Our Partner Spotlights highlight the innovative ways our Partner companies are advocating for change and equity in the tech field. Learn about Nancy King, Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising Technology for Target, and her efforts to encourage more girls to enter the STEM fields.
Nancy King describes her entry point into the technology field as largely accidental.
“That one teacher and that one experiment changed my path in life,” she explains.
The first in her family to attend college, her grasp of math and science meant she was encouraged to pursue medicine. But an AP Physics class and an engineering puzzle called the “Chicken Man Challenge” would change all that.
The exercise sought to answer the age-old question: What actually is the best way to shoot an egg out of a cannon?
The assignment: Build a container for an egg that can travel at maximum speed while withstanding the force of both ejection and collision with a brick wall. Teams study the problem over several weeks, develop their strategy and then pitch the approach to the group. They pit their inventions against each other with just two shots each to prove their hypothesis.
“What was really unique about that physics class was that it gave me a peek into what a career in engineering could be like,” she explains. “I wasn’t aware of what opportunities existed. I now firmly believe that all students, especially girls, need to know what’s available to them — otherwise, they won’t know where to start or what to study.”
Nancy ultimately graduated from Northwestern University with an industrial engineering degree, and spent the first seven years of her career consulting as a software developer.
“I traveled full time, and saw tons of environments and working models,” she explains. “It stretched my skills, both as a software developer and a leader, but I began to feel like I was being pigeonholed into solving the same types of problems for the next 40 years.”
Flash-forward to today. Nancy is now the Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising Technology for Target where she leads nearly 600 incredible engineers responsible for Target’s suite of technology capabilities that power their merchandising and marketing teams.
Nancy is also the executive sponsor of Target Women in Science and Technology (TWIST), a volunteer network of more than 200 women passionate about supporting diversity in tech, and encouraging more girls and young women to pursue STEM careers.
Nancy says she has seen interactions on a daily basis at which girls are either encouraged or discouraged from continuing to follow their interest in STEM-based subjects.
“It’s about changing the stigma early and often. For example, in younger years, it’s a matter of building awareness and breaking down the inhibition barrier to try something new.” Later on, she says, it’s important to counteract the social pressure that can negatively influence participation in STEM programs or clubs.
By high school, it’s about re-engaging and supporting girls’ interest, and reiterating their “equal aptitude and ability to succeed.”
To help celebrate their early achievements and spark an interest in STEM careers, TWIST hosts the annual EPIC Awards to recognize middle and high school girls who demonstrate engagement, passion, innovation, and curiosity (EPIC) within these fields.
“EPIC winners receive mentorship from Target team members and participate in job shadowing and other networking events throughout the year,“ Nancy explains, “such as tours of Target HQ and coding hack-a-thons designed to keep them engaged and growing in STEM.”
In addition to supporting women in technology at an early age, Nancy and Target are also working to disrupt the obstacles that can cause seasoned female tech professionals to leave the profession. Target’s Engineering Manager Immersion Program (eMIP), for example, is a cohort-based mentorship framework that prepares exceptional engineers for management roles.
“These are very qualified candidates who might not otherwise put their hands up for a leadership role,” Nancy says. “We want to push past that and support them to be ready and willing to reach for their highest level of potential.”
In both this program and others, “we pair female technologists with a mentor and a sponsor to help them move into leadership roles, or to come back from a career break and reengage into a tech role” Nancy explains. “We also do fun conferences like the Target Women in Technology Symposium as a chance to gather informally, share knowledge, and foster a community both inside and outside of Target.”
Nancy’s vision for supporting women in tech spans their early education and careers, from their first taste of success in solving a complex engineering problem with a team, to the moment they throw their hat in the ring for a bigger, better role.
“My goal is to support our female team members to feel comfortable making a wide range of career moves along their journey,” says Nancy. “As a part of that, I believe we need to talk more overtly about the internal bias women often have toward perfection and achievement. If we can crack that dialog open, we will start to see more change in the opportunities they raise their hand for.”
Target is committed to doing just that, and to creating a future where the female tech minds of tomorrow can imagine themselves in their dream job today.
To explore opportunities in technology and data sciences at Target, visit target.com/careers.