A new professional group aimed at connecting women in the field of technology is gaining momentum in the region.
Women in Technology (WIT) launched in late 2014 as a way to provide resources and support for women in this growing field. Former UW-Whitewater roommates Michelle Schuler, business development manager at EDCi IT Services, and Kathy Fredrickson, owner of Imark Consulting, discussed the need for such an organization and reached out to community leaders such as Al Hartman of UW-Oshkosh. They ultimately partnered with Women in Management and launched its first professional chapter.
“We talked to Al and kind of bounced the idea off him — how do we get a network for women, and not only women — but how do we also get a network for young girls to look at technology?” Schuler says.
The group’s LinkedIn page, launched in October, quickly started attracting interested women and now has more than 200 members, Schuler says.
“We have great talent and a lot of diversity, and I think that really got the ball rolling,” Schuler says. Women in the varying fields related to technology — including IT administration and marketing — can help each other with ideas about topics such as designing websites or coding and programming, Schuler says. The organization also provides connections that may encourage women to stay in the field, and it aims to develop a kind of reverse mentoring — learning what will help the new generations stay interested.
In 2012, women held approximately 26 percent of information technology-related positions, down from 37 percent in 1991, according to Department of Labor statistics. While demand for IT professionals is growing — an informal survey in Northeast Wisconsin found more than 240 openings in just six companies — more than half of women in the field will exit the profession after 10 years.
Women in Technology is also taking its focus on the next generation by developing ideas to work with schools to interest girls in technology. Currently, women make up 18 percent of all computer science majors, federal data shows.
It can be a lonely choice.
The organization seeks members from around the New North as well as sponsors who can help with the planned school programs. Schuler says she hopes the organization will help women working in technology develop their “confidence to speak up at meetings, shine at who they are and really develop professionally.”
“Technology is a pretty male-dominated profession, and there are lots of women that say they may be the only female in that room,” Schuler says. “Also, IT is a big world — what are their goals? Do they want to work in management? Is the CIO/CTO level something they want to achieve and how do we help them get there?”
Karin Alvarez, a web developer and computer science student who is making a career switch from early childhood special education, once felt somewhat derailed by being the only girl in a high school coding class. Later on, attending meetings with women interested in coding “really helped me to see it was possible — that I wasn’t shooting for something unattainable,” Alvarez says.
Alvarez, who moved to Wisconsin from Colorado, says most of the technology meetings she found for women were in Milwaukee. WIT helps fill a gap in the New North region, and Alvarez has been helping WIT through social media and its programs. She hopes new members will gain inspiration and ideas as well as knowledge on how to advance
“It kind of helps to have people with similar experiences, being able to bounce ideas off of people who maybe have been there before as well.”
Alvarez currently helps with a YWCA-affiliated group called TechGyrls, talking about technology-related fields like astronomy and architecture with fourth- and fifth-grade girls.
“Whenever I get involved in something, I always think about how it’s going to be impactful 15 years down the road,” Alvarez said. “I think if they want to go into technology in 10 years when they’re ready to go to college, (Women in Technology) will be there for them.”
Monthly Women in Technology events will be offered September through May.
Membership is $60 or $210 for those prepaying for all regular monthly programs. For more information on Women in Technology, visit wimiwi.org, witwisconsin.com, connect through the organization’s LinkedIn page, or contact Michelle Schuler at [email protected].