By Sandy Welfare, WIT Executive Director
This has been a quite a week of commotion, from political news to business news. I’m sure by now everyone has heard of or seen the recent memo from a previous Google employee that demotes the value of diversity in programming roles. While we respect a person’s ability to circulate personal views, we at WIT would like to take the opportunity to rebut, educate and raise the level of conversation being held in the public sphere on this issue.
Women in Technology’s (WIT) mission is to serve as passionate advocates for women of all ages in Georgia’s STEAM community. From the classroom to the boardroom, we empower girls and women to excel in STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. In the state of Georgia, girls in K through 12 outperform boys in science and math competency tests, yet only 31% of STEM degrees are awarded to women. We see great potential in women and girls which is why our daily charge is to dispel myths that would suggest women and girls are inferior to men in STEAM fields.
Whenever it is presented that a certain subset of people are incapable or lack the necessary skillset, temperament, biological makeup, etc. it can be harmful to the community at large. Often times, young girls and minorities can be disenfranchised from STEAM fields such as coding or programming by these types of attitudes coupled with the lack of representation. Luckily, there are the precious few who view it as a challenge or a chance to enact change.
H. James Dallas, my friend and mentor, an author and accomplished senior executive with extensive experience as an agent of change in international corporate settings, experienced similar sentiments early on in his career. James shared the following story: “When I first started as a programmer trainee in 1984, one of the system analysts had a conversation outside his office about how women and people of color didn’t have the mental aptitude to be programmers. He spoke very loudly so that everyone in the area could hear, especially me and the two women in the area. His comments didn’t discourage me; they had the opposite effect because they motivated me to prove him wrong. I went on to become CIO of the company,” said Dallas. What’s apparent about James’ story is that it is clearly not just a sentiment but an issue that has morphed over the ensuing decades.
This week once again shows us that changes are slowly being made, yet there is still more work to be done. As a leader of WIT I have witnessed firsthand the power of change that occurs when people are given the opportunity to explore the STEAM industry. Through programs like WIT Girls and WIT Campus, young women are empowered to explore opportunities that they previously didn’t know were available to them. Monica Ortiz, an immigrant, first generation college student and teen mother, joined WIT Campus, immersed herself in the organization and WIT network, challenged herself to learn all that she could about careers in the STEAM industry and not only earned an internship, but also a full-time job offer as a result of her involvement and dedication.
Throughout history, every major revolution has eventually grown to include female and/or minority involvement, the most iconic of which would probably be Rosie the Riveter in the factories during the 1940s. The technology revolution began in the late 80s, it’s time for women and minorities to have a seat at the table. Given the growing nature of this industry, there’s room for everyone. Technology at its most basic level, is a computer device that doesn’t respond to or recognize race, sexual orientation, or generational gaps. There is space for everyone, both men and women. Let’s do the work!