Diversity & Inclusion
DEI / Events / Pittsburgh / Women in tech

Women leave tech careers faster than men. RedChairPGH wants to help them stay

Board chairs Julia Poepping and Lou Camerlengo say the nonprofit's annual #sitwithme event is held to understand why women leave tech, and how to support those who remain in the field.

Red chairs. (Pexels/cottonbro studio)

For most people, October means the beginning of fall and the buildup for Halloween. But before costumes, candy apples and Fright Night at Kennywood, for others in Pittsburgh, the month also means a time to honor women in tech — and to think of ways to keep women from leaving the field altogether.

As of 2023, the nationally focused WomenTech Network found that women hold just 28% of all jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, and 15.9% of jobs in engineering and architecture occupations. In Pittsburgh, women account for around 28% of computer and information systems managers and 8% of architectural and engineering managers, according to Technical.ly’s Tech Economy Dashboard, which features proprietary data sourced by Lightcast.

Enter RedChairPGH, a nonprofit that acts as a network for Pittsburghers who are committed to creating gender equality in the tech sector.

On Oct. 5, the local org is hosting its ninth annual RedChairPGH #sitwithme event. Those who venture to the BNY Mellon Innovation Center that night can expect to find networking, as well as programming centered on increasing the number of women in tech, avoiding burnout, and caring for your overall well-being.

#SitWithMe’s 2022 event. (Courtesy RedChairPGH)

According to RedChairPGH board chairs Julia Poepping and Lou Camerlengo, the event was partially inspired by the National Center for Women in Technology’s (NCWIT) research in equity in tech. During its Sit With Me advocacy campaign focusing on why so many women wind up leaving the field, NCWIT called on its fellow tech worker-focused orgs to host events to support women in the tech industry.

“NCWIT, through their research, discovered that women leave tech careers mid-career at twice the rate of men,” Poepping told Technical.ly. “The idea was that we go through all this programming to get girls to code and women in STEM [and] get women into computer science. But, they get into the workplace, and they’re still in the minority, and then they leave. What is going on?”

Poepping, who was a member of a women’s networking group with the Pittsburgh Tech Council at the time, asked for assistance, which led to the very first #sitwithme event being held at the University of Pittsburgh in 2015. When the event was a resounding success, Poepping said, more people were interested in becoming involved.

“People were really energized and said, ‘Oh, I want to be involved with this,’ and because there was so much energy and positive passion around this, we said, well, let’s do it again,” Poepping said.

In 2020, the event had to be held on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, outside of the event itself, RedChairPGH tries to find ways to support women in tech. The latest includes a scholarship program for leadership development programs for mid-career women in tech. Over 20 women have gotten scholarships so far, Poepping and Camerlengo said.

When it comes to the event next month, the board chairs encourage Pittsburghers to come not only for the dinner, but the programming that goes with it.

“It’s more about a kind of self-development than it is specifically related to, you know, technology specifically,” Camerlengo said. “The idea is to give women as many tools as possible to help them in their career.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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