Unfortunately, these things aren’t new, said Janice Levenhagen, CEO of ChickTech, a nonprofit that focuses on getting girls and women into the tech industry while also helping them stay in and feel supported by that workforce.
Those things weren’t surprising, at least for women in the field, she said. But even though she’s frustrated about the current reality, she’s hopeful about tech’s future.
That’s why she created ChickTech, and why the nonprofit’s Women in Tech conference, called ACT-W, is coming to Boston for the first time on Aug. 26, also Women’s Equality Day.
The event happens annually in a few major cities where ChickTech chapters are established. Headquartered in Portland, Ore., Chicktech is in 18 cities including Boston, where it’s been around since early 2016.
ACT-W is both a conference featuring speaking sessions, hands-on workshops and career fairs, and a fundraising effort for Chicktech’s high school program, which helps 100 young women in each city attend workshops, receive mentoring and land internship opportunities in the tech world.
“What I tell people is that Chicktech is a ‘give and get’ organization,” Levenhagen said. “As women in tech, you’re not just giving your emotional energy to high school girls to get them excited about tech, but you’re also getting what you need [from the conference and other members] to get a sense of belonging and to stay in tech.”
But why is it important to have women in tech?
“When I look at the future, tech is so critical to it,” Levenhagen said. “I don't want women to have to wait to be able to have that say in their future anymore.”
The world’s problems are being solved through technology, and those in the field are choosing what problems to solve, she said. If women are just “bystanders,” their perspective isn’t heard.
Take the technology behind mammograms, which compresses breast tissue as thin as possible to find any abnormalities. They're often so uncomfortable, Levenhagen said, that women avoid having them done, thus adversely affecting their health.
“If the only way to test for testicular cancer was to take men's parts and smash them between two plates, all of the men in the world would band together to come up with new technology,” she said.
At ACT-W, women band together to tackle the current problems they’re facing in tech. Since Boston is such an innovation hub already, the Chicktech team expects the local conference to spur a strong community.