Tiffanie Stanard was sick of paying a boy in her high school class to help with her website, so she taught herself how to code.
Stanard, now founder and CEO of Prestige Concepts and We are MENT, a wearable technology company, said she didn’t have mentorship from professional women growing up but now actively seeks to cultivate her network.
At the Pyramid Club, 52 stories above Center City, about 50 attended an event called “How Can Philly be the Capital of Gender Equality in Tech?” during Philly Tech Week 2016 presented by Comcast. The panel, organized by The Professional Women’s Committee of The Pyramid Club, on Saturday night was moderated by Franne McNeal, president of Significant Business Results.
It was one of several Philly Tech Week events focused on diversity. Others included a panel on the importance of diversity in tech and #techInColor’s annual Tech Week event that features tech leaders who are people of color.
The six panelists shared their insights on the problems caused by gender inequality in the tech industry, as well as possible solutions, like mentorship and early tech education.
NaTasha Richburg, an IT consultant, author and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, believes young women need access to decision-makers and “people of influence” to actively compete.
“Don’t just be a mentor, be a sponsor,” she said during the panel. “Don’t just give them advice, give them opportunities.”
Eileen Gadsen, owner of E-Region Enterprises and president of the local chapter of Black Data Processing Associates, said mentorship includes teaching young women skills beyond polishing their resume, from professional dress to building confidence.
Stanard proposed solutions like understanding people’s backgrounds, encouraging larger companies to work with smaller ones and understanding the basics of technology.
“Instead of treating tech like a specialty, add it to your curriculum,” she said during the panel. “Learn the skill so you can teach it.”
In an interview with Technical.ly Philly, she later added: “Tech is the common denominator that allows you to be in multiple industries at one time. Creativity and passion [are] the best things you can develop.”
President of Sabre Systems, Inc., Philip Jaurigue, was the only man speaking on the panel. His Sabre STEM scholarship awards five $1,500 scholarships to high school students looking to pursue a career in STEM. The gender diversity in applicants, Jaurigue said, varies between communities. He hopes to makes STEM equally attractive to both boys and girls through entrepreneurship and supplier programs.
The Business Case for Diversity
Brigitte Daniel, executive vice president of Wilco Electronic Systems, said standing out isn’t a drawback. Being the only woman or person of color in a professional setting means having a unique perspective that no one else has, she said.
“Being a unicorn can be an advantage,” Daniel added. “You can capitalize on it.”
Daniel said that it was important “to show that a woman’s perspective is going to increase [a company’s] bottom line.”
The “power of the ballot” will create ultimate change in ensuring gender equality, Daniel said.
“At the end of the day, the laws are going to be created by the government,” she said. “Market forces are one thing, but it’s always great to have the iron fist of the law.”
Speaking of government, City Councilman David Oh framed gender inequality as a business problem. The U.S., he said, should tackle the wage gap and figure out how to support women in the workforce after they have children, or else it will hurt the country’s competitiveness.
He compared the U.S. to South Korea, where his sister-in-law currently lives. He said that companies in South Korea often provide incentives and institute benefits like six to eight months of paid maternity leave, which encourages women to have families as well as remain in the workforce.
He added that Philadelphia can be proactive in gender equality and establish policies ahead of national legislation, leading by example.
“Here we sit like kings, but we’ve got to change,” Oh said.-30-