In an industry where only three in 10 employees are female, working in technology can be an isolating place for a woman.
On Saturday, 200 women representing regional technology convened at The Wharton School for the area’s inaugural Women in Tech Summit. The sold-out event brought together a group ranging from college-age to those in the industry for decades to share experiences, offer advice and help grow a dynamic community.
In the city, many smaller female tech groups meet regularly, but a number of new faces showed up to the conference.
"I don’t recognize 95% of you, and I can’t tell you how excited that makes me," said co-organizer Yasmine Mustafa, product marketing manager at NetLine
and leader of GirlDevelopIt Philly
Learning and Adapting
Panelists spoke of working and socializing in environments where they were the only women in the room, sometimes the entire company, leading them to seek alternative support communities, or in many cases, to build them.
"I think visibility is one of the things that’s really key," said Pam Selle, developer at Paperless Post, GirlDevelopIt teacher, Girl Geek Dinners
organizer and a co-organizer of Saturday's summit. "When people go to tech events, and there are no women, they say 'Oh there’s no women in tech,’ but then you come to this and there’s a ton of women here."
Lynette Young, CEO of Purple Stripe Productions
said, "It’s not always us that need to adapt...sometimes we have to be strong enough to change the environment around us."
Technical workshops, like one on test driven development and another on getting started in responsive web design were packed with eager learners. High profile entrepreneurs, CEOs and tech industry veterans offered professional advice and tips on how to navigate tech culture in lively discussion panels.
Mentoring emerged as an important topic throughout the day. Lauren Schwartz, CEO of TechWise Group, emphasized the importance of setting positive examples. "Women who are in a position of influence must increase their technical literacy so they can help the younger group."
Panelists urged women beginning their careers to seek mentors who have experience managing time effectively, including when family becomes part of the equation.
Between sessions, there was a tangible sense of excitement in the room as women handed out business cards, set up meetings, and made connections. Before the first session ended, the designated hashtag for the conference (#witsPHL) was trending in Philadelphia.
'Building a Community We Want to See’
Pam Selle and co-organizers hope that these events will encourage participation in a community they have found helpful.
"I want to see a world where people feel empowered," said Selle. "That no one's going to say 'You don’t belong here.'"
Ultimately, Selle wishes for a more diversified culture in tech, one that is more inclusive. "Building a community that we want to see," Selle said, "is really the end game for me."
Closing the event, Mustafa said: "A lot of the women in tech groups, they all started within the last year, which is proof that there is a community here. This was kind of an experiment to see if we can kind of get more women out. I would say it’s proved fully successful."
When she asked who wanted to see another Women in Tech conference, every hand in the room shot up.
CORINNE WARNSHUIS works at WHYY and is trying to plant a vegetable garden in her Wissahickon backyard.Send feedback here.
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