Hundreds of tech-savvy women descended upon East Falls on Saturday for the second annual Philly Women in Tech Summit.
Held on the campus of Philadelphia University, the 2013 Women in Tech Summit brought together women who expressed interest in supporting, challenging and empowering other women at all stages of their careers, according to event organizers.
With a combination of panel discussions, talks and technology-oriented workshops addressing app development, user experience design, and programming. Working under the theme of “if only you knew,” the goal of WITS 2013 was to ensure that attendees were aware of the information, technology and partnership opportunities currently available to them.
Beyond engaging participants in career-related pursuits, WITS 2013 will donate all proceeds from the event to Techgirlz, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that seeks to help bridge the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields by introducing adolescent girls to technology.
“As participants in this summit,” said Lauren Schwartz, WITS committee member, “we all get to go home tonight knowing that we have made an impact on future generations of women in technology.”
Creating your own career path
With both perceptions and statistics indicating that STEM-related fields are predominately staffed by men, a key component of Saturday’s event was highlighting that there are no set trajectories for women interested in such a career path.
Schwartz said she set out in her formative years to be a fashion designer/potter. Her father, however, had some concerns, and encouraged her to consider less artistic avenues.
While in college, she recalled on Saturday, a professor suggested a minor in computer science. While she regretted that she didn’t get any sleep during her university years, she ended up with a position at Digital Equipment Corporation after graduating.
Schwartz, now a CEO at TechWise, a Wayne-based information technology service provider, expressed surprise with the outcome of her career.
“I’m an entrepreneur now,” she said. “I started as a designer, and I thought I was going to be a potter.”
WITS committee member Gloria Bell reiterated that there is no single way for a woman to establish a STEM career – she originally set out as a theatre major.
“As women, we need to remember that when we think of tech, it fits in a box,” she said. “As women in technology, we do not fit in a box in any stretch of the imagination.”
Responsibilities of women leaders
And with the various avenues and approaches to STEM-related careers on their minds, participants concluded their day with a consideration of how to go forward with the lessons learned at WITS 2013.
During a panel discussion, several female executives from area businesses and nonprofits spoke about what they saw as their responsibility as women leaders.
Rosemary Fulton, president of the Network of Women in Computer Technology, championed informal mentoring as a means of empowerment.
Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of Techgirlz, said that it was important for women to be as visible as possible in the STEM fields.
“I know there are women who are out there who say that they don’t want to be involved in a women’s organization,” she said. “I’m sorry, but you need to get out there and give back,” she said.
While aware of how they got there and where they’re going, Stephen Spinelli, president of Philadelphia University suggested to participants that WITS 2013 could have strong and lasting impacts on his student population.
“You’re great role-models for 67-percent of our students,” he said in reference to his female-majority campus, “but you’re really great role models for 100-percent of our students.”