The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Stacy Oliver-Sikorski.
Sitting in the coffee shop of the convention center, I pulled out my phone and scrolled mindlessly through my Twitter feed before clicking over to my mentions. A recent follower, also at the conference, asked if we could meet in the exhibit hall. He was working, representing a technology solutions company. I was an extrovert who knew no one at the conference and was intrigued (and starving for human interaction). As I approached the booth for Adirondack Solutions in the exhibit hall, he greeted me warmly, as though we were long lost friends. We chatted briefly about the conference and my experience – to describe me as a fish out of water would not be overstating things – before I asked him to tell me more about Adirondack Solutions and what they did. He told me about the company’s array of offerings, from housing to conduct to parking. My professional interest was piqued by housing software because I was making a case back on campus or a move to an online process.
And my personal interest was piqued when he mentioned that the company is owned by a woman.
Randi Schweriner, co-founder and chief financial officer of Adirondack Solutions, is the majority owner of the company. Her background is, unsurprisingly, in student affairs with some significant time spent in housing and residence life. “I started in higher education because the extra-curricular activities I did as an undergrad were my favorite part of college and my mentor was the dean of students. But as active as I was on campus, I wasn’t a resident assistant. My first job was in admissions at Thomas Jefferson University. I planned special projects for the allied health school. After eight months, I decided to go back to school for my master’s in counseling and human relations with a concentration on student personnel at Villanova University and got a job as the (not a) residence director at Cabrini College only ten minutes away. I was there for the two years I was in school and then worked at Princeton. My job there was assistant director of undergraduate housing. They keep housing operations and residence. life separate. I was there almost four years. I left Princeton for Rutgers-Newark as the assistant director of housing and residence life.”
Adirondack Solutions was born out of need to streamline processes during Schweriner’s time at Rutgers-Newark, where a lack of technology solution at the time created an unnecessary redundancy in processes. “Main campus at Rutgers did all of the billing for the satellite campuses, but we couldn’t run rosters locally from that system so we double entered everything. The spreadsheet we were using wasn’t ideal so I was assigned the task of finding software. When I went to MACUHO and ACUHO-I to look for it, I couldn’t find anything appropriately priced to do all the things we needed it to do. My husband Dave is a programmer so I asked him to build me something. I was pregnant at the time and knew I would want to simplify as many tasks as possible for after the baby was born. So, while I was on maternity leave, I told Dave what I wanted the software to do and he built it for me. Then when we couldn’t find an acceptable child care solution, we decided I would stay home, but we had worked so hard to build the software, we decided to try and sell it. Twenty years later, it has turned out to be a great decision.”
Like her clients in housing and residence life or other areas of student affairs, Schweriner doesn’t have a typical day. “I manage all the money, payroll, insurance, etc.… I plan our internal company trainings and annual user group conference. I do some upper lever customer service, but it’s rare that things get to me, which says a lot about my staff. I manage all the hiring and deal with accountants and lawyers -- a lot of stuff I never imagined doing.”
And how does being a woman impact her day-to-day experience? Schweriner explains, “It’s funny that you ask that this week. You may have seen an article floating around the Internet about business partners – male and female -- who accidentally sent out emails with each other’s names. The man noticed that customers treated him differently when they thought the email was coming from his female partner. After reading that, I gave it a lot of thought. On email, I am often mistaken for male and have had people be visually surprised to meet (or get on the phone) a female named Randi. I have also had people demand to speak to Dave instead of me even though I own the majority of the company. Housing and residence life is generally much more inclusive than other fields so I am sure my being a woman has much less impact than it might in other disciplines. I think our staff is proud we’re woman owned and we’re now 40% female.”
Schweriner sees the barriers for women working in housing and residence life as being like those for women working in other fields. “The barriers are the continuing misperceptions that we can’t or shouldn’t be leaders combined with our own self-doubt. I think our ceilings are higher than in many other fields, which is not to say there isn’t work to do. I don’t think college students today think in these terms so I fully expect twenty years from now we won’t have to ask this question. At least I hope not.”
Adirondack Solutions generously sponsored this year’s Women in Housing series, providing financial support to offset costs that are incurred throughout the series. In full disclosure, my employer is a client of Adirondack Solutions and has proudly been since 2013.