The numbers have been in for some time now, and they reveal a sobering truth: the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) remain exceptionally male-dominated. The metrics on women in tech are actually getting worse.
The graphic illustrates how the number of women who pursue computer science has sharply declined over the past 20 years, in contrast to achieving near parity in other professional fields such as medicine and law. The current reality is that girls are five times less likely to consider a career in technology than boys.
While Charlottesville is justifiably proud of the tech scene that has blossomed over the last decade, our town is not immune to this diversity issue. In fact, many local tech companies report a workforce gender imbalance. This is an important consideration for our technology community, as it is a proven fact that diverse teams are more successful. According to a Deloitte Consulting study, highly diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 80 percent.
As an engineer working at a small Charlottesville engineering firm, I have seen the gender imbalance first-hand. I am one of just a few women at my company, and while it’s fantastic to see many tech interest groups cropping up around town, it remains discouraging that almost every group I attended seemed to share the same imbalance. A tipping point for me was when a casual “Women in Tech” happy hour that was planned in April 2014 failed to see a significant number of women in attendance. These experiences made me question just how many Charlottesville women were working in technology, and where were they? Along with Kim Wilkens, who founded the Tech-Girls program in 2012, we decided to seek out the other local women in tech. Thus our organization, Charlottesville Women in Tech (CWIT), was born!
Our first meeting was held in June of 2014, and we have been thrilled to see new women join us every month. Through a series of educational programs, support networks and career resources, our mission is to bridge the gender gap in tech by providing a safe and welcoming environment for women in tech to connect, learn and collaborate in Charlottesville. In the past year, our membership has grown to more than 140 women. We welcome everyone who identifies with technology: our group includes coders, designers, students, teachers, entrepreneurs, tech writers, managers, engineers, biotech researchers, and more!
The feedback that I have received from the community has been inspiring. Members who attend our meetings frequently express their excitement to connect with other women, as many of our members work at companies with very few other women. Additionally, we have made an effort to engage with other tech meetups and promote attendance at other events. Organizers of these events have noted the leap in the number of women attending – this includes casual meetups like Charlottesville Technologists; conferences like beCamp; and tech-focused classes such as Rails School. We are fortunate to have a number of male advocates who come out to our open events and share their resources as speakers at some of our meetings. Numerous local companies have enthusiastically engaged with our group and are helping to champion the cause by soliciting speakers for our meetings and promoting our events to their employees. Excitingly, we have had women mention that they were able to find new technology jobs through networking that occurred during our meetings.
As our group continues to grow, we hope to see even more women joining the tech world in Charlottesville. The fact that Charlottesville is a small community means that if we continue diversity-focused efforts, we have considerable potential to cultivate a diverse, flourishing tech scene in town. CWIT is particularly focused on enabling professional women to connect, find their place in the tech community, and thrive once they have established a foothold in these careers. We are also dedicated to helping from the early stages by partnering with Tech-Girls. Tech-Girls was founded in 2012 with a mission to empower girls to imagine and achieve their future dreams in our tech-savvy world. With the support of awesome volunteers and local organizations, Tech-Girls brings hands-on tech-related programming to girls throughout the region. Tech-Girls and Charlottesville Women in Tech have joined forces with the goal of supporting and helping women and girls begin their journey and stay in the technology pipeline.
Together, we hope to see the gender gap in Charlottesville’s tech community continue to shrink. You can learn more about our group at charlottesvillewomenintech.com, and we would love to see new faces at our meetings, which are held on the second Wednesday of the month.