WIT: Empowering Women in Information Technology

By Bridgette Austin | February 13, 2018

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What You Should Know about NYU IT’s Women in Information Technology Initiative

There’s no shortage of media chatter about the scarcity of women graduating from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) college programs and the low number of female workers pursuing careers in technology. Headlines such as The Atlantic‘s “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” have also pointed to workplace disparities impacting women in the tech industry.

According to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, women comprised just 18% of computer and information sciences bachelor’s degree recipients in the U.S. The report also shows that the percentage of women occupying professional positions in computing in the U.S. job market was just slightly over 25%. Those figures decrease dramatically when broken down by ethnicity. African-American and Asian women accounted for only 3% and 5% of computing professional jobs respectively, while Hispanic women occupied a mere 1% of those jobs.

Statistics such as these presented NYU Information Technology (NYU IT) administrators with the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue and efforts towards closing the tech gender gap. In summer 2017, with the sponsorship of Vice President and Chief Information Officer Len Peters, NYU IT launched Women in Information Technology (WIT). The initiative’s mission: “To empower women who are working in IT-related professions at NYU, and to encourage them to reach their fullest professional and personal potential by pursuing University career opportunities, taking advantage of professional resources on campus, and employing industry best practices in their fields.”

“We knew there was an appetite for an initiative like this, both at the community and executive sponsorship levels,” said Natalie Hidalgo, a director in NYU IT Strategy, Planning, and Engagement. She recalls how she and NYU IT Employee Engagement manager Tamara Santiago became co-founders of WIT. “Over the years, I had seen similar efforts sprout in pockets across IT at NYU in the form of brown bag lunches, coffee shop chats, and after-work social gatherings. Having interest from the University community, sponsorship from NYU IT leadership, and Tamara as a partner-in-crime, we were able to create the formula that propelled us forward and made the initiative real.”

Since its inception six months ago, WIT has been fostering its nascent community by hosting regular events, including an informal networking session, discovery workshop, and the WIT @ NYU Kickoff, which featured special guest speaker and CEO of Mardon Management Advisors Vita Cassese. WIT is now marching forward and gearing up for another semester of activities that support the group’s mission and long-term goals. Here are five things to know about WIT and their plans for creating a supportive professional network for women looking to break the glass ceiling in tech.

WIT Aligns with the University’s Diversity Initiative

The appointment of Lisa Coleman as NYU’s first Chief Diversity Officer is just one of many steps the University has taken towards championing diversity at all levels. With the launch of WIT, NYU IT saw an opportunity to join NYU’s larger conversation around diversity and inclusion, and serve as a resource to women looking to pursue careers in technical fields, such as web development and engineering.

“WIT’s goals align directly with the University’s diversity priorities,” says Santiago. “If we are to encourage diversity, we need to discuss what’s happening in the workplace now. WIT fosters open dialogue about the unique challenges and issues women in technical fields face in their professional environments.”.” ”

Since its launch, WIT has been well-received by members of both the IT and non-IT communities at NYU. Hidalgo notes, “We want to ensure that WIT continues to add value to the wider University community through empowering women to reach their full potential, pursue tech industry career opportunities, and leverage professional resources available to them. As we attain WIT’s goals, we are not only moving in the right direction, but also helping the University’s diversity, professional development, and talent management efforts.”

WIT is Open to All NYU Community Members (Not Just Women)

WIT is focused on creating an active and vibrant support network for female IT talent, but the group’s growing network and activities are not exclusive to women. WIT is eager to collaborate with and hear from all NYU community members—whether they submit questions and news via WIT’s NYU Group or volunteer their time and talents to one of WIT’s subcommittees.

“WIT is a forum for everyone to join together in championing equal opportunities in the workplace,” says Debbi Litt, a Digital Communications Specialist in NYU’s Digital Communications Group. “We need a diverse pool of allies to help strengthen career pathways for women in tech.. Removing barriers for some clears a path for all, and creates an environment where no one is restricted by gender, race, or any other identity factors.”

WIT is also working to expand beyond NYU employees. “Initially, we have focused on administrators. However, we are currently partnering with the Tandon School of Engineering and other groups across NYU to explore how we can also become a helpful venue for both NYU students and faculty,” says Hidalgo.

Natalie Hidalgo (right) at the WIT kick-off

Natalie Hidalgo (right) at the WIT kick-off

WIT Connects NYU Professionals to Technology Resources—and with Each Other

“One of the benefits of participating in WIT is the opportunity to network with staff and meet other people from across the University,” says Santiago. “Employees are encouraged to take some time away from their desks to discuss topics they’re interested in and share stories with colleagues who’ve had similar work experiences.”

Hidalgo echoes this sentiment: “WIT offers employees a venue , to share and discuss work experiences, and take on the challenge to think about what’s important to them. Are employees at a point in their career where they’re thinking about a transition, their professional development, or issues related to work-life balance? Are they looking for new opportunities or wanting to network with other IT professionals? WIT can help with all of that.”

WIT Celebrates NYU Women Who Are Blazing Paths in IT

If you visit the WIT website, you’ll notice a Trailblazers of the Month section that features the professional stories of women from across the University’s technology community. In addition to helping the next wave of female IT leaders reach their potential, WIT is keen on recognizing the accomplishments of NYU women who are making waves in tech. And that includes administrators and faculty from years past who have invented and innovated in the world of computing.

“It’s important to recognize and celebrate the fact that so many women have forged successful careers within a space that is known for being male-dominated. However, it’s also crucial for us to work together to advocate for, and empower the next generation of women in this field,” says Jodi Goldberg, an IT applications and operations manager currently serving as Assistant Director in NYU IT’s Accessible Technology Services unit.

Debbi Litt agrees. “Celebrating the successes of our female peers can encourage other women to seek out development opportunities they may not have considered before.” She adds, “Sharing the achievements of women is a way to lead by example—it makes you stop and think, ‘If she can accomplish all that, then what’s stopping me from doing the same in my own field?'”

WIT Wants to Help Close the Tech Gender Gap at NYU and Beyond

As WIT heads into the new year, the group is focused on both sustaining their expanding network, and developing new ways to respond to the evolving needs of NYU’s current and future female tech professionals.

“Ultimately, I would like to see us move the dial on the number of women in information technology. I think we can be more open-minded about the kinds of employees we look for when it comes to candidates’ educational and professional backgrounds. At the end of the day, it’s about creating a more diverse talent pool that benefits everyone,” says Hidalgo.

For WIT, increasing diversity in tech can also translate into creative solutions that address the technological needs of clients and end users. “I agree with the National Center for Women & Technology (NCWIT) who posit that when there is a dearth of women in technology, both IT organizations and the customer are at a disadvantage. ” says Goldberg. “For example, the presence of the unique female view during the design and innovation stages helps to create products and services that will serve a larger customer base. This influence will be lost if women aren’t involved in the process.”1

WIT also aims to recruit participants who are interested in lending their time and resources to student organizations on campus, as well as to NYC nonprofits dedicated to teaching kids coding and other computing skills. Santiago says, “When we think about student success, a big part of that is mentoring and coaching. One of WIT’s goals is making a positive impact through volunteering and mentoring opportunities with University partners in and outside NYU.”

Getting Involved

Interested in joining the conversation around women in information technology? Visit www.nyu.edu/it/wit to learn more about NYU IT training and professional development opportunities on campus, and find links to professional groups and organizations committed to advancing gender equality in technology.