From Robots to Golf, Indy Group Gets Creative to Boost Women in Tech

The tech industry’s efforts to recruit more girls and women to the field are still falling short, despite the priority being placed on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in K-12 schools. That’s the conclusion reached in a study released earlier this year by Microsoft and KRC Research.

And that is exactly why Indy Women in Tech was founded in 2016, says executive director Jody Dedon. The organization is working to inspire more young women to pursue STEM education and careers, in addition to assisting with financial support, mentoring, and training. This week, IWiT is hosting an invitation-only summit with local and national thought leaders, as well as an LPGA golf tournament at the Brickyard Crossing golf course, which is open to the public.

“We’re responding to the increase in demand for tech jobs,” Dedon says of IWiT’s mission. In Indiana alone, she adds, it’s projected that there will be roughly 10,000 “new and open” tech jobs by 2024.

“We’re equipping and empowering women to fill those jobs through the education and training pipeline,” Dedon explains. “We start at the elementary school level. How do we engage young women? We do it through robotics.”

When IWiT started, Dedon says there were 73 student robotics teams in Indiana. Today, there are more than 900, more than any other state in the nation. (The next-largest is California, with 400 teams, according to IWiT.) IWiT partners with the TechPoint Foundation for Youth on robotics initiatives across the state and has so far helped to register 400 teams, Dedon says.

Young women frequently lose interest in STEM subjects in middle school, Dedon says. To combat that, IWiT partners with universities to hold an annual event called Ignite Your Superpower STEM Day, in which middle school girls get hands-on exposure to experiments and interactive exhibits, and meet female role models in the tech field. This year, Ignite Your Superpower is happening on Sept. 10 at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

“It’s a message about empowerment,” Dedon says. “We know through research that if women don’t see themselves in a tech job, they won’t go there.” She expects to have 250 role models on hand this year interacting with about 1,200 young attendees.

Dedon says the heart of the organization’s work is education and training of women, which it does in partnership with Eleven Fifty Academy and IvyWorks. IWiT supports a 12-week coding academy with Eleven Fifty that has a 92 percent job placement rate for graduates, Dedon says.

“It’s for women of all ages who want to enter or transition to the tech industry,” she says. “In our last cohort, women who were making between $20,000 and $30,000 before now have an average salary of $70,000.”

IWiT works with IvyWorks on a two-year associate’s degree program in eight subject areas, of which cybersecurity is most popular, Dedon notes. Over the past two years, the program has placed 64 women in jobs at places like Geico and Honda.

Dedon says this week’s summit will bring together 550 leaders and change-makers, including keynote speaker Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, for two days of brainstorming and fellowship.

“We’re digging deeper this year,” she says. “It’s not enough to educate and train more women for tech careers. We need to build a culture in Indianapolis that welcomes and supports women.”

To watch the effort unfold, follow the hashtag #SeeYourselfHere across social media.

“It stands for see yourself at the table, in tech, and in Indy,” Dedon says. “How can we make sure there isn’t unconscious bias and that we’re responding to women?  We can and must do better to respond to their needs.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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