Women’s time in tech is now

It’s late on a fall Saturday evening. While most of Atlanta is out partying or home watching movies, I sit surrounded by about 60 idea people, designers and coders working diligently on turning an idea into a company within 54 hours. The next day, the teams will make presentations to a panel of investors and corporate innovators that will award prizes in excess of $10,000. As I look around the room, I am energized and thrilled with the turnout, specifically the diversity.

I attended my first StartupWeekend in November, 2008. I joined a team and coded. More than 125 people participated. I was one of only six women that weekend, and there were even fewer people of color. The lack of diversity led me to launch StartupChicks in early 2009.

Today is different. We had more than 100 people involved in our recent weekend. Approximately 30 percent was female, and almost one-third, non-Caucasian. This is a big deal and a lot of progress in six years.

Statistics tell a different story. In May, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn released diversity statistics showing female employees made up only 21 to 39 percent of their workforces. Women are nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, yet fill only 14.6 percent of Fortune 500 executive seats.

Also, fewer women are studying computer science today than in the mid-1980s, when I studied. More than half the women who pursue careers in technology eventually leave the industry. Only a tiny amount of venture capital funding goes to female-founded companies.

None of these things surprises me. I have been a female executive in technology and start-up companies nearly 24 years. I am used to being the only female in room. I have also experienced sexual harassment, as have many of my female peers. I learned to ignore it, stand up for myself or move to the next opportunity. I also believe my career was accelerated, partly because I was a smart, young woman with excellent coding and communication skills.

Today, I’m proud there is a strong ecosystem that supports women in technology, especially in Atlanta. StartupChicks, Women in Technology, GeekGirl Dinners, RailsGirls, PyLadies, WomenWhoCode and BlackGirlsCodeATL are just a few of the organizations that offer community, coaching and training for females who want to start companies or pursue technology careers.

Ernst & Young, PWC, Accenture, Coca-Cola, IBM, Google, SunTrust and most of our large corporations have programs to mentor and groom women. We need to encourage females to study science, technology, engineering and math. We also need to make it fun, so instead of dolls, why not buy your niece a 3D printing pen or a set of snap circuits for Christmas?

Women need role models they can relate to. They need help developing the confidence to sit at the table and speak up. And they need young men to be their allies; we’ll all accomplish more by working together. So yes, we still have an issue with the lack of diversity in the tech world. The tide is turning. From where I sit, there has never been a better time to be a woman in technology.

Jennifer Bonnett, assistant director of education and community outreach at the Advanced Technology Development Center, is chief chick/founder of StartupChicks.