As featured in CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures Foundation’s newsletter.
For 30 years now, educators and business leaders have all but begged teenaged girls to consider careers in technology. And for 30 years, their pleas have largely fallen short. As a result, the technology industry overwhelmingly remains male. Although women account for nearly half of the U.S. workforce, only about a quarter of information technology (IT) workers are female.
“If you have a product that’s been failing for 30 years, one of two things is happening – either the product itself is bad, or the messages used to sell the product are bad,” says Tracey Welson-Rossman. “In the case of technology careers for women, we know the product itself isn’t bad – because technology offers tremendous opportunity for women. So if we aren’t successfully filling the tech career pipeline with women, we must be using bad messaging. We are not connecting with our consumers.”
Welson-Rossman is the founder of TechGirlz, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering girls to be future technology leaders. Currently, TechGirlz offers free, hands-on workshops to middle-school-aged girls in Philadelphia to expose them to the wide variety of careers in technology.
Four CompTIA Member Communities recently directed a total of $10,000 in Creating IT Futures Foundation dollars to TechGirlz to support its programming. The giving was part of a campaign that delivers $130,000 mainly to tech-related charities each year. As Welson-Rossman describes it, TechGirlz hopes to inspire young women to shatter current gender statistics of the technology industry. The group aims to help adolescent girls see that a career in technology is not “a boring computer job” but, rather, is a critically important part of nearly every field imaginable. As a founding member and the Chief Marketing Officer for Chariot Solutions, a Philadelphia-based Java and open-source software development and consulting firm, Welson-Rossman knows all about being a woman working in a male- dominated field.
“We know that around the ninth grade, girls start ‘self selecting’ and taking themselves out of math and science classes,” she said. “Part of that’s due to how society presents science. Take the TV show, ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ which I love, by the way. Science is presented as the lead character Sheldon Cooper, who is tall, skinny, white, brainy, socially awkward and male. When you’re a 14-year-old girl, do you want to be brainy and socially awkward, or do you want to be accepted and datable?”
TechGirlz hands-on workshops create situations where girls work alongside technology industry role models and use technology in different ways, Welson- Rossman said. For example, one recent workshop focused on 3D printing. “There’s creativity happening and the girls consider how technology takes them to where they want to be,” she said. “That’s when the light bulbs start going off. Technology is not just about coding or programming software. Technology is much, much broader than that.”
An important aspect of TechGirlz is creating an environment in which girls feel comfortable — even confident — demonstrating an interest and proficiencies in math and science, Welson-Rossman said. “Some of these girls may be the only one among their peer group who like math, science or technology,” she said. “Part of what we’re doing is bringing them together to build a sense of community so they don’t feel alone.”
Now in its fourth year of operation, TechGirlz is working with its 300th participant. “We are so grateful to CompTIA and its Creating IT Futures Foundation for supporting our work,” Welson-Rossman said. “It is thanks to generous support like CompTIA’s that we’re able to reach these girls.”
Right now, the organization is creating an online library of its most successful workshops, which Welson-Rossman hopes educators and volunteers nationwide will use to work with girls in their local communities. “We’re hoping to spread information and inspire others to go down this same path of encouraging young women to consider technology careers,” she said.