By Dorothy Bliskey
Michelle Schuler, who works in a technology role for Microsoft, and Kathy Fredrickson of iMark Consult¬ing have created a support network for women working in technology careers. They have also developed a curriculum for getting young girls interested in the IT field.
“We saw the need for women in technology to have a support network to inspire young girls, develop young professionals, motivate women as managers, and support C-level Execu¬tive women,” Schuler said. Their brain¬storm led to the formation of a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit organization called Women in Technology Wiscon¬sin Inc. (WIT Wisconsin).
According to Schuler, there will be over 3,000 IT jobs available in North¬east Wisconsin by 2020. Filling all those jobs will be a challenge. “This is not just a Wisconsin problem, it is a national problem,” Schuler said. “We simply do not have enough women choosing tech careers.”
With other women helping Schuler oversee and operate WIT Wisconsin, the progress made has been amaz¬ing. In just six months, the group of talented women grew WIT to over 200 members, including college students and representing more than 60 employ¬ers. Sub-groups designed to appeal to specific audiences or markets have also been formed within the WIT orga¬nization. They include
WIT@Work, WITonCampus and WIT4Girls – an effort made possible by support from corporate sponsors.
“We need to take steps now to encourage girls to discover technology at a young age so that when they are looking for work they have a clear pathway for IT careers,” Schuler said, noting the opportunity for women to upskill in technology jobs is also a great way to enter the field.
The mission of WIT Wisconsin is to attract, grow and retain women of all ages in technology-related careers.
The WIT@Work arm of the organization focuses on technology professionals and those interested in technology careers. “We offer network¬ing and support in a safe environment to provide education, awareness and collaboration, with the result being to retain professionals in technology-fo¬cused careers,” Schuler said. “WIT collaborates with companies to give their women a place to ask the tough questions and bring back knowledge to share with their teams.”
WIT4Girls is designed to excite, inspire and engage elementary, middle and high school-age girls on IT careers. Through positive female mentorship, this portion of the WIT program helps girls see how their innovative ideas can lead to limitless opportunities in technology careers.
“We have built a re-usable curric¬ulum to help spread the word,” Schuler explained. “Girls from many Fox Val¬ley school districts have participated in the WIT4Girls Club and the Girls Who Code Club.”
To help girls envision what a career in computer science looks like,
WIT created the WIT4Girls Club in Oshkosh and Kaukauna. More schools and libraries are kicking off the initiative this fall. “These clubs allow the girls to take apart a computer and explore technology in a fun and exciting way,” Schuler said, adding that the after-school programs are held at schools and other non-profits.
WIT also partnered with Girls Who Code for the last three years at Hortonville School District. The 40-hour commitment teaches students in grades 6-12 how to code (write com¬puter programs).
Another incentive for girls to learn the technology world is offered, in part, through Microsoft. WIT partnered with Microsoft’s TEALS program that kicked off in 10 regional schools this year.
It’s a high school program that is offered the first hour of the day.
“None of these programs would be possible if it wasn’t for the vol¬unteers that dedicate their time and passion,” Schuler said.
The WITonCampus branch of the organization is a collaborative effort between regional companies and fe¬male students from Fox Valley Tech¬nical College and UW-Oshkosh. As a semester-long Professional Connection program, it allows students to visit companies and do mock interviews and other tasks that help them learn about the company and encourage the development of workforce skills. Other interested colleges are encouraged to reach out to the organization.
College women heading toward a technology career can also benefit from networking at events hosted by WIT. “Our events are the best way to make