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Supporting Women in Tech: Five Questions with Gianna Migliorisi

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Gianna Migliorisi has worked in tech for more than a decade, but until last spring, she didn’t realize just how unwelcoming the industry could be for women.

“My entire career I was walking around, oblivious, thinking that I was no different from any of my male colleagues, that every other woman in technology was treated with the same respect and equality that I had been fortunate enough to encounter in the workplace,” she wrote in a post on Medium.

Her epiphany came at the 2018 Women of Silicon Valley conference in San Francisco, where she heard stories of female software engineers who had to work harder than their male counterparts in order to gain approval, or sometimes, even to get in the door. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, only 26% of professional computing jobs in the 2018 U.S. workforce were held by women, and only 20% of Fortune 500 chief information officer (CIO) positions were held by women in 2018.

The conference was such an eye-opener for her, she says, because she has always felt supported in her academic and career choices.

“I didn’t really appreciate how important it is for women in a science field to be recognized, because there are not many of us,” she says.

The Brooklyn native not only grew up with parents who both worked in the sciences—her mother is a scientist who taught anatomy to medical and nursing students, and her father is a pharmacist—but she also received a great deal of encouragement from faculty at Fordham.

During her sophomore year, computer science professor Robert Moniot, Ph.D., nominated her for a Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship for women in the sciences. The award gave her the financial support to enroll in Fordham’s dual-degree program in computer science. She began taking graduate-level courses as an undergraduate, and earned her master’s degree in 2008.

While finishing her master’s, Migliorisi began working at National Grid, the utilities company. She later joined HBO, where she was part of the team that launched the HBO Go app, and worked at a software company before joining Discovery Inc. in August 2015. As a senior director of technical product management, she works with engineers to build features and products for the company’s streaming apps, including those for TLC and Animal Planet.

Her professional success, and the experience she had at the Women in Silicon Valley Conference, has led Migliorisi to try to make sure she creates an environment in which other women can succeed.

“I’ve been making a conscious effort to try to be more supportive of [my women colleagues’]particular struggles,” she says. “I definitely make it more of a priority now to hire more women and make sure I look around to make sure other people are hiring more women.”

Migliorisi knows she was fortunate to find at Fordham an environment where she felt supported and could develop her skills and confidence.

“[My professors] never discouraged me from anything and never made me feel like I wasn’t capable of doing this job or learning,” she says. “They were super helpful, especially when you needed that extra effort, and they had a genuine interest in your success. I had a really, really good experience.”

Beyond academics, Migliorisi was a member of the Commuting Students Association, an orientation leader and orientation coordinator, and a member of the Senior Week Committee.

“As a commuter, I wanted to feel like I had a connection to my school and make sure that other commuters had that connection, too,” she says. “Fordham did a great job of catering to commuting students and making resources and activities available for them to be a part of.”

That positive experience has led Migliorisi to stay involved with Fordham however she can, from donating to attending events.

“Really, I had such a wonderful experience there that I definitely believe in giving back to a place that I feel like shaped me as a person.”

What are you most passionate about?

This is hard because I get excited about a lot of things … but I feel like I’m most passionate about making others happy. I bake a lot, which relieves stress for me, but I bake things and bring them to work because it makes everyone so happy. Little things like that. Saying thank you for something small, buying someone some flowers to cheer them up … giving hugs … organizing happy hours. Everyone works really hard, and I like to make sure they know they’re appreciated, so it makes me happy to make others happy.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“No one wants to mess with something that’s working.” My manager always reminds me of that when there is a lot of change going on in the workplace, and when certain changes can lead to uncertainty. Change isn’t easy, and when the future is uncertain, it makes it harder sometimes to concentrate and do your job. Remembering to just do your best and keep focusing on your mission will help you navigate the waters of change, and most of the time, bad change won’t come your way if things are going in the right direction.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?

How do you pick one place in New York City? I think anywhere there’s a spot of green in NYC is my favorite place. There’s nothing like hanging out at Bryant Park on a nice summer afternoon. In the world: Anywhere where there’s a beach with nice warm water is my happy place.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, has had a huge influence on me, particularly as a leader in a work environment. It teaches you to take ownership of everything, including the mistakes of a team. If you’re a leader, and your team is underperforming, it’s not their fault, it’s yours. You as a leader, no matter what situation you are in, have an obligation to the people you lead—to build trust, encourage, and inspire them. If someone on your team fails, it’s because you failed in some way. Never misplace the blame; always own your mistakes.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?

Professor Stuart Sherman in the English department. I absolutely hated English classes, and English professors didn’t like me that much. I was never very good at analyzing things from a creative perspective (I’m a logical thinker) and my writing wasn’t amazing. Professor Sherman took the time to help me be a better writer. He taught his courses with so much passion and love and enthusiasm, it was infectious. He made me love a course I absolutely hated, and in my mind, that is the mark of an amazing teacher. I may not remember everything I learned in his classes, but I remember him for his energy and his kind heart and his love for teaching.

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