CEWiT announces Conference Key Note Presenter: Avis Yates Rivers

By Sophie Babcock

Friday, January 29, 2016

Avis Yates Rivers has a lot to be proud of. Professionally, Rivers is the president and CEO of Technology Concepts Group International (TCGi) and a director of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). She has been named Entrepreneur of the Year, one of the Top 10 Women in Technology, a White House Champion of Change in STEM, and most recently, CEWiT’s keynote speaker for the Techie Women Have More... conference. Personally, Rivers is passionately driving the creation of an environment where more women and minorities will enter and succeed in technology fields,  

“I believe running my company and my advocacy work go hand-in-hand,” Rivers said. “I don’t wear my ethnicity or my gender on my sleeve, but I also need to acknowledge the reality of the world we live in where we are still judged by race and gender. The sheer fact that I have persisted in a white male-dominated environment for 31 years, through ups and downs, and not given up, is a testament to my fortitude and “push-forward attitude”

Rivers was born in Georgia, but raised in New York City in a time when technology was at its infancy. She remembers being interested in business skills like shorthand and office organization. “The most sophisticated technology we had access to was a typewriter,” Rivers said. “I left school typing 80 words a minute, and is still a prized skillset.  Who knew our world would soon revolve around a keyboard?”

After spending her collegiate years interning for Exxon Corporation in New York, Rivers was afforded the opportunity to join the company full-time upon graduation. Though standardized personality tests pointed her in a direction away from sales, she credits her first branch manager for taking a chance on her and giving her the opportunity to achieve success selling Exxon’s early line of office technology products. “I became the rookie of the year and continued to exceed quota every year,” said Rivers. To her, this experience illustrated that you have to continue to drive beyond what the world says you can do or be. If you’re committed to success, then you will achieve success.

When it comes to the problems with today’s standards of women in technology, Rivers acknowledges the complexity of the issue. “It doesn’t have a simple solution,” she said. “Young students are turned off by what they think is technology and the image of it. They may think it’s geeky or uncool.” In fact, every cool business that people can't live without today was founded based on technology; Amazon, Netflix, Uber, the list could go on and on."  Rivers believes the stereotype that often plagues the technology industry is also affected by the way it is recruited for and taught at many institutions. “There is no consistent outreach by colleges and universities to actively recruit diverse students into programs [like computer science or IT],” she said. “Students are not being geared or shepherded down that pathway.”

Advocating for women and minorities to succeed in technology fields through NCWIT is important work for Rivers. “This is legacy building,” she said. “This is giving little girls, especially those of color, the opportunity to see someone in a position to which they can aspire.  Rivers leverages her position as a Tech Entrepreneur to demonstrate to other businesses how they can become better positioned to diversify their tech workforce, which she feels should be every company’s number one job. “Without that diversity, there’s no richness in innovation or different approach to problem solving,” she said.

However, Rivers’ passion for increasing women in tech did not truly crystalize until 2005, when she became a member of the NCWIT board. “Until then, I didn’t know there was a problem, didn’t know the impact of the problem,” she said. “Even today there’s still a lot of ignorance or insensitivity to the issue. There is not going to be a lot of energy associated with fixing the problem if people don’t know the problem exists.” Even NCWIT, Rivers says, is a well-kept secret. “I know people would get behind it if they really understood the impact not fixing the problem would have on our ensuing innovation or ability to stay competitive with other world markets and economies.”

As an entrepreneur, Rivers says she gets jazzed about seeing a problem and to crafting a solution to it. However, her entrepreneurial spirit is not the only thing that keeps her pursuing the advancement of women and minorities in technology. “I get so much from these girls, especially in high school and through NCWIT’s Aspirations Awards programs,” she said. “They just blow me away with what they have already learned and accomplished at such an early age.”

Rivers hopes young women and minorities understand the value their involvement could bring to the technology industry. “We as a world and we as a country need your contribution, we need you,” she said. “Don’t let anybody or anything dismay or discourage you from pursuing a career in technology. Just do it.”

The lack of women and minorities in technology has prompted Rivers to write a book, to be released this spring. She will dive deeper into her own story and experiences in corporate America and the tech industry, reminding readers that although unconscious bias is real, not all bias is unconscious.

As CEO of TCGi, Rivers helps major corporations streamline their business processes, reduce waste, and move beyond their pain points, especially as it relates to IT and Procurement. Having been in business herself for over 25 years, and with the understanding she has gained in the use of technology to increase productivity, she is keenly aware of how to make companies more successful.

To learn more about Rivers and her keynote address at the Techie Women Have More... conference on Friday, Feb. 26, watch our conference website for more information.

The overall conference sponsor for Techie Women Have More... is Women's Philanthropy at Indiana University