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Michigan Group Gives Women & Nonbinary People Space to be Supported and Rise

Michigan Group Gives Women & Nonbinary People Space to be Supported and Rise
Michigan Group Gives Women & Nonbinary People Space to be Supported and Rise

Late last year, national media covered the findings of McKinsey and’s annual Women in the Workplace report, the largest study of women in corporate America. Among data reported: roughly only one-fourth of tech jobs are held by women, and 50 percent of these women leave their tech roles by age 35.

Reasons for troubling stats related to women’s advancement and satisfaction in the workplace are many, and they include women – particularly women of color (and even more particularly Black women), women who are LGBTQ, and women with disabilities – experiencing microaggressions and having their judgment questioned in male-dominated fields like tech. The study was followed by media stories that reported women-owned businesses receive less than 2% of VC funding. 

The challenges women face as a result of this underrepresentation is one of the reasons the Michigan organization Shine & Rise exists. The group was founded in Ann Arbor in 2019 with 10 women, and since that time, it’s grown to more than 500 members from Ann Arbor and the Detroit-metro area to, most recently, Grand Rapids. It exists to cultivate connections that elevate and bolster women in tech. Every month, the organization organizes co-working days, happy hours, and professional development discussions via a speaker series called Candid Conversations, among other opportunities for women and nonbinary folks to connect with one another. 

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Nearly 100 women and non-binary people gathered at Bamboo Detroit for the Shine On Summit

Shine & Rise co-founder Alison Todak shared: “In a tech landscape that continues to evolve, the growth of Shine & Rise serves as a testament to the undeniable need for supportive communities.” She and her co-founding partner Kristina Oberly have full-time careers, and volunteer their time to lead Shine & Rise because, as Kristina has shared: “We need to continue to lift each other up and recognize the power that we hold collectively to change the trajectory of women in tech.”  

I joined Shine & Rise during the pandemic because I was hungry for opportunities to connect with other professional women as I was leaving my DC-based position to build my own consulting practice locally. And I was drawn to its nod to collective action, which is a model I’ve subscribed to professionally over the majority of my career because of its power to bring systemic change and positive transformations. Starting from a place of shared values, collective action encourages people to share expertise, resources, and knowledge freely with one another and set aside hierarchies or positions of power. Examples of successful collective action include the Civil Rights Movement, Disability Rights Movement, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality

While Shine & Rise does not exist to change national laws, it’s certainly creating spaces and opportunities for women to feel seen and heard, to learn from each other, and to benefit from a shared network, which are foundational elements of collective action. Unfortunately, many women working in the tech / start-up industry lack these supportive spaces, opportunities, and networks, based on my conversations with women in tech.

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A breakout session led by Emily Heintz at the Shine On Summit

Which is precisely why it was not surprising that the Shine On Summit, held at Bamboo Detroit on April 10, sold out weeks before the event and carried a long waitlist. The mission of the Summit was to “advance the ideas and perspectives of women and other underrepresented folks in tech, guided by our belief in the power of supporting and shining on each other as the catalyst of our collective growth.” 

Monica Wheat, a keynote speaker and the Shine On Summit

Nearly 100 women and nonbinary people in the Detroit-metro area came out to connect with one another and listen to inspiring speakers and discussion facilitators share their perspectives about why it’s important for each of us to help each other rise. The evening was filled with applause, laughter, and cheerleading for each other’s accomplishments. As Monica Wheat reminded us in her speech: "Ecosystem building is about community and relationships and filling in the gaps for other people." Facilitators and speakers like Dr. Marlo Rencher echoed her sentiments of looking out for others: “Give yourself credit, grace, and practical faith. Connect your life back to something greater. Your purpose connects to others." 

Groups like Shine & Rise, including its members, event speakers and attendees, and its sponsoring organizations can have a positive impact on trends of women in tech (in the workplace). I’m hoping to see events like the Shine On Summit get the attention of others — to do the work to recognize their own biases (we all have them!), do their part to help women advance in the workplace, and recognize that when women rise, we all rise. 


Photos courtesy of Emily Heintz and Christina Fair, speakers at the Shine On Summit


About Laura O’Connor

Laura OConnorLaura spent her 20+-year career primarily in Washington, DC — leading marketing teams; designing new organizational initiatives; and spearheading national campaigns to build issue awareness and advocate for public policy change, particularly for issues related to racial, health, and gender equity. In 2017, she moved to Ann Arbor, and because of her love for Michigan, she opened her own strategic communications consulting practice in 2022. Today, she works with more than a dozen foundations, nonprofits, and startups, primarily in the Midwest. Get in touch with Laura at and connect with her on LinkedIn.