Janice Levenhagen-Seeley MBA’10 works to close the gender gap in high tech.
“Many tech companies say that they support gender diversity and need more women technologists, yet they tell me they don’t have funding to help non-profits like ChickTech,” states Janice Levenhagen-Seeley MBA’10. “I’ve coined a new term to describe this contradiction: Pinkwashing.”
If the founder of the tech-centric non-profit sounds frustrated now, imagine how our whole country will feel if the following trends* hold:
- In the past 20 years, the number of women earning computer science degrees has declined by almost 42%.
- In 2008, women made up about a fifth of computer programmers and engineers in the workforce.
- By 2018, projections suggest that there will only be enough computer science graduates in the U.S. to fill 29% of job openings.
Turning Those Numbers Around.
ChickTech was founded in 2012 to increase the number of women and girls pursuing technology-based careers. How? By facilitating hands-on technology-centric events that build community, empower participants, and provide networking and mentoring opportunities.
At ChickTech’s inaugural High School event –in Portland, Ore. January, 2013- ninety-nine participants spent the weekend working on projects ranging from robotics to app development to gaming.
"Not An Education Non-Profit.”
“It doesn’t matter how far they actually get in the software or hardware,” Levenhagen-Seeley points out. “What’s important is that they feel they have the required talents, that they belong in the industry, and that they bring something important to the table. Education experiences just happen to be our path to building excitement and confidence."
Levenhagen-Seeley knows the importance of confidence in education from personal experience. As an undergrad at Oregon State University, she studied computer engineering. Though she earned good grades and enjoyed the material, she never felt comfortable enough to raise her hand in class; “I didn’t feel like I belonged in the program. After earning my degree, I left the field. I created ChickTech because I believe that the diversity and strengths that women bring will push high tech higher. To reach parity, girls need a support network and a solid sense of belonging.”
Don’t Recruit. Nominate.
ChickTech approaches high-school teachers to nominate girls for the program: sophomores and juniors who aren’t already involved in technology, but show an aptitude for math, science, or problem solving. “These girls have told themselves that they can’t pursue a career in technology,” explains Levenhagen-Seeley. “Our congratulatory letter telling them they’ve been nominated for our yearlong program is their first dose of encouragement. Our 2014 Portland cohort filled up in 17 days.”
Nearly a year after the inaugural event, participants’ survey responses showed an enduring impact: 118% increase in confidence; 80% increase in their feeling that they have tech knowledge; and 61% more interest in tech careers.
One participant’s thank-you note highlights the disruptive potential; “[Because of ChickTech,] I am on track to study computer science after I graduate! This is very different from my original plan, which was studying to be a dental assistant. Now I am going to do something that I am actually looking forward to!”
-Mike Russell, Content Strategist at Pivotal Writing.
Photo Courtesy Todd Kulesza and Chick Tech
“The diversity and strengths that women bring will push high tech higher, but that won’t happen by itself.”