Group works to build a presence in tech fields

Math is for girls. So are science and computers. And information technology offers
women a great choice of careers. That’s the message of the nonprofit professional
association, Women in Technology.


Women who work in IT need such a group “to provide a voice and a forum,” WIT
president Belkis Leong-Hong told the House Committee on Science last year.


The 5-year-old group, which began with about 150 women, today has a membership of more
than 700.


“Our membership includes women from Fortune 100 companies, small and medium-size
businesses, the highest levels of the federal government, recent college graduates and
even junior high school,” Leong-Hong said.


In addition to its monthly meetings, panel discussions and presentations, the group
offers its members monthly job workshops. WIT in its first year helped 67 women find jobs
in IT.


But that’s just the beginning, Leong-Hong told the committee. “Women leave
science, engineering and technology careers twice as frequently as men,” she said.
She isn’t sure why, but salary is a likely issue, she said. “Women in science,
engineering and technology earn 12 to 15 percent less than their male counterparts,”
Leong-Hong said.


The situation is changing, however, and speeding that change is part of WIT’s
mission, she said.


WIT members are frequent speakers at area schools. “Often the students react with
visible shock that an engineer can be feminine, talented, paid well and openly
intelligent,” she said.


Throughout a government career that has spanned three decades, “I have had to work
largely without female role models and mentors,” she said.


WIT is addressing the issue through its mentoring program, free to members.


The program, now in its third year, matches less-experienced women with mentors in a
structured program.


“I received little management education until I was a senior technnical staff
member within the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Leong-Hong said.


There, too, WIT offers resources within the context of its programs.


A question arose at a WIT panel discussion on Internet-centric industries in the
Washington area last month: How do women already in the work force get into technology?
Twenty-something entrepreneur Julie Holdren, president and chief executive officer of Web
site development company Olympus Group Inc. of Alexandria, Va., had an answer:
“It’s called Transition to Technology, and it’s excellent.”


The George Mason University training program to which she referred takes four months
and offers certification in C++, Visual Basic/Microsoft Access, Java or Oracle
programming.


Classes meet evenings and weekends for 18 hours a week.


Get more details at www.gmu.edu.


For more information on Women in Technology, check the group’s Web site at www.womenintechnology.com.


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