Women have made great strides in entering and succeeding in many traditionally male-dominated careers. Nonetheless, women are still underrepresented in technology fields, particularly at the leadership levels.
Surprisingly, though, statistics have shown a decline in women in the tech workforce: the peak was in the mid-1980s, with about 37 percent of the technology workforce being women, but by 2011, the numbers showed a rate of less than 20 percent.
Fortunately, several local organizations are working to balance the gender equation in Pittsburgh’s technology workforce.
One such nonprofit is RedChairPGH, which was inspired by a nationwide advocacy campaign called Sit With Me, established by the National Center for Women & Information Technology. The red chair is symbolic of women having a seat at the table.
Kelly Fetick has been involved with RedChair for about four years and joined the board earlier this year. She is the president and founder of a women-owned technology staffing and recruitment firm, which she founded in 2016. “We have a unique perspective in understanding women’s roles in technology in the Pittsburgh area, and the region’s hiring needs and capabilities as it ties to the market,” she explained.
As there is a disproportionate imbalance in leadership, Fetick specifically focuses on women in the mid-career space, as statistics show that women leave tech careers mid-career at twice the rate of men.
“If women are leaving jobs at that point in their career, they are not getting to that next level,” she said. “You see disparity in women on board seats and in leadership roles. Women need to help one another and lift each other up the chain, so it’s important to focus on building that support system.”
RedChairPGH supports women in a number of ways, including via its scholarship program. “This year, we awarded 19 scholarships. They were a mix of executive coaching, the DDI development series, Thrive, the Edge Leadership Program and the Brave Women Retreat. They are provided with funds from event proceeds and generous donations from our sponsors,” said Fetick.
On November 17, RedChair Pittsburgh will hold its annual #sitwithme event at the Roundhouse at Hazelwood Green. “This year’s theme is New Beginnings—it is about re-entry, coming back to the office after taking time off, reinventing yourself and what that means to your career as a tech professional,” said Fetick, adding that this year’s keynote speaker is Christy Uffelman, who founded EDGE Leadership.
“Christy encompasses passion and inspiring inclusive leadership; she is a force,” said Fetick. “There will be panel discussions led by talented women in tech with great stories to tell that will be motivational for attendees, and we will also have a resource session where they can meet with other organizations with similar missions.”
Another organization whose goal is to help women succeed and be represented in technology is getWITit, a national organization with a Pittsburgh chapter. Tatiana Imler is a senior manager and technology solution owner at ABM Industries as well as the community engagement committee co-manager at getWITit. She said that it is not only women, but minority women, who are not represented enough in technology.
“I definitely believe that there is more opportunity, and a lot of this is not having women or minorities in the tech space but also not having them in enough leadership nor decision-making positions,” she said.
Imler points to a couple of reasons for this disparity. “One is that there is a stigma or belief that in the tech world, you need to have a tech degree to be in that space,” she said, adding that you can have a lot of other skill sets to work in the technology field.
The other is a lack of access to these types of opportunities. “It is very difficult to break into the tech space. If you aimlessly apply to jobs, that is not the most positive way to try to get in. You have to network your way in,” she explained. “That is where getWITit comes in; our mission is to inspire more women, and we also want to build that environment where women can flourish.”
She added that the organization is supported by both men and women. “We need more allies to join our group to help move the needle for the number of women in tech,” she said.
The nonprofit also has different committees and events in support of their mission. This November is getWITit’s first conference called WITCON 2022, to be held on Nov. 7 at Sheraton Station Square; the theme is Exhilarate.
“We will be bringing women in tech and allies together for leadership and connecting. We will have networking events. There will be a keynote speaker from Microsoft—Serena Sacks-Mandel—along with multiple other speakers, and an executive panel at the end,” said Imler.
“These pathways will help women in technology by talking about tech, about how you can be the best in your career, and provide them with developmental opportunities. The type of connections you can make there are really endless,” she noted, adding that because of the pandemic, enabling these in-person networking opportunities will be a gamechanger.
For more women to be represented in the tech fields, Fetick said that there needs to be a continued focus and awareness built on the need for supporting women. “Whether through events or scholarships, I think the more we can do to build awareness will help empower more women in the field and grow the community,” she said.
Both Imler and Fetick said that there is a more concerted effort within some companies to hire and promote women in the technology space, but that there is more work to be done.
“You don’t just need the companies themselves to support these activities but you also need women to be mentors to newer women and to keep women engaged,” said Imler. Still, she feels optimistic about the future of women in technology, as there are a lot of like-minded organizations in the area.
For more information about getWitIt Pittsburgh, visit https://www.linkedin.com/company/getwitit-pittsburgh/.