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Women Leading the Way in Innovation

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Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

Justin Beach

DU’s Project X-ITE focuses on importance of workplace diversity


Businesses across the country find that diversifying the workforce is one of the biggest challenges they face. But addressing it successfully is crucial to expanding innovation. This week, the University of Denver’s Project X-ITE explored this challenge with a panel discussion featuring three noted women of innovation.

The three exemplify innovation in their fields. Nancy Phillips is president and CEO of ViaWest, the leading IT infrastructure company in North America. Colleen Abdoulah is the former CEO of Wide Open West, a regional internet, cable and phone provider headquartered in Denver. Lucy Sanders serves as CEO of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, which works to increase girls’ and women’s participation in technology and computing.

“All three of them represent the best of Colorado and the best of innovation,” said Erik Mitisek, executive director of Project X-ITE and chief innovation officer for the state of Colorado. “We really hope that students can put themselves in the shoes of these really phenomenal leaders. They are all stories of opportunity, they are all stories of diversity, they are all stories of being really great leaders in our community, and they are the fabric of what is happening here at DU.”

I want students to be confident in their skills. I want students to be confident in their imagination. We want to educate them to be entrepreneurs and to be innovators.

Chancellor Rebecca Chopp

Wednesday night’s discussion in the Reiman Theater highlighted the multiple benefits of a diverse workplace. “Research shows that diversity allows innovation to expand exponentially,” said Chancellor Rebecca Chopp, who hosted the conversation. “Diversity is having different people, beliefs, backgrounds, perspectives and bringing them together in the thinking of ideas. So women are key to that.”

Phillips, who co-founded ViaWest, which provides cloud, infrastructure and security services, linked diversity to good business practices. “When you think about how you develop the most competitive companies in the world today, the criticality of diversity within the ranks is really an important factor,” she said.

Open discussions about innovation, entrepreneurship and diversity should encourage DU students of different backgrounds to take risks when they want to accomplish something. “I’m living proof that the art of the possible is absolutely there for the taking,” Phillips said. “Don’t let anyone take you off your vision and your path. You really have to have the fortitude, the vision, the dream and you have to surround yourself with a lot of good people that might be there purely to encourage, but also help you because you can’t do this alone.”

Chopp echoed her call for diligent pursuit of goals. “I want students to be confident in their skills. I want students to be confident in their imagination. We want to educate them to be entrepreneurs and to be innovators,” she said, noting that her own life story provides a perfect example of taking risks and breaking down barriers to achieve an ultimate goal.

“I grew up in the 1950s and I grew up in Kansas, and we didn’t think about women becoming college professors, much less chancellors or innovators. But what I always tell women is, ‘you can do it, have the confidence. You have the skills, you have the talent, you have the imagination.’"