TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, New York, August 14
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
In an industry historically dominated by men – according to a report issued by consulting firm HR&A Advisors in April, women are outnumbered by men in New York City tech occupations 7-to-3 – a push for gender diversity has emerged. And businesses with ties to Huntington are taking notice.
On Aug. 1, the Microsoft Store at Huntington Station’s Walt Whitman Shops hosted an event for its “DigiGirlz” program, which works to inform high school-age girls of opportunities in the tech industry as a part of the company’s overall push to work more with young people.
Four young girls made it out earlier this month and were welcomed to both an application and game-building showcase; a panel led by Rhonda Green, project manager at Motorola Solutions, Neetu Rajpal, principal SDET information protection at Microsoft and one of Microsoft’s community development specialists, Tiffany Medeck; along with breakfast and lunch.
“When you go to a meeting and you’re the only female, you see all the males as competition,” said Green, whose infatuation with technology began in seventh grade when she wanted to take apart a computer and put it back together. “You have to think competitively… I wanted to be the smartest person in the room… [Eventually] I ran everything.”
The young girls and their parents, some hailing from Huntington, looked on as the panel spoke, but their concentration sometimes broke to look down at the tablets and computers – their toolboxes – that were placed before them for the day-long meeting.
“With technology, everything is always changing so much,” one mother said as the panelists nodded their heads in agreement. “More than any other generation you’re going to have to be life-long learners.”
Another mother, Barbara Weingarten, of Huntington Station, agreed with the sentiment. She brought her two daughters, Sonata, 13, and Lina, 15, to the store, seeing an opportunity – and good money – available to women in the tech-sphere.
“When I was doing tech support [for Weight Watchers] there were 12 people on the help desk and only three of us were women,” Weingarten, whose daughters are students in the South Huntington School District, said. “So I really think it’s a field that [Sonata and Lina] can grow into.”
Growing into the position is exactly what Medeck did in 2008 when she started working for Circuit City. Medeck admitted that it took some time, but once she worked hard enough at it, she naturally fit right in and worked her way up. In light of that, she stressed confidence as a key to women finding success in the industry.
“Right now at the Microsoft Store I work with 11 guys and 3 girls, but you learn to get along with everyone… [And] be a leader,” Medeck said. “That’s a thing that helps us as women… [Confidence] helps you grow as a person… Just get involved [and] keep going for it.”
As the tech industry grows in terms of gender diversity, so, too, is the world of gaming. Greenlawn’s Rory O’Donoghue – owner of World Gamer Nation, a video game local area network (LAN) center – believes women are up-and-comers in the world of video games, indicated by their regular presence at his 66 Broadway venue.
Along with that, female gamers are coming together to compete against other gamers, too, in tournaments similar to the competitions World Gamer Nation hosts on a regular basis.
“There’s this group of gamers out east called Sway, and they’ve actually started Sway Ladies… a group of female competitive gamers,” said O’Donoghue, adding that he employs more women than men at the center.
Other tech companies related to Huntington are also observing the trend of women becoming more involved.
Janet Dwyer, co-founder of TalentBrowser – a cloud-based job matching software – believes that, with females growing alongside technology from a young age, a natural evolution will occur and women will integrate into the industry seamlessly.
“I think the industry is open to women… I love working on a team with women. We work to empower each other and there are plenty of great female tech people out there,” Dwyer said. “The industry is evolving, and in the next 10-20 years when you have the young girl today graduating college, I think you’re going to see a lot more of them heading into tech jobs than there are today.”
OpenLink, a software company that has a Uniondale office, recently embarked on its “Driving Diversity” program which hopes to increase diversity throughout the company – especially with women. With the program, OpenLink is reaching out to high-school-aged kids – just like Microsoft is – to teach them of opportunities that they might find interesting at OpenLink, along with spreading the word at events like LI Tech Day, held in Huntington on Tuesday.
“I’ve seen women who have worked for or alongside me at the absolute top level,” Roger Burkhardt, executive vice president and chief tech officer for OpenLink, said. “When you go from internship, the default mix of the company is about 90 percent male, and when you can’t get it right at that level, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of talented and creative people.”
Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills (Thursday, August 14, 2014; A7)