Women in Leadership: Jennifer Taylor

President & Chief Executive Officer Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC)

Jennifer Taylor is the President & CEO of NVTC, the trade association representing the Northern Virginia technology community. As one of the nation’s largest tech councils, NVTC serves companies from all sectors of the industry, from small businesses and startups to Fortune 100 tech companies, as well as service providers, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. NVTC serves as a resource  for networking and education opportunities, peer-to-peer communities, policy advocacy, industry promotion, fostering strategic relationships, and branding of the region as a major global tech hub.

Prior to joining NVTC, Taylor served as VP of Industry Affairs at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). While there, Taylor launched CTA’s 21st Century Workforce Council, the CTA Apprenticeship Coalition with IBM, and the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group to help the tech sector close the nation’s skills gap, increase awareness of the growing number of high-skilled jobs, and build a fully equipped, diverse, and inclusive national workforce.

Taylor also worked at AARP for over 10 years as VP of Business Development. There she developed and launched a smart tablet, RealPad, for tech-shy seniors in partnership with Intel and created multi-channel revenue sales strategies for a wide range of industry verticals, including consumer technology benefits for nearly 40 million AARP members.

Can you discuss the changes that you have instituted at NVTC since becoming the President & CEO?

The start of 2020 marked the beginning of a new decade that changed all of our lives. The pandemic set in motion the future of work and exponential growth of technology adoption at home and in the workplace. In March 2020, in just a matter of days, companies (large and small), educators, and governments were forced to rethink how to deliver value to their customers, students, and citizens.

NVTC was no exception. The pandemic has served as a catalyst for the Council, forcing us to rethink how we serve our members and community. Prior to the pandemic, NVTC served its members through in-person signature events and peer-to-peer gatherings. During the pandemic, NVTC was forced to offer programming and member experiences in digital formats. The silver lining during this year of disruption was that NVTC experienced an 80 percent increase in member engagement. We grew the membership by 25 percent and welcomed 100 new members.

When I joined NVTC, I made commitments to the Board of Directors. I promised to engage in a listening tour with all key stakeholders so that I could glean insights to inform our newly refined mission, vision, and strategic priorities.

NVTC has made many advances during my first year of leading the Council. We implemented a ‘Reset and Modernization Plan’ to ensure that NVTC would be in a good position to hit the ground running by July 2021 and return to in-person events and launch our new strategic plan. We restructured our organization and doubled down on member-centricity. The majority of staff are now in forward-facing roles to serve our members, board, and community better. We introduced digital applications and solutions in all functional areas of our business to create efficiencies and scale our member outreach efforts. We also launched two new programs, ‘Let’s TalkTech with NVTC’ and ‘Data Science Speaker Series,’ in partnership with Virginia Tech. Another major milestone was the completion of our five-year strategic plan in partnership with Attain Partners, and the institution of a corporate dashboard to align NVTC staff to achieve our key metrics of success and provide transparency to our board. We are now primed to drive impact, relevance, and revenue.

What are your top priorities for 2022 and beyond for NVTC?

Through the dot-com boom and bust, 9/11, and now the  pandemic, NVTC’s mission has remained steadfast-to accelerate tech innovation and promote world-class workforce development for our region’s vibrant and collaborative tech community. As such, NVTC will continue to connect, educate, and advocate for our region’s tech community.

In 2022 and beyond, NVTC will implement its new five-year strategic plan that includes four strategic pillars:

  • Grow the tech community.
  • Infuse the next generation of talent into our region’s tech-talent pipeline.
  • Embed DE&I best practices within the fabric of our community.
  • Evolve and modernize in anticipation of the future.

Virginia is one of the most business-friendly states, and Northern Virginia is often dubbed ‘The East Coast Silicon Valley.’ What role do you see NVTC playing to drive the region’s thriving technology industry?

In 2021, NVTC celebrated its 30th anniversary-three decades of tech evolution and service to the community. Now NVTC and its 400+ member companies are looking ahead. We acknowledge that the success of our future tech community is dependent on-and will be driven by-the next generation of talent. We must invest in them by providing them with the tools and resources to gain skills and access in-demand jobs.

NVTC will help facilitate a technology workforce as diverse as the communities that call Northern Virginia home. Both our member companies and higher education partners are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all forms. However, to build a truly representative workforce, we must identify new learning opportunities for young people to be inspired by the promise of technology careers. One unique strength of NVTC is our ability to connect tech employers with our region’s academic institutions. With 12 college and university presidents serving on our Board of Directors, NVTC can connect learners and job seekers to in-demand employment opportunities at member companies.

Furthermore, NVTC will continue to play a role in helping entrepreneurs and start-ups find funding, business partners, mentors, and support needed to accelerate their innovations.

What kind of work have you done with regard to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)?

DE&I is one of our key strategic pillars to help us advance our mission. In 2021, we launched our new DE&I Community of Interest for employees of our member companies to engage and contribute towards creating a sense of belonging in their work environments.

The mission of this DE&I Community is to:
Promote a culture of belonging to cultivate and advance values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that permeate all layers of an organization.

The community aims to connect people and organizations to create opportunities for professional development via transactional interpersonal communication, cross-cultural coalitions, and the facilitation of strategic partnerships.

In addition, NVTC is taking intentional steps to ensure the Board of Directors reflects the true diversity of our region’s tech community. While at AARP, I was appointed to serve as a multi-cultural ambassador. Over 50 staff members received education on how to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. We were encouraged to carry out best practices in our work and daily interactions with others. And while at CTA, I helped launch the CTA Diversity & Inclusion Working Group in 2019, which was made up of tech companies nationwide who shared effective ways to create a culture of inclusion and belonging in the workplace. This working group also contributed to the curation and launch of the ‘Innovation for All’ DE&I programming at CES 2020.

What has been the biggest challenge or opportunity for technology companies when dealing with the pandemic?

Throughout the past two years, we have witnessed exponential growth in the adoption of digital technologies and remote working. The upside is that this has enabled more flexibility for managing family and work, as well as allowed employees to have more concentrated work time. However, the downside is that it has been a challenge to engage in impactful networking through face-to-face opportunities, which are often serendipitous and magical. We simply can’t fully realize this in a digital-only experience. It has been difficult to make strong connections, build trusting relationships, advance deal-making, and bring innovation to life.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that with greater adoption of remote work, now people who live in remote areas of the country can more easily participate in our tech workforce.

Can you talk about key trends you see evolving in the post-pandemic world?

Remote work is here to stay. A world with an eight-hour workday is now in the rear-view mirror. The rise of an integrated, collaborative, global workforce is creating more opportunities for people in remote parts of the world to participate in the global economy. Additionally, the pandemic is accelerating the pace, adoption, and acceptance of alternative educational pathways, such as tech-related registered apprenticeships and internships. Another trend that we are seeing is greater investments in 5G and broadband access for all.

The continued growth in digital transformation, automation,  artificial intelligence, and machine learning will lead to an expansion of smart cities and the adoption of electric and self-driving vehicles.

As a woman entrepreneur and business leader, what message do you have for young women looking to join this industry?

My message for young women entering the tech workforce is: “You are an achiever-inspiring, unique, and beautiful on the inside and out. Embrace your entire career journey. Just get it started and realize that where you start will not be where you end up.” 

My father used to coach me and say, “Get on the bus and stay on the bus to gain experience, sharpen soft skills, and build a professional network.” He was right. I now look back on my early career days and miss those times, relationships, and experiences.

I would also say, don’t rush your life away. Be in the moment. Growth and opportunity will come to those who are hard-working, open to continuous learning, able to work in teams, and empathetic. I would continue to encourage them to ask questions. Don’t wait to be told to do something you know is the right thing to do. You are not an order taker, no matter what your age or experience level. Be empowered. 

Also, stay in touch with all of your managers throughout your career. You never know when you will need a reference for a big job in your future. And lastly: read, read, and read! Read credible news sources and books on unfamiliar global topics, history, and other peoples’ experiences to open your mind and heart. Your knowledge will help you be a better leader, team player, and community citizen.