New Raleigh group helps women leaders on the journey ‘Upward’

RALEIGH – The Loading Dock’s industrial co-working space in Raleigh was standing room only as Lisa Lambert, the chief technology and innovation officer of National Grid, took the mic to launch a new initiative for the Triangle late last month.

Lambert’s voice filled the space as she shared a story with more than 200 Triangle-based executives and entrepreneurs in the audience. The story she told was a familiar one. A story of competition, discrimination, and loneliness on her way to the top.

A rising star, then vice president, at Intel Capital, Lambert was often the only woman in the room. Her need for mentorship, community and some simple empathy led her to host a dinner party of 90 Silicon-Valley based executives at her home; a place to share the pains and celebrations of being a woman in leadership. The dinners became more frequent, the guest list always expanding, and Upward was born.

“Careers happen in the community,” Lambert said. “While our experiences across the nation may be similar, the needs of each local community are unique and inform the network you can build, which is a core tenant in your move upward.”

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Now, there’s a chapter in Raleigh

Lambert arrived in Raleigh fresh after launching the group’s 18th chapter in Atlanta. The Triangle’s Upward organization is the 19th, launched with Lambert and the local chapter leaders on April 27. Earlier in the year, Raleigh was rated the top city for working women.

But attempts to even gender equity were set back during the first year of the pandemic, WRAL TechWire has previously reported.

So far, those established chapters across the United States have gathered more than 8,000 members. With the addition of the Triangle chapter, Upward continues its mission to provide partnership, community and resources to support women leaders as they climb and navigate the top of the corporate ladder.

With access to Upward’s free community group, networking events and resources, Lambert wants to see women making significant gains in senior management and C-suite roles; a statistic that was trending in the right direction before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States.

Between 2015 and 2020, the share of women grew from 23 to 28 percent in SVP roles—and from 17 to 21 percent in the C-suite as reported by McKinsey and Company. The report continues, “due to challenges created by the Covid-19 crisis, this is also the first time we’ve seen signs of women leaving the workforce at higher rates than men. If these women feel forced to leave the workforce, we’ll end up with far fewer women in leadership—and far fewer women on track to be future leaders.”

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Facing a crisis

Mirroring the major tech and entrepreneurial hubs across the country, the Triangle is facing a gender equity crisis in both leadership and pay. Women in Wake County in business and management, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, often earn 33% less than men in similar positions, according to data collected by the Wake Invests in Women project.

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