A few years ago, in the audience at a local tech conference in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia (the home of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia), I was joined by co-workers from the small app-development group where I was a partner and the only woman employee. The panel discussion was about how to attract tech talent to smaller communities, and was comprised of about five leaders from area tech companies. Not surprisingly, all men.
During the Q&A, a woman sitting behind me asked what specifically their companies were doing to attract female tech talent. The silence was awkward, and their attempted answers were not great. I tweeted my chagrin.
Immediately someone tweeted back to invite me to a women in technology happy hour that same evening. Turns out, it was the woman behind me who’d ask the great question, Kim Wilkens. She was starting Charlottesville’s Women in Tech (CWIT) group. I was all in.
The next day Kim wrote an awesome blog response that addressed what kind of response she’s looking for when she asks a tech leader what they are doing to address gender equity and the lack of diversity in tech. There’s no one right answer, but creating a supportive environment is a great start.
Since our start, CWIT has grown to include monthly meet-ups, technical presentations, workshops, volunteer and networking opportunities. We’ve branched out to collateral organizations like Tech Girls and Computer for Kids, while also spearheading an area-wide student Tech Tour, and more. Our vision is to bridge the gender gap in tech by providing a safe and welcoming environment for women and girls to connect, learn and collaborate in Charlottesville.
Innovative Solutions are Inclusive
Supporting tech careers for women and tech interests for girls is essential to providing equal access to rewarding and lucrative careers. It’s also important when you consider what’s lost when there’s a lack of diversity in the creative technical process.
Similar to how my mom complains that all tech is created by and for young people, which leaves her feeling excluded and frustrated, lack of diversity translates to leaving out an entire gender of considerations for user experience and technology solutions.
There are less women in tech today than earlier decades, which can be connected to lack of support in the workplaces, as well as marketing trends that account for strong tech interest among elementary and middle school girls, yet plummet in high school when tech becomes an elective.
The most enlightening conversations at our Women in Tech monthly meet-ups come from our experiences. For example, during a presentation about facial recognition and data platforms, how should transgender issues be handled? If you’ve landed a tech job, how do you command a competitive salary in a male-dominated field? Or if you’re hosting a tech event, how does providing daycare open up the ability for more people to participate?
At another recent tech event, with our Charlottesville Women in Tech group now active for a few years, we attended as a group, wearing our CWIT purple t-shirts. It was a great visual way to show how community support has grown, and an easy way to open conversations.
It was encouraging to see several purple shirts in the lineup for tech-topic pitches, from “how to be a successful female tech sales person,” to “creating a website to match non-profit needs with tech talent.” Topics everyone can support.
No matter where Jeff Bezos decides to open the next Amazon tech headquarters, I’m confident he’ll find the right women to lead it.
Trae Turner is Geezeo’s Marketing Services Manager.