M+E Connections

Baca, Hamilton, Hildebrandt Accept WiTH Leadership Awards

Women in Technology Hollywood (WiTH) named three winners of its annual Leadership Awards Nov. 3 at the SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit, honouring leaders and advocates for women in the entertainment technology field.

The awards recognise those who exemplify WiTH’s pillars in both their work and communities, with a focus on those who excel in professional development, mentoring and networking, and community engagement.

The 2023 winners were Nancy Baca, director of licensing financial systems at Disney, Kelly Hamilton, CIO at Sony Pictures, and Melanie Hildebrandt, EVP and CIO at Endeavor.

Baca has been an integral part of WiTH since its inception. Her passion lies in mentoring women and under represented individuals in the tech field. Her work with Knowledge Circles 4 Impact (KC4I), WiTH’s mentoring programme, has had a significant impact, creating a ripple effect that benefits mentees, colleagues, and future generations.

Before presenting Baca her award, Nina Skorus-Neely, industry advisor at Microsoft and secretary of the WiTH Foundation, noted that KC4I “provides an opportunity for those mentees to learn skills that will support them in their careers going forward.”

Baca is co-chair of the committee that started the programme, and “she’s been the driving force behind this whole entire effort,” Skorus-Neely said, pointing out her colleague has been an “integral part of the WiTH Foundation since its inception in 2014, nine years ago.”

Baca’s “passion for mentoring women and under represented individuals in the tech field manifests itself in her everyday work at Disney and in her dedication and passion for the WiTH Foundation,”  Skorus-Neely added and congratulated Baca on the award.

Baca thanked the WiTH Foundation because, she said: “Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t feel this speechless,  emotional, humble, because it’s that foundation that provides this opportunity…. It’s truly a gift to be able to serve others and to mentor and  to give back and help lift up so many women and so many of you that I’ve seen today that I’ve known for so many years. Thank you for that opportunity.  I also  looked at all of the recipients that have come before me and so many friends, so many mentors, and people that have affected and impacted my life in so many years out there. And I so appreciate it.  But this isn’t just about me. It’s about all of you as well.  You can  choose to give back, like I did, and feel as good as I do right now because we have the pillars…. Choose if you want to go into the professional development realm … or work for the community. Get out there with our young people.”

Baca added: “Finally, of course, I’m going to pitch: We always need more people in KC4I…. We’ll start back up again in January.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s journey from SVP of finance to CIO at Sony Pictures is a testament to her inspirational leadership. She actively advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion, both internally and externally. In the process, she has increased the visibility of women in leadership roles and fosters an environment where diverse voices drive innovation and value in the industry.

Hamilton noted it was “funny [that as] you guys were going through the past winners, I thought about how many of them talked to me in my first month in this job.” At the time, she didn’t even know that “this community existed or that they were there to help me,” she said.

She added: “I just want to offer that, as an observation, [it really] takes a village! And I am only as successful as all the people who helped the team. So, I’m going to argue this is the team’s award.”

And Hildebrandt is a dedicated supporter of women in tech. She actively participates in WiTH and STEM Advantage, a WiTH-supported charity, and she has not only fundraised successfully for STEM Advantage but has also brought STEM Advantage Scholars into paid intern roles at Sony Pictures.

“If you didn’t hear enough about why you should help other women, I have a call to action,” Hildebrandt told attendees. “It’s really, really critical, I think, to create community. I think I have really had a lot of great experiences meeting new people, having such a support network. And, also, I want to be that for others. So I think if we all band together, create communities, support each other, it just makes such a huge difference. I think we can be ambassadors for our industry.”

Hildebrandt added: “I think the education system needs a complete reboot…. We’re not promoting STEM careers, especially to women, in the right ways. I think we’re explaining all of the different career paths that it can take…. People just don’t have enough understanding and I don’t think we’re great at sales and marketing of the great jobs that we have. So being an ambassador is so critical. Being an intentional leader, really helping hire women, help them with advancement, being that ally. Someone mentioned earlier today [that] decisions about you are made in rooms you’re not in.  So who’s speaking for you in those rooms? And if you’re in those rooms, are you speaking for others?”

Hildebrandt went on to say: “When names are coming up – and we make these decisions all the time – big projects, promotions, often those are done in a very quick time frame. A few names come up. Who should we give this role to?  Mostly it’s men’s names come up, and then the decision is made. So it is absolutely critical that in those rooms we are advocating for other women  and helping with that advancement. Last but not least, I would just say, all we need to do is really try. We need to offer up internships, but any little thing that you can do is just so critical, even if you think that you’re boiling the ocean…. You can break a problem down in pieces, and if we just do a little bit each day, it’s just so critical, and you’ll make such an impact in other women’s lives.”

She concluded by telling a story of when she saw a “cluster” of fireflies that were “so beautiful and brightly shining that it was impossible not to notice them.” She added: “If we all cluster together  and put our lights together, we can bring the light to the darkness.”

Other nominees included:

• Katie Hinsen, director of technology, Marvel Studios
• Filiz Bahmanpour, VP of product, Gracenote
• Carol Danoff, chief procurement officer, Warner Bros. Discovery
• Eileen P. Drake, former CEO and president, Aerojet Rocketdyne
• Cara Sheppard, president, Picture Shop
• Shazzy Angulo, Unreal development supervisor, WildBrain
• Jessica ‘Sica’ von Medicus, CG supervisor, Nickelodeon Animation
• iAsia Brown, senior producer, Xbox Game Studios publishing, Microsoft
• Tammy Choy, VP and CIO, The Aerospace Corporation
• Samira Panah Bakhtiar, director of global media and entertainment, Amazon Web Services

The Leadership Awards recognises outstanding leaders and advocates in the entertainment technology sector.

These individuals not only excel in their professional roles but also embody WiTH’s principles through their work, community engagement, mentoring, and networking. Past recipients of the award include industry luminaries like Nancy Faginas-Cody, Cristina Mancini-Jones, and Theresa Miller.

The annual SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit was presented by Qvest with sponsorship by Softtek, and took place at Nya Studios, located in the heart of Hollywood. The full-day event, themed “Us, Our Org, Our Community,” offered a dynamic line-up of presentations and discussions. Attendees enjoyed engaging sessions such as “STEM in Media,” “Courageous Leadership,” and “Ethical AI.”