Female participation at Philly Tech Week was higher in 2014 than in the previous two years, but some local experts say even more women are needed to bridge the industry’s gender gap and shed stereotypes about the fairer sex.
“A lot of new faces attended this year,” said Tracey Welson-Rossman, a founding member of the Fort Washington-based app and mobile development consulting firm Chariot Solutions, who also helped organize some Philly Tech Week events. “There was growth in the number of students and educators from the college level, a mix of executives as well as freelancers and women who were starting businesses.”
Nearly 650 people attended the six women-focused events this year, up from the 200 that showed for the single event dedicated to females -- the Women in Tech Summit -- last year, according to Corinne Warnshuis, events coordinator with Technical.ly, which spearheads the week-long technology and innovation seminar.
“Women are really trying to get advice and insights on how to get started in the entrepreneurial sphere of the tech world,” Warnshuis said.
But one first-time attendee said the insights confirmed some of the issues she has faced as a female in the industry.
“There are different standards for men versus women,” said Kari Bancroft, a software engineer based in King of Prussia. “As first impressions go, there is a lot more bounty placed on a woman’s appearance while men are taken for their worth and their work.”
Welson-Rossman backs up Bancroft’s assessment of the tech industry’s fluctuating standards based on gender, adding that more effort is needed to normalize female’s presence within the rapidly expanding field – expected to grow at double the average rate across all occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“This issue is not just about one thing. It is an onion,” Welson-Rossman described. “When you start peeling back the layers, there are many issues along the way as a girl turns into a woman and decides on this for a career.”
“Girls are not encouraged to go into this field,” she said.
In the 2012-2013 school year, undergraduate females earned 14.5 percent of the computer science, computer engineering and information degrees awarded, according to the latest research from the Computing Research Association’s Taulbee Survey, which collects data from Ph.D. granting departments in North America.
“Information we have shows, around 9th grade, girls opt out of a tech career because of images in the media, a lack of knowledge on what a tech job is all about,” Welson-Rossman said.
Along with dispelling the geek stereotype and increasing encouragement from parents and educators, more schools need to offer technology courses, she added.
Bancroft credits high school courses covering programming for her entry into the tech industry. “The more we make it available to students, the more they realize the opportunities are out there,” she said.
Welson-Rossman, who wants seminars like Philly Tech Week to continue to offer events geared specifically towards women in the near future, says her long-term goal is for gender-specific programming within the tech industry to no longer be necessary.
“We are at a seminal moment in our industry where women need to come together and support each other and grow their own networks so we can grow the number of women in the field,” she said. “We are not there yet, but when there is a critical mass, when there are more women in the field, there will be changes that happen organically.”