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By Elizabeth Exline
If one word could sum up Trina Celeste Limpert, the CEO of RizeNext and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Tech-Moms.org, it would be harmony.
Harmony is what this working mother of eight strives for in her own life. It’s what she seeks to create in the companies where RizeNext implements its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. In fact, it’s even the name of her upcoming book, The 6 Boundaries for Life Work Harmony.
“There is no balance,” she says, addressing the elephant in the room when talking about the juggle of being a working mother. “I was reading an article where Jeff Bezos was talking about the word harmony, and the word itself felt so much better. Like, I can breathe. And the word balance just feels pressured and hard with that sense of, ‘How do I make it all work?’”
Limpert has actually figured out how to make it all work. But, as with every success story, hers has its own set of challenges and solutions.
She grew up in Utah as one of 10 kids within a blended family. College was an “it’d be nice to have” rather than a given until she took a job working in fast food at 18. When she found herself “sliding around on greasy floors,” she decided then and there that college was non-negotiable.
Eventually, she took a full-time job working nights at Hill Air Force Base so she could earn her associate degree in computer science.
Armed with her associate degree, she found a job with Novell, a software company based in Utah. She worked full time and started going to school nights at University of Phoenix (UOPX) where she earned her bachelor’s degree in business and information systems.
Limpert’s field of study positioned her for a long and successful career in technology, a path she has often wondered why more women don’t take. The salary and flexibility are ideal for women, she notes, especially mothers and single mothers. And yet she’d often find herself as the only woman in a team of 80.
Never one to idly wonder, Limpert has characteristically dived headfirst into the question. She describes how, during her tenure at eBay, she led an employee resource group for women in IT. They worked to implement DEI initiatives, which was an experience that led her to discover two passions that would shape her future career: DEI and recruiting more women to technology.
Limpert earned her executive MBA and, later, a certification in business strategy from an Ivy League university, all while focusing on how to cultivate DEI in a way that could be both effective and embraced by the executives on down within an organization. So often, she says, DEI work is treated like learning and development rather than business strategy.
Limpert grew so inspired that she left her corporate job to start her consulting firm, RizeNext, in 2018. Today, RizeNext specializes in cultivating a culture of inclusion at a diverse range of companies.
Limpert also found an outlet for her other passion. In 2020, she co-founded Tech-Moms.org, which goes beyond teaching technology to working mothers to truly cater to the women themselves.
“We put the women first, not the technology,” she says. “I think that’s where a lot of these organizations have maybe gone wrong is like, ‘Oh, we teach them tech and then go.’ The technology they can get. That’s not the issue. It’s that the barriers and challenges for women are so much more than people recognize, and trying to help them overcome those things is what’s creating our success.”
The classes, which take place on Saturdays over two months, feature applicable skills and knowledge as well as input from experts in fields ranging from UX/UI to cybersecurity.
The organization also cultivates networking opportunities. Not only do the students stay in touch to support each other throughout their careers, but Limpert draws on her own extensive network to foster opportunities.
“It’s been amazing,” she observes. “We have tech moms who hire tech moms, tech moms who refer tech moms. It’s like the networks that a lot of men have had in the tech industry. We’re trying to build that same networking and connectedness for women.”
While Limpert is devoted to her career, she also has worked hard to create a full life. Harmony, after all, is a fluid concept in which many parts make a cohesive whole. She remarried after separating from her first husband as he battled (and eventually overcame) a heroin addiction. She has built a new family with her three sons, her husband and her five stepchildren. And she has surmounted the biggest struggle of all: a breast cancer diagnosis, which she received in 2019 while on her way to take her team to lunch.
“You just kind of go numb,” she says simply.
Her family was no stranger to cancer. Her mother, her father, her cousin — so many people she knew and loved — had had it. But that moment of her diagnosis was a turning point for Limpert.
“There’s something that happens when you face your mortality that way,” she observes. “It changes you, and a lot of experiences happened for me during that process of learning how to let go and say, ‘You know what? This is out of my hands.’”
Limpert was buoyed by family and friends, all of whom turned out in an enormous show of support for a 300-strong party just before she underwent a successful bilateral mastectomy.
Being able to come out the other side of a cancer diagnosis has been a blessing Limpert incorporates into her worldview. “You end up cherishing every year you get,” she says. And that may just be the first step to finding harmony in any life or career.
Here, Limpert shares other insights on what motivates her and how she’s working to change the world, one woman or company at a time.
It’s always going back to recentering where I feel true to myself. All this work I do is hard work. It’s emotional work, and it can get very draining. So, it does take a lot to stick with it and persevere, but I think my motivation comes as I see the outcomes of the work I do. I hang on to those.
You’ve got to prioritize. We sometimes allow everybody to just drain us, and it’s not healthy for us or anybody else because it’ll burn us out. I think the key is just finding space for yourself, to be able to reset.
Mom guilt is a real thing. It is so severe sometimes, and it took me way too long to start getting rid of that guilt. It wasn’t doing any good. I mean, I was designing and building systems for millions of people around the world and creating positive change. At times, that meant I needed to take a 20-minute call, and my son would be screaming outside my door for a little while, and that was OK. Once I was done, I’d go snuggle with him, he would be content and life would move on.
We hear it a lot when our Tech-Moms students get up and do their presentations. They feel so guilty for taking time to study. Why? Why do we do that to ourselves? It’s OK to invest in ourselves and our careers. Sometimes work comes first.
I look back, and my son is now 20. He enlisted in the Marines, and he will graduate from Camp Pendleton on his 21st birthday this coming January. I wish I would have known back then when I was thinking, “Oh, I’m not doing enough. I’m not there enough. I need to be there 100% of the time,” that it’s just not true. There are things he’s learned from my working example that are enabling him now.
Putting together a diversity strategy focused on experience. Maybe it’s not artistically creative, but it’s something that I don’t know why we’re not doing.
The largest change-management initiative we have in our organizations is being able to address the culture and diversity, equity and inclusion challenges. Yet, when we create programs, we don’t do a good job of creating great experiences for people. People have a lot of fear and a lot of hesitancy to talk about these things. The topics themselves make people uncomfortable.
Throughout my career, I focused heavily on customer-relationship management and customer experience. I kept asking myself, “Why are we not doing the same thing within our companies to create change initiatives that have great experiences?”
The curricula and training I do within RizeNext place experience first. I look at the DEI initiatives that are out there, and they create horrible experiences that nobody wants to go through again. In fact, McKinsey & Company had a report that $8 billion was spent on DEI last year, and no research shows that it changed anything.
How do we approach these things to make sure that our executives are having a good experience? How do we do this so everyone comes forward saying, “I want to do more of this. I want to get involved more.” That’s the shift I’m seeking within the organizations I work with.
I’m the biggest believer in the power of transformation through education. It’s why I do what I do. Receiving the knowledge of business fundamentals allowed me to start my own company. The technology and operations piece of it provided me a successful tech career, which I use in everyday execution. My ability to be an entrepreneur resulted from business experience enabled by my extensive education.
Limpert is in good company when it comes to UOPX alumni committed to changing the world for the better. Read how Ruben Mireles overcame a pandemic and a climate crisis while going to school and providing for his family.
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