True or false: There were more women in technology in 1980 than 2015.
Regrettably, true. While information technology continues to be one of the fastest growing careers, women’s participation in the field over the last 25 years has steadily declined from a peak of 37% in the early 1980s to 18% today.
This trend does not sit well with Julia Poepping, who recently retired from a 30-year career in technology. “In 1982, there were more women in IT than there are today as a percentage—which to me is shocking. This trend gets my juices up. What is going on?”
Poepping graduated with a degree in Management Information Systems in 1982 and joined PPG, where she grew her career in IT. “It is a growing profession and it should be an appealing profession to women,” she says. “Then I started looking at some of the studies being done and realized that we have to do something.”
In her research, Poepping learned of Sit With Me, a campaign from the National Center for Women in Technology which uses a red chair as a symbol to invite women and men to “sit”—and take a stand—to “hold space for honest conversation” about women’s role in technology.
“It’s about taking a small but symbolic action: sit in a red chair and share your story,” as it says on their website. “Pull up a chair and listen to stories from others; men, women, technical and non-technical, as they sit in the red chair.”
Poepping immediately saw the value. “I thought it was wonderful and that we needed to do this in Pittsburgh. I reached out to my colleagues and we worked to make it happen.”
The group, comprised of Pittsburgh women leaders in technology includes Audrey Russo, CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, Audrey Dunning, CEO of Summa Technology, and Lynn Banaszak, executive director of the Health Technology Institute at CMU.
The group has been taking photos of the red chair in iconic sites in the city as a lead up to an event on November 19th at the Pitt University Club—which will feature Deb Lam, the City’s chief innovation officer, and Tacy Byham, president of Development Dimensions International.
At the event, Microsoft will present how they have utilized the red chair in their inclusion program. “For me, this is a management and organizational issue. At the top, companies and hiring executives need to recognize that this is an issue that they need to pay attention to,” says Poepping. “Changing behavior to achieve the gender balance—from simple things like how to write a gender-neutral job description to actively supporting women in the workforce.
“I look back at a wonderful 30-year career and throughout that time, I had women that I worked for. I could see myself in their shoes,” Poepping reflects. “When that happens, when you can look ahead, you have something to aspire to. Women need to see women they can look up to.”
Each red chair is made of 111 recycled Coke bottles and is a collaboration between Emeco in Hanover, PA—a maker of high-quality chairs—and Coca-Cola. The chairs are known for their exceptional strength, part of the symbolic appeal, and are designed to last 150 years.