07 Mar Q&A with Brandy Semore: How OKWIT is Working To Get More Women in Tech
Interview with Brandy Semore
Pinnacle Business Systems, Director of Technical Services and Operations
Oklahoma Women in Technology, Co-founder, Board President
Technology has become a crucial part of our everyday lives because it impacts us in every way. As a result, the need for companies to adapt and increase technology positions and offerings has skyrocketed. IT jobs, along with other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs are the largest job creators in America and around the world. Despite the growing job creation, fewer women are specifically pursuing computer science degrees than ever before and only one-quarter of all tech jobs are currently held by women. Pinnacle Business Systems supports the efforts of organizations like Oklahoma Women in Technology (OKWIT) that are striving to increase the number of women choosing a career in the tech industry and close the gap.
Pinnacle’s director of technical services and operations, Brandy Semore, helped co-found Oklahoma Women in Technology in May of 2016. The non-profit organization’s mission is to bridge the gap between genders working in STEM fields with a specific interest in technology. They strive to better network and advocate women within the industry across Oklahoma while educating and encouraging young women to continue their interest and studies in STEM fields. We sat down with Brandy and asked her why organizations like OKWIT are so important and what they are doing to get more women interested in the technology industry.
What sparked your passion for getting more women into the tech industry?
“As a woman who’s worked in the tech industry for over 15 years, I’ve experienced first-hand being the only woman in the room, the only woman in the meeting, and the only woman leading teams to build innovative solutions,” Brandy shared.
Despite having the aptitude for math and science she didn’t seek out a career in either field. Instead, like many women, she used her soft skills and inheritability of results-driven communication to obtain a degree in journalism. However, because of her natural inclination to understand and solve tech problems, she was moved into IT project management during the first year of her career. From there, she led teams to develop banking software, analyze data, build business software platforms, and to date – lead teams that deliver wall-to-wall data center solutions for Pinnacle.
Brandy stated, “I know first-hand the fulfillment that a tech career can provide. And it’s because of this, along with the lack of female peers, that I was driven to make a difference.”
How did this passion turn into OKWIT?
Her passion for rallying women working in the technology industry in efforts to support and advocate for one another was shared by a few like-minded peers of hers. From the desire to provide a network for women working in technology, OKWIT was born. She shared that, “From the moment of inception to less than one month later we had constructed a grassroots non-profit organization that served three primary goals.”
OKWIT’s goals include:
- Encourage young women to pursue STEM degrees and careers with a focus on technology.
- Network and support women already working in technology, so that they don’t leave mid-career to seek out another industry.
- Advocate and promote those same women by empowering them with the tools they need to reach manager/director/c-suite level jobs.
How does OKWIT plan to achieve these goals?
Brandy went on to share in detail how the organization’s monthly events, presence at area conferences/seminars, their new mentoring program, and awarding scholarships are all ways in which they are meeting their goals.
- Monthly events for area professionals: The last week of every month OKWIT hosts events both in OKC and Tulsa. The events provide an opportunity for OKWIT members (both men and women) to network, brainstorm, and learn from guest speakers.
- Reoccurring Fall and Spring Retreat: Each year, OKWIT hosts two retreats which provide young women (middle school aged to college-aged women) opportunities to learn about technology careers through hands-on demos, on-site company visits and tours, the opportunity to network with technologists, and hearing about different career paths in technology.
- Conferences and Seminars: The OKWIT Board of Directors, along with volunteer chair positions, routinely attend and speak at tech conferences which help spread the message of the organization.
- Scholarships: OKWIT is currently building a scholarship fund with intent to provide scholarships to women who plan to pursue a career in technology or are already pursuing a tech degree. Their first $2,500 scholarship will be awarded in 2017.
- Mentoring: OKWIT recently launched a mentoring program that pairs area tech professionals with members for a six-month long structured mentoring experience.
Why is getting more women in tech so important?
There is extensive research on the positive and undeniable impact of diversity in the workforce done by the Peterson Institute, EY, McKinsey & Company and Catalyst just to name a few. And when looking at the impact of more women in leadership roles, their presence and contribution directly impact the profitability of a company and more women on teams the higher the teams’ intelligence. Yet research conducted by McKinsey & Company sheds light on just how few women are promoted, how difficult it is for women to
be promoted, and how women are less exposed to the opportunity of advancement over the course of their careers.
When you sit down to look at the future of the technology industry specifically, the numbers of computer science positions are rising drastically but very few women will be poised to fill these positions if something isn’t done. Girls Who Code, an organization set to close the gender gap in technology, has shared a startling fact on their website that by 2020 there will be 1.4 millions jobs available in computing-related fields and of those positions available, United States graduates will fill approximately 29 percent while women are on track to fill just 3 percent. Naturally, this is concerning to Brandy and her peers at OKWIT. Brandy shared that knowing at which point and why young women choose to either not pursue computer science degrees or why women choose to abandon their tech careers is critical to the very existence of OKWIT and their ability to impact the lives of women in the state of Oklahoma. “That’s what we’re here for,” she said.
Research conducted on behalf of Girls Who Code found that 66 percent of girls ages 6 – 12 are interested/enrolled in computer programs. Between the ages of 13 – 17, only 32 percent of young women are interested or enrolled in computer programs and only 4 percent of college freshman women.
Brandy shared that everyone from organizations like OKWIT, our local government and educators, to Oklahoma’s large and small businesses, should all be concerned with where we’re heading. “It starts with each and everyone one of us. If we could all work a little harder at how we hire and promote women in our businesses and how we talk with our daughters and nieces then I believe we will see a change. We need to advocate for women who are working in technology in our state and we need to connect young women with opportunities to explore the possibilities of technology.”
What are your plans for OKWIT moving forward?
Brandy stated that while plans for the organization seem to always be moving at a rapid pace, they continuously stop and ask themselves what else can they be doing to get more women in technology. She went on to add, “Launch our mentoring program in Tulsa or in local area schools. Start a training program that prepares non-tech degreed women for entry-level tech positions. Host even more free-to-attend tech retreats for middle and high school aged women. With the help of our volunteers and like-minded partners – which none of what we’ve already accomplished would’ve been possible – the sky’s the limit!”
Visit okwomenintech.org to learn more about the organization and ways you could get involved.