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January 2017:

Mentoring Young Women, STEM Careers in WiT’s Web

By Tracy Turner

January 3, 2017

Posted in: Salute to Economic Development & The Cyber Community

The Howard Tech Council (HTC) created the affinity group Women in Technology-Central Maryland (WiT-CM), in the summer of 2014. The organization is composed of women professionals working in, and with, science and technology. Its members include entrepreneurs, as well as professionals and executives working in small-to-medium size businesses and large corporations.

At WIT-CM, you find engineers, scientists, graphic designers, software programmers, marketers, accountants and other professionals who work in technology or use it as a tool to do their work. It is a network of professional women that offers opportunities, knowledge and resources to support each other and help other women professionals grow and be more successful in their careers.

First started as an affinity group that has created a robust following through its breakfast series presentations, which provides information, programs and access to local women business owners and tech professionals, the WiT strategic planning committee developed two business roundtables that launched in September 2016. These small, peer-to-peer groups are for women to meet regularly to discuss their challenges and successes.

In addition, the organization has established an executive roundtable for company owners and other C-level executives, as well as a management roundtable for mid- to upper-level managers. An overarching goal for these groups is to support women leaders through mentoring and targeted discussions to help them advance their companies and careers.

Another important focus for the WiT group is to help develop the pipeline of young women interested in STEM careers. This transpires through internships, mentoring and creating hands-on learning opportunities through coding camps, after-school STEM clubs and via its largest partnership event each year, Girl Power. Celebrating its 11th year in 2017, Girl Power is a collaborative effort between The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County, the HTC and the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.

Nearly 500 girls, along with their families, attended last year’s program; workshops for the students are developed and presented by the WiT team and cover 3-D printing, cybersecurity, nanotechnology and other topics.

Based in Columbia, WiT is unique due to its central location. “Not only do we have access to vast resources, but we are home to some of the most cutting edge innovators and technologists on the east coast, two components that lead to extraordinary economic growth,” said Tracy Turner, director of the HTC and creator of the Women in Tech group. “Because of the relationship and support system that the Howard Tech Council WiT group has with the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, this group is able to engage the startup scene, irrespective of gender.”

Understanding what holds women back from careers in technology (male dominance in the field, historically negative perception of tech careers, etc.), this group has established what can be done to encourage and engage more women and students. The roundtables reflect what tech leaders believe: that women and girls in STEM fields need mentors, be it a peer, a guiding figure or role model that provides career-specific advice, support and guidance.

“Women in leadership naturally want to help other women grow in their careers. Mentorship is a strong trait of women, and with the right mix of support and guidance, as well as great female role models to look up to, women feel significantly more encouraged to make tech a part of their career, or indeed make a complete career change into tech itself,” said Arti Varanasi, chair of WiT and CEO at Baltimore-based Advancing Synergies.

Tracy Turner is the director of the Howard Tech Council. She can be contacted at 410-313-6550 and tturner@hdeda.org.

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