TechGirlz

Inspiring more diversity in the tech world is a part of the mission of TechGirlz.

TechGirlz, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit founded nearly 10 years ago to ignite a passion for technology among middle school girls, is being acquired by an Illinois-based nonprofit in a deal designed to create a more reliable pipeline of IT workers nationwide.

The acquirer, Creating IT Futures, which helps prepare adults underrepresented in the tech field for such careers, is no stranger to TechGirlz. It has been one of its funders for five years, and TechGirlz founder Tracey Welson-Rossman has served on its board for the last three years.

“We felt together our combined efforts would increase both of our goals and support both of our missions,” Charles Eaton, CEO of Creating IT Futures, said in an interview.

TechGirlz’s free workshops got off to a popular start around Philadelphia and have now engaged 15,000 girls in 14 states. TechGirlz will operate as a separate program under Creating IT Futures.

“The brand and logo stay the same. Our website will also be separate,” said Welson-Rossman, who is also chief marketing officer at Fort Washington, Pa., developer Chariot Solutions, where TechGirlz is housed.

(In the Granite State, the New Hampshire Tech Alliance supports similar efforts through its TechWomen-TechGirls program.)

Eaton said that while nonprofit consolidation is sometimes a sign of trouble, usually with the acquired entity, that that is not the case with TechGirlz, which has an annual budget of $200,000 and six employees. Creating IT Futures, with a budget of $6.25 million and a staff of 25, and founded in 1998 by trade group Computing Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA, can help extend TechGirlz’s reach among a demographic Eaton’s agency wanted to get involved with, he said.

“TechGirlz is doing great,” Eaton said, adding that the goal now is to “accelerate their growth and accelerate their impact.”

“It’s tech, baby”

Applauding that aspiration is Ellen Weber, someone who knows what it feels like to be a relative rarity: a female investor. She is executive director of Robin Hood Ventures and also heads Temple University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute.

“If we don’t have women following tech careers ... we are really going to fall behind” as an economy, Weber said. “I think it’s one of the best ways to narrow the wage gap, narrow the skills gap. It’s tech, baby!”

The combination of TechGirlz and Creating IT Futures underscores a continuing shortage of women in such jobs and the expected growing need for IT workers, Welson-Rossman said.

“The lack of available tech talent and the proven competitive advantage of a diverse workforce has created a unique opportunity to build a path for more young girls to pursue a career in technology,” Welson-Rossman said. “By ensuring these women have a critical part to play in America’s technology industry, we can also help them secure greater economic and social influence.”

TechGirlz has yet to do a long-term assessment to find out how many of the 15,000 girls who have participated in its workshops have a tech job currently or are pursuing a computer science degree.

“We have conducted exit surveys from our workshops and with recent alums over the last several years. The results have been very encouraging — over 90 percent intend to continue pursuing tech education or careers,” Welson-Rossman said. She hopes the partnership with Creating IT Futures will help find out how effective the workshops are in ensuring that participants eventually end up in the tech workforce.

Fewer degrees

A report due out later this month by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, a portion of which the agency has shared with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, shows that although the number of women receiving a college degree in computer sciences increased between 1997 and 2016, women are making up a smaller percentage of bachelor’s and doctorate recipients.

According to the NCSES’s 2019 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report, 18.7 percent (or just over 12,000) of the bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences in 2016 went to women, down from 27.2 percent in 1997, when nearly 7,000 women earned the degree. Of the doctorate recipients, 20.1 percent were women in 2016, up from 15.9 percent in 1997 but down from 21.7 percent in 2006.

NCSES senior analyst Karen S. Hamrick said in an email that she did not want to comment extensively on a report not yet public — one her agency has promised to deliver to Congress by March 15, adding: “The computer sciences story is a dramatic finding, however.”

Creating IT Futures was originally intended to serve as CompTIA’s foundation arm, said Eaton, who was hired eight years ago to make a change. He transitioned the agency into one whose mission was to help prepare nontraditional populations in the IT workforce — low-income individuals, minorities, women, and military veterans — for tech careers through its IT-Ready program.

The last three years brought an additional focus — “What can we do with kids?” — to help build an interest in IT that carries through to an ultimate career in it, Eaton said.

Through association with TechGirlz, he said, “we did recognize middle school is that moment where we have to capture their attention.”