Blog

It Takes a Community to Help Women Join and Stay in Tech

Megan Bigelow
August 23, 2016

 

Megan Bigelow
Manager, Customer Support @ Jama Software
President & Co-Founder, PDX Women in Tech

 

In the beginning we had a simple mission: to create a space for women to meet other women in tech. Beyond that we had no expectations. Zero. In fact, in our naivety, we just assumed that it would give people a nice break from work, but not much else. After a few months of organizing events we noticed something— the same people were coming back. We’d hear about people meeting up with each other for lunch or coffee, even hiking and playdates! As the months went by we discovered that people were helping each other find jobs, build non-profits or start other, more specialized, groups. Relationships that began with our meetups were providing support through marriage, divorce, birth of children, job loss, career changes, loss of loved ones and other important life transitions. Connections were becoming friendships, business partnerships, colleagues and mentors. Relationships unbound by cubicle walls, employee handbooks, expectations, gender norms, years of experience, resumes or LinkedIn profiles were forming. Without even realizing it, we had built a community—a movement of people wanting to make tech a better place for women.

As our event attendance grew from 15, to 25, to 45, to 75, with a consistent peak of 120+, we knew we had reached a juncture. It was no longer possible to rely on the event alone to find a connection that would become your next friend, mentor, or colleague. It was at this moment we realized we were unsure of what to do next. On February 26, 2016, while reviewing survey results from the New Relic event, the answer arrived:

 

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There it was, the solution—a mentorship program! We had all the necessary components: momentum, critical mass, interest; now all we needed was someone to lead it. The problem is, where do you find people willing to dedicate countless hours of sweat equity into building out a program like this? I had no idea, so I decided to ask. On March 22, 2016, at the Treehouse event, I did just that. Within five minutes of leaving the stage, Susan Robinson, one of our original members and Arezou Seifpour, a newcomer, volunteered to be the architects behind PDXWIT’s Mentorship Program.

Nearly five years after our modest beginnings, we’ve re-evaluated and modified our purpose.The mentorship program is now the cornerstone of our goal to “bring together and empower current women in tech and encourage others to pursue tech careers.” We do this by thoughtfully pairing mentors with mentees based on skills, interests and goals. Because mentorship can often feel like a big intimidating word, we remind people that our program allows for varying degrees of time commitment and frequency. Shortly after launching the program in May 2016, we received overwhelming interest from men in the community who wanted to help. Intellectually, we’ve known that changing tech for women will require everyone to pitch in—we need allies. This immense interest was a call to action we needed, so we decided to accept these offers and take it a step further. Rather than just quietly open our program to everyone, we decided to embrace our openness—loud and clear. The results so far have been amazing.

 

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We are only three months into the program and we already have over 350 participants, but we want more!

We need smart people who are willing to share their experiences and wisdom. If this is you, sign up to be a mentor: the time commitment is up to you!

Are you new to tech (or early in your tech career) and looking for the support of someone who's been there before? Sign up to be a mentee!

Have you been in tech for a while and looking for someone to help you take your career into a different tech direction or to the next level? Sign up to be a mentor and a mentee!

To learn more about PDX Women in Tech visit our website.