Top takeaways from Catalysts Live

The Technology Association of Iowa hosted its Catalysts Live event Tuesday in Des Moines where seven technology leaders shared their stories and recommendations for improving diversity, equity and inclusion in Iowa’s technology sector. The event was the culmination of a series of interviews with each Catalyst published throughout 2021.

TAI started the Catalyst initiative in 2018 to keep the discussion on diversity and inclusion in technology active all year.

Highlights from each Catalyst’s speech are below, and their full interviews are available at

“Believe in yourself. I really believe that the fear of failure is actually a blessing. You work hard to overcome it, you learn more, you work to perfect, but at some point you need to accept that you’re capable. I read a quote the other day that really resonated with me: “Imposter syndrome is a paradox. Others believe in you, you don’t believe in yourself, yet you believe yourself instead of them.” If you doubt yourself, shouldn’t you also doubt your judgment of yourself? When multiple people believe in you, it might be time to believe them.”
Danielle Brommer, chief growth officer, Lean TECHniques

“I was a remote employee in 2007 before it was cool. And the reason is because my company could not find anyone with deep knowledge of their warehousing software, so they took whoever they could get and said, “Here’s a computer, get to work.” And you want to do this — think if you had an employee that knew your software and knew your systems, and had a medical condition that made 8 a.m.-5 p.m. difficult, or God forbid, had to pick up kids at 3:40. … Think how much stronger you could be as an organization if you could get those people to work and to stay with you so you didn’t have to keep replacing them.”
Nora Crosthwaite, founder and CEO, Stagerie

“What I encourage you to do is what I learned to do over time, and start by asking [students] what they’re already doing. ‘What are you excited about? Do you like dinosaurs? Do you like baking?’ I’ve gotten very good at connecting computer science to every single thing that students can be interested in. Let’s start by listening because that’s how the students are already excited, they’re already engaged, and then you can take that learning deeper and then you can offer ways for them to get excited. … So reach out to your schools, offer to go speak, but also make sure you’re listening first.”
Samantha Dahlby, director of K-12 education, NewBoCo

“All these diverse groups of people bring many different perspectives, they bring many different innovative ideas, and they build the culture. … And what makes that difference is the best really comes out when these people are feeling connected, they’re feeling together, and their unique value in the culture. So as an organization, what can we do? How do we do that differently? Can we bring on those connections, one person at a time? So as all you leaders [are] sitting here in this room, I really call upon you to say, can you find a way and invest into building that bond between our people one member at a time? Because one member at a time is what’s going to matter, and those connections are going to tell us how we build that culture.”
Varsha Deshmukh-Jayade, engineering tech lead, Pella Corp.

“We have an increase in tech jobs here in Iowa, but we have a decrease or flat number of candidates that are entering into that pipeline. So how do we make sense of all of that? I think it’s because we don’t have a lot of representation. Twenty-six years ago, when I got into technology, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me. And there was a moment where I thought about just giving up, maybe it’s just not really for me. When we look around the room, we can all be a little uncomfortable and acknowledge that there’s a very low percentage of people of color in the room. But I think that has a lot to do with our problem, so we need to lean into that, we need to find ways to increase representation. … At the end of the day, I think we all have superpowers. I think it’s your time, it’s your talent and it’s your treasure.”
Tracy Jon Sargeant, security engineer, Check Point Software Technologies

“It’s a really interesting time that’s highlighting not just health inequities — of course that’s the big focus right now — but also how to use technology and how to make it connected to people that need it most but have the least amount of resources, education and tools. One of the big things you hear in health care is you can get health care access, covered, all of that. Another term around that is if you know what health care is, you know [the term] underinsured, but there’s definitely a real pain of underconnected, and what that means for folks [and] how they do technology and how they use it in their daily lives to be successful and impact our lives. For me, it’s really important to challenge the TAI and everyone else as well. When you think about technology and what you do, make sure you’re looking at ‘Is this is accessible to everyone? Are we expanding the digital divide or are we hoping to close that gap?'”
Benjamin Lefever, founder and CEO, Certintell Telehealth

“I’m here to ensure that when we leave tonight, we leave with the collective understanding that when we remove the fable from innovation, it makes that progress more attainable for all of us. There’s a consistent set of conditions that have laid in the way of those moments that drive human progress. You’ve heard people tonight talk about the transformative work that they’re doing to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry, workplaces and communities. And as you’ve listened and learned and have been inspired by these people, what I want you to know is that you can achieve in these exact same ways. The reason that you have heard and hopefully seen that organizations that are more diverse, equitable and inclusive are also more innovative, is because the conditions for success are the same. If you want your organization to foster equity, inclusion and innovation, it comes down to these three things: move, focus and be relentlessly collaborative.”
Joey Spivey, learning and development manager, diversity officer, Shazam