How TechGirlz Got Started: Showing Girls What Tech Can Offer

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In 1987, 42% of software developers in America were women. In the 1990s, those numbers dropped. By Tracey Welson-Rossman (Founder, TechGirlz)

TechGirlz was born out of curiosity. After spending the first part of my career working with mostly women in both the childcare and healthcare industries, I moved into the information technology consulting space as one of the founding members of Chariot Solutions, a software and mobile development firm. I was shocked to notice the lack of women in my business meetings and even more shocked at the lack of female developer candidates who passed through our doors.

I began to research in order to gain a better understanding of the issue. In the 1960s, computer science was considered women’s work. In fact, Cosmopolitan magazine did a whole story in its April 1967 issue called, “The Computer Girls” touting the fact that “a girl ‘senior systems analyst’ gets $20,000 – and up!” That trend continued through the 80s. In 1987, 42% of software developers and 34% of analysts in America were women. Then, in the 1990s, those numbers dropped.

Today, estimates show women are 13% of the computer science workforce.

After speaking with contacts at universities, I found there was a drop in the matriculation of high school girls into computer science majors in college. Ok, so what was happening in high school?

Studies showed that girls were opting out of tech careers due to their preconceived notions that these jobs were nerdy and not collaborative or creative.

I felt it was key to get middle schools girls interested in tech and change their perception before they entered high school and began self-selecting out.

TechGirlz became a must-do, not a nice-to-do.

With a group of advisors, we devised a plan to offer workshops outside of school. Both men and women who were working in the industry would act as mentors and facilitate the workshops.

We made the decision to not just focus on programming and coding, but to also show the breadth and depth of what technology can offer. I felt that if we showed all the possibilities a career in tech had to offer, including collaboration and creativity, the girls would decide what they liked and explore further on their own. We also wanted to create an organization that provided a place for continual learning and practice. There was really no place for girls to congregate and share their interest in tech without being judged.

As we approach the third school year since the program was conceived, we are continually surprised and exhilarated by what our TechGirlz can achieve. We have run 15 workshops plus our entrepreneur summer camp. Approximately 150 girls have attended at least one workshop over the past two years, with over 60% attending two or more programs. Our workshops have taught the girls podcasting, game development, WordPress, 3-D printing, Scratch and Kodu programming, data integration and tech with art.

The measurement of our success is anecdotal at this time, but based on the stories we hear from the participant’s parents, we are having an impact on these girls’ lives and their career direction. The feedback is pretty consistent – “My daughter did not know she could use technology to create her idea.” “My daughter did not see herself in this field, but now she can’t see anything else.” “My daughter did not understand all the possibilities.” “My daughter talked non-stop for two hours after the workshop.”

Today’s reality is that women are starting half of the nearly 10 million businesses expected by 2018, but those founding tech-based businesses are a tiny fraction.

Pair that with the fact that women control 70% of online purchases worldwide, and the reality is mind-boggling. The good news is that from 2010 to 2011, the number of women majoring in computer science at Harvard, is significantly rising; last year, one in four were female.

To keep this trend going and truly have an impact, we need the support of the tech community, women and men, from enterprises and startups, developers and CEOs. Whether the girls become the next Marissa Meyer remains to be seen, but we do know we are on a path of developing a group of girls who will not be afraid to experiment with technology and ultimately change the course of the industry.

To get involved, donate, or find more information, visit TechGirlz.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: Rochester Institute of Technology About the guest blogger: Tracey Welson-Rossman is Founder and Trustee of TechGirlz. She is also the CMO at Chariot Solutions, responsible for business development, lead generation, channel management and establishing Chariot Solutions as the premier Java, open source, and mobile development resource. Tracey is a founding board member of Philly Startup Leaders. Tracey currently resides outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter at @TWelsonRossman.