Women make up 57% of the workforce, but only 26% work within computer and mathematical occupations. Those numbers just don’t add up — leaving Sandy Welfare, the force behind Women in Technology (WIT), to solve the equity and inclusion equation. As the Executive Director of WIT, Welfare, has a challenge for companies — strive for a 50/50 female-to-male split by 2020.
Is that too tough to solve? To find out, we sat down with Welfare to find out how WIT is advancing women from the classroom to the boardroom and what it takes to shatter tech’s inclusion problem.
On a high level, can you explain what WIT does?
WIT is truly an organization that is a passionate advocate for women and girls in STEM. We have a slew of pushes to get girls more involved, but you really have to have more strategy and intention around if it’s actually going to happen.
When we were founded, it was probably more of a support group for all women who were in technology. It has morphed into this whole other group because the meat is there. It’s getting more women and girls involved, but then for the women to be in it and stay in it.
How is WIT supporting women in Atlanta and how does it shine as a place for women in technology?
If I look at the forums, in particular, it’s really about the soft skills around what is it that I’m trying to leverage. We had James Dallas as our keynote speaker in August and he talked about the three things women need to break the digital glass ceiling. It was so profound because I think a lot of women there were like, “been there, done that,” but actually learned something new in terms of what you can do. When women come out to hear those types of speeches and they know they have a support system from leaders in the community, then we figure we’re moving in the right direction.
We want to challenge companies to be 50/50 by 2020. So all the new hires we have had have gone to women. There’s a lot of companies that aren’t even looking at the bigger number. They’re not looking into what’s happening in Atlanta or the state of Georgia. So, to me, it’s giving them awareness to it. People are paying attention to it, but more importantly, more women are paying attention too. I don’t care who I talk to – small, medium, or large companies – everyone is looking for talent. It’s who can do the job. If we are to pick a woman, we’d still be looking for the best person.
For WIT, we’ve got to have more men in the room. We’ve got to have them thinking about how it impacts their business. It’s inviting them in so that they will be comfortable to stay and continue conversations.How do you recruit men to be part of an initiative like this?
It’s really inviting anyone in that’s willing to come and have the conversation. We aren’t excluding corporations, startups, individuals, or entrepreneurs. We need everybody as part of the conversation.
Similar to what happened with women’s issues. It’s not just women’s issues. It impacts the whole family dynamic. So if we are to look at it from what we need to do to get the best people at the table, to continue that conversation, you’ve got to keep inviting the men.
I’ve met a lot of the TAG young professionals and I invite them to events all the time because I think they are part of the generation where this is the norm. Not this extra thing they have to do. They are very open because they don’t realize that there’s that big of a difference if you were to look at technology and engineering. The numbers are staggering – percentages are way off. These younger people need to be the catalyst to move that needle in a different direction.
What about your personal story? You’ve been in technology for a long time, can you tell us about your background?
I fell into technology because I was always the kid who liked math. It just clicked in my brain. I had a sister who was a few years older and I was tutoring her in math even at the level she was at. I ended up being really good at it and figured out how numbers and financial operations worked.
When they asked if someone would be willing to go to Singapore and help FICO, the financial side of SAP, I said, “I’ll go do that!” Really because I had never done it before. I figured, why not. For me, it was going and being that champion to see will this work, can it work, and setting up the hub for 14 Asian-Pacific countries. So I fell into the software side of technology and stayed.
How is Women in Technology supporting women and girls to pursue their talents?
It’s finding ways that you can be the flag-bearer without saying you’re the flag-bearer. What WIT found was that people want to know about your story. They want to know about my story. With all the stories combined, we make up the full story of what’s happening in the workplace. So whether you are with a small or enterprise-size company, all of them are having similar challenges. People come into the workplace, but may not necessarily stay if it’s not comfortable. Every story we have helps us figure out what talent you bring to the table. That helps us say, “for this individual who is really struggling in marketing, here’s a person who will be a connector for them.” For us, we are more of the megaphone that keeps the conversation going and more importantly, providing resources that are helping champion your cause.Can you speak about all the events you offer?
We do a lot of great stuff. The two big events are WIT Connect in June when we do a big fundraiser that is fun because we get executives from different companies and auction off their time with individuals. Then we have WIT Awards, which to me, is the primary cherry on top where we are recognizing women in small, medium, and large, and this year, nonprofits, who are doing fantastic things in the STEM field. It’s November 10th and we will be a GA Aquarium championing all these fabulous women.
What are some of the programs you have?
We have something for everyone. We call it from the classroom to the boardroom. WIT Girls is our biggest component for middle school and high school girls. Then we move onto WIT Campus which is for all women who are in a campus environment. We are doing everything we can to show them what opportunities are available but then, more importantly, be the resource if they are struggling. We found particularly at some campuses that they just need an actual pat on the back that they can do it. Then, of course, our biggest component would be professional women. We have something for everybody that relates to what you’re trying to achieve.
What’s the future of your presence here in Atlanta?
There are probably about 11,000 people that we are serving throughout the year. I think that will continue to grow because the tech space is growing, the engineering space is growing, so I think we’ll have the ability to continue to connect some of these new companies. Not this year, but going into the new year, I’m really trying to do more with ChooseATL. Figuring out how they are bringing people in, what they are doing that’s going to be different, and being part of that conversation. We need to be one of the reasons why when tech companies decide to come that they actually see WIT as a resource. I’m hoping that we’ll be more out front.
How do you hope the technology workforce looks like in 2026?
If we’re talking 10 years from now, I think even if we were to move the needle several points, that’s a step in the right direction. That means there’s an intention around talking to women, getting women to be part of various companies, or starting their own thing. We’ve got to see the needle move. Interestingly enough this millennial generation, they’re not willing to sit and wait, which is really good. They need to be the catalyst to push and say, “I’m not happy with the standards built.”
Business RadioX had an interview with millennials in different areas and they were all pretty consistent. “We work hard, we don’t mind working hard, but we’re not willing to give up everything to be successful,” which I think is amazing. When you talk to Suntrust or Coca-Cola, these companies have modified their entire working infrastructure. This is the first generation where companies are changing to fit them, not the other way around. I’m Generation X and when people were trying to get a job at IBM you basically went the IBM way. No modifications. So the fact that they’re pushing the envelope and companies are changing for them, I think that’s fantastic.
For the last 2-3 years, you’ve still had some Boomers, Generation X, even down to the Millennials and there’s such a different dynamic. Within WIT, we are dealing with multi-generations in everything we do and trying to make sure we have space for everybody to be part of the conversation. That has been interesting and eye opening. For me, I’m like, “bring it on!”
Images provided by Welfare and sourced from WIT.
Interview by Editor-in-Chief Kiki Roeder, Transcribed and Written by Kristyn Back.