Leaping forward and leaning in: Making technology a woman’s place

Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

It can be isolating to blaze a trail. Since 2014, Charlottesville Women in Tech has been working to smooth the way for women in the local tech industry. With a mailing list of around 500, CWIT serves everyone from coders to high school STEM teachers. Current President Eileen Krepkovich gave us the lowdown on how the group is making a difference.

What does the gender gap look like in the tech field?

Nationally, about 18 percent of computer scientists are women, and engineers are 12 percent women. It’s a challenge everywhere. Computer science is interesting because the first computer programmers in the ’40s were all women. It was seen as secretarial work. And then as the technology became more advanced, it became more prestigious and men started taking ownership of it. In the 1980s is when we saw this pretty big drop in the number of women represented. The personal computer was marketed more towards boys. Since then it’s been hard to get women back in the door. A lot of us are minorities in our jobs, so it’s nice to have a space to connect with other women.

How is CWIT trying to change the landscape?

We mainly focus on having meetups, some with a technical topic, some with career topics. We have more casual events too—monthly lunches and a book club. Both of those are very popular. Last year we had our first formal conference featuring speakers and workshop-type sessions where we worked on different networking skills, social media, personal branding, and some tech-specific tools like GitHub. We like to think our connections are the main benefit we offer. We’ve had so many women tell us they found new jobs based on people they met. We try to get our members out to other tech happenings around town. When I moved here, I started checking out some of those groups to try to meet people, and it was tough—here’s a room of 30 men and one other woman. We do like to have representation at those events.

You focus on girls too. Why is it important to bring girls into the field?

If we want to actually improve the disparity between men and women in the field, we need more girls interested in pursuing it as a career in the first place. It’s absorbed by people in our society that programmers are geeky, so a lot of girls will immediately reject the field. We need intentional programming that is appealing and also lets them see mentors—that there are women working in these fields. Our program Tech Girls has events for elementary, middle, and high school students. At this point we’ve reached over 2,000 girls.

What benefits does a tech career offer girls?

There’s a lot of creativity associated with it. There’s also the ability to work on things that can really make a difference in other people’s lives. Girls connect with that idea of doing something meaningful.

 

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