether they are looking at a panel.
Carolyn: It's just reminding me of your non-profit passion. It seems like this might be part of it, UrbanPromise.
Lonye: UrbanPromise, that's a group that's out of Camden. My business partner actually came up through UrbanPromise. They get the young kids, at a very young age. Then they walk the journey with them through school, to getting them in college. Even now, we raise money, and we go out and donate that money to kids. We call it gap funding.
So they may have gotten money to go to college but they can't get a laptop. It could be that they don't have appropriate clothes. They have some things that are due to the administration, so it pays for those types of activities. But, it's not specific to women, it's more the minority population in general. It's just going to be, to change that for women, again exposure.
Individual People Change the World
Lonye: I'm a person, I don't believe in the big bang theory.
Individual people change the world, one action at a time. For us women, it’s through that exposure and taking the time to speak to other young girls. That could mean that I just go to a high school that's in my neighborhood. Then say, "Hey, guess what, I'll give a talk." Out of 400 students, maybe two will resonate with you.
Each of us individually, helping with the exposure will be very helpful to getting more women and girls into STEM. People get a lot of the technology and geeks speak. It's unique when you can come from the human aspect of technology.
Carolyn: Thank you for thinking of the time to share your insights with us. Thank you to our listeners for joining Tech Transforms.