Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I was able to present TechGirlz’s mission to the Network for Women with Careers in Technology (NWCT) at their evening event at Wax & Wine. The mission of the NWCT is to advance careers for professionals in all areas of technology through education, mentoring, and providing professional networking opportunities. While NWCT focuses on women in tech and TechGirlz focuses on providing opportunities for middle school girls in tech, I found an abundance of similarities that transcend age.
As we all had fun deciding which scent to make our candle (so many choices!), the women shared their own stories of being in tech. Some women spoke about being fresh out of college and how the NWCT provided mentorship and friendship. I watched as the experienced tech professionals welcomed the new college graduates into their conversations. Witnessing this gesture reinforced that being accepted in a community is a large component of what makes someone continue with a hobby, profession, or team. This is especially important to realize as women leave tech professions at a much higher rate than men.
As I watched the newcomers be warmly welcomed by the women at NWCT, I thought about how we strive for every girl to feel welcomed at TechGirlz workshops. The girls attending TechGirlz workshops regularly comment that they want to come back because the volunteer instructors were so patient, helpful and nice. They remark how fun it was to meet the other girls in the room and how important it was to finally connect with other girls who have the same interest as themselves. No matter if you are middle school age or middle age, creating a safe and warm environment is what keeps people coming back. I was able to experience that as NWCT embraced me into their community for the night, and it reminded me how important it is that TechGirlz does the same for middle school girls.
While sitting down to stir the wax to make our candle, I occasionally heard women downplaying their role in tech. “Oh, I don’t code, I just….” Notably, the other women around her would ask more questions and tell her that she was indeed part of the tech world. Again, this reminded me of our informal motto at TechGirlz: Tech is more than coding. Tech is part of almost all modern careers and we need to make sure that half of the population isn’t left out because they downplay or don’t believe their ability in technical is enough.
I also met women who didn’t major in Tech or Computer Science in college because they didn’t know they would enjoy it. They started working at a tech company in another capacity and as they learned what the company did, they wanted to join the technical side. Many either taught themselves or went back to school. When I spoke to the women at NWCT about how they could volunteer to help at the free workshops TechGirlz runs for middle school girls, they would wistfully respond, “I wish that was around when I was in middle school! I would have loved that!” I am so proud that TechGirlz makes the road to the various tech professions just a little smoother for the next generation.
The women at NWCT know how much it means to them to be supported along their path and are looking forward to paying it forward by running a TechGirlz workshop in 2019. Leading these workshops as a group will help strengthen their bond even more. Many of the women asked if they could assist at workshops in topics they want to learn more about like AI so they can expand their own tech knowledge (the answer is yes!). But mainly, they want to mentor the next generation and give to the girls what they wished they had had in middle school.
Thank you NWCT for inviting me to speak at your Wax & Wine night, and I hope to attend another one of your events in the future!
TechGirlz is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations, by focusing on girls at the crucial middle school age. We offer free workshops led by volunteers. These workshops encourage girls' interests in different kinds of technology, show them varied career options, and connect them with professionals in technology fields.
Before coming to TechGirlz as the Phildalphiea Volunteer Manager, Danica was a technical instructor for 18 years. She began her career at IBM where she created and taught courses throughout the United States, focusing on AIX System Administration and Shell Scripting. After working at IBM, Danica began teaching Red Hat Linux classes. She was elated when she learned about TechGirlz’s mission and volunteered for her first TechGirlz workshop in 2015.
Danica remembers being the only girl in her high school computer programming and physics class and one of the few females in her college physics, math, and programming classes. When she taught for IBM and RedHat she was usually the only woman in a room full of male students. She would love to see the gender gap reduced by introducing the next generation of girls to the many careers available in the world of technology.
Danica has a BS in Mathematics from University of Maryland and a MS in Education from Gwynedd Mercy University. In her free time she enjoys volunteering in the community, gardening, and coaching lacrosse and gymnastics.
NWCT stepped out onto the international stage with our ground breaking program on Gender and Professional Women’s Status in Iceland today at the Comcast Corporate Center. I have always assumed that women in the U.S. have a progressive, opportunistic, and supported role in our society. This presentation opened my eyes as to how behind the curve the U.S. is regarding women’s status.
Two young professionals, Andrea Gunnarsdottir and Kolfinna Tomasdottir presented a picture of what seemed like Utopia to our NWCT audience. Andrea has many activist leadership roles in Iceland and is a student in Engineering Management at Reykjavik University (see below for bios) and works as a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist for Marel, which is the largest chemical company in Iceland. Kolfinna is a Law Student and is also a leader in both student and women’s professional organizations.
Both women were very articulate and had a clear message: WOMEN COUNT IN ICELAND. They currently earn 99 cents to the male’s one-dollar while in the U.S. women earn 77 cents to the dollar. Corporations in Iceland are required by law to have half of their board members be female. There is an extensive government supported daycare policy for newborns. Women can take paid leave for 6 months and men for 3 months, which the men generally take after the wife is finished her leave.
There are very different cultural norms on marriage. They stated that 70% of children are born to unmarried couples and most women have children in the 25 – 27 years age range. Marriage is generally viewed as a civil affair and the country appears to be very secular. The backbone religion of the country is Lutheranism. People in this country use their first names as identification and use their last names as a combination of a parent’s first name and the word for daughter or son attached to that name.
Although they are only 350,000 residents of Iceland, they now support a very large tourist industry and are starting to feel some wear and tear on their natural resources. Several of our members attested to the beauty and grandeur of this highly socialized society. Sounds very inviting! Road trip anyone?
Kolfinna is a Law Student studying at the University of Iceland and working at Fjárvakur – Icelandair Shared Services in financial services. She is currently a board member of Young Professional Women in Iceland (Ungar athafnakonur) as well as President and re-founder of ELSA Iceland (e. European Law Students‘ Association). Kolfinna also sat as a board member in the UN Women Youth Council in Iceland as Financial Manager, in Orator as International Secretary and as President of Nordiska Sekretariatet. Kolfinna is writing her Bachelor Thesis on Cyber Crime and will graduate from the University of Iceland in spring 2019.
Andrea is studying Engineering Management at Reykjavík University and is currently working as Diversity & Inclusion specialist at Marel. A very busy young leader, Andrea was a board member of Young Professional Women (UAK) 2016 - 2018, the President of the Student Association at Reykjavik University Innovation and Entrepreneurship committee 2017-2018, a board member in the UN Women youth council in Iceland for two years, (the second year as vice-chairman) and Andrea was on the project management team for the Golden Egg 2017, the largest business plan competition for entrepreneurs in Iceland, on behalf of Icelandic Startups. Andrea was also an intern at the United Nations Association Iceland in 2018 and is an One Young World Ambassador. You can find her LinkedIn page here.
Rona Cohen the author of this article, served as President of NWCT in the early 90’s, was on the board for five years, and has been an active member for over 30 years. Rona is a consultant specializing in marketing and startup infrastructure strategy for pharmaceutical, medical device and information technology companies. She has provided services to such companies as Living Social, DuPont, Merck & Co, US Air and many others. Prior to going out on her own, Rona held various management roles including Business Development Manager, Director, and General Manager for technology services divisions of such companies as Dun & Bradstreet, Control Data Corporation (Service Bureau Company), Computer Task Group, Inc., Day & Zimmermann Inc, and the Oracle Corporation. Most recently, Rona has been a career counselor and personal shopper for Dress For Success in Philadelphia and has counseled job seekers and lectured on topics associated with career strategies.