Some people might say you can’t build an impactful and meaningful career in STEM starting from the help desk. But for Linda Calvin, today the Vice President of the School of IT at Ivy Tech Community College, that’s exactly where she began. Born in Chicago but raised in Indianapolis, Calvin spent 20 years working at Dow, which became Dow Agrosciences, and is today Corteva. “I started out just teaching scientists how to use the IT system.” While she was an employee at Dow, Calvin completed a bachelor’s in journalism at Butler University, graduating cum laude.
“That communications background, coupled with my IT knowledge, meant I was tapped to help out with policy communications and change management, and ultimately asked to lead digital projects.” Calvin became the global digital project lead for social media and web apps. But she knew she still hadn’t found her true calling. “One of my friends told me over margaritas that I should think about becoming a lawyer. Next thing I knew I was sitting in the LSAT, wondering where he had gone off to,” she joked. Calvin also completed her law degree at Indiana University while an employee at Dow, with the goal of using her hybrid background in IT, communications, and law to make an impact on legislation.
Instead, she assumed the role of assistant city prosecutor for Indianapolis in 2013. Despite continuing to speak on how highly regulated environments could effectively use social media, she found she missed the tech world. After becoming a certified Scrum Master, she worked with several Indianapolis companies at director and senior level IT roles, helping them leverage digital solutions to drive growth. In 2019 she joined the leadership at Ivy Tech.
“Everyone says my background is scattered, but at the end of the day all my fields of study connect in the discipline of problem solving. Today, it’s a major part of my role to solve problems for many different groups.” Calvin spends time working with Ivy Tech faculty and deans to ensure the curriculum across the school’s 9 IT programs is relevant and meaningful to a diverse body of students who need to enter the work force with high-quality skills. Through programs like Ivy Works, she helps the college take steps to include women and minorities in STEM fields. “I also spend a lot of time speaking with employers and organizations about our talent pipeline. Anyone hiring IT professionals needs to be communicating with Ivy Tech. We are graduating a diverse student body who all want to stay right here in Indiana and work.”
“I have seen the lights go on for some businesses understanding how to partner with Ivy Tech, but I also hear from these employers that they have struggled to find diverse talent to hire,” she continued. “That’s how I know there is still a lot of work to do bridging gaps. Seeing the lack of women in IT, and especially the lack of women of color in IT, is what drew me to return to a membership with Women & Hi Tech.”
Linda had learned about and briefly joined Women & Hi Tech around a decade ago, but her busy schedule earning multiple degrees and working hard led her to not be as involved as she might have. She got re-engaged after connecting with past president Darcy Lee, discussing the desire to elevate women in STEM and take action to address disparity. “20 years ago, Women & Hi Tech was alone. Now we are the big sister to a lot of other groups all working to move the needle,” Calvin observed.
“Women and minorities know when they are just a diversity hire, because their presence in the actual conversation is minimized,” Linda explained. “When you are only playing a supporting role, and aren’t invited to the meeting with a client, or the social events, that’s when it becomes apparent. That’s where we need to educate that women in tech and in STEM have a tremendous positive impact on the bottom line and are great leaders.”
Calvin emphasized this effort is as much about teaching women and girls they deserve to shine as it is about educating employers and male allies. “I think imposter syndrome is a huge barrier for women,” she said. “It holds us back from just exploding in STEM when we are told those fields aren’t for us. And when we do succeed, when women today are kicking butt, it might even hold us back from being seen---because we don’t think we should be. It’s ingrained that it’s unattractive to want to be the center of attention. And until we flip that script, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
Linda says one strategy that could flip the script sooner is a proactive approach to seeking out women in STEM fields and inviting them to be seen and recognized before they even know they should be. “There has to be some way to start onboarding people into this sisterhood of STEM. When we’ve been beholden to keep heads down and work hard, we don’t look around to see who is with us, and so don’t know that someone else has been in a role like ours for five years at another company.”
She also hopes to see Women & Hi Tech unite in symposium with other local groups like Women Who Code, Pass the Torch for Women, and Ladies in SaaS to discuss what can be done in unity to move the needle and make a statewide impact. “We have to link arms, work together, and influence legislation,” she says. “Women & people of color need to be at the table while legislators are talking about tech in Indiana, and currently we are not.”
Linda’s own involvement with Women & Hi Tech has included sharing these ideas to start conversation among the membership. “One person might ultimately be the delegate, but they will represent the entire group, and so the group must take collective action.” Linda spoke at the February 2020 Executive Women’s Forum titled “The Disparity of Diversity Among Women in STEM.” She has also served as a judge for Women & Hi Tech’s scholarship awards and regularly attends events including the 20th Anniversary celebration last fall. “I brought a recent Ivy Tech IT graduate with me to that event and the experience fully energized and inspired her,” Linda shared. “To me, one of the greatest values of this organization is it teaches every member, men and women, what they can do to be a better advocate for others.”