by Pat Hammond on Monday, July 20, 2015
Location: Dyn 150 Dow Street, Manchester
Date: Tuesday, July 28 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM (check their website for details)
As is the way of things in Manchester, the first time I heard about the Future Tech Women group was last summer when one of my WordPress developer friends asked why I hadn't been to the meeting. I don't know how she heard about it, but she raved about how great it was to have a room full of women representing all levels of technology sharing their knowledge and experiences in the growing New Hampshire tech community. She was adamant that this group was a must-do for any New Hampshire woman working in technology and was shocked that there weren't more of us there.
I guess it never occurred to her that maybe some of us had never heard about it.
Between one thing and another I forgot about the group until a few months later when the wife of a friend mentioned it in passing. I was coming off of two broken hands, launching Queen City Buzz and trying to resurrect the shambles of what used to be my design business and didn't have time for another group so I put it on the look at later list and pressed on with my life.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this week marks the one year anniversary of the first time I heard about the Future Tech Women group. While I am glad that I finally made the time to sit down and talk to the group's founder Bethany Ross I wish I had listened to my friend and put this at the top of last summer's to do list.
QCB: Why did you start the Future Tech Women group? (Nothing like starting with the obvious, right?)
BR: In 2012 I was the only woman to graduate from University of New Hampshire Manchester with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems. I had a great support system in school, but I found out that not everyone had the same experience. I wanted to create a support system to encourage women to pursue technology careers.
She says that she was fortunate to have a strong support system from professors and other students, but that not everyone is so lucky. Shortly after Ross graduated a young woman confided that she was overwhelmed at the prospect of spending four years as one of the only women in the group and questioned whether technology was the right career choice. She didn't necessarily feel discriminated or marginalized, but she wan't comfortable and wanted to quit.
Ross points out that in the real world of tech it's much easier to integrate and with the exception of the recent Silicon Valley scandals, most people don't care about gender, but that for some women the gender inequality makes getting through school an insurmountable challenge so she created the group to help.
QCB: Computers, the internet and technology have been pretty commonplace for a while, why would young women and girls in 2015 need Future Tech Women?
BR: In elementary school girls are just as interested in math and science as the boys, but once they get to middle school that interest drops off.
Ross isn't sure if it's hormones, peer pressure or just a matter of losing interest, but there is a significant decline in the number of girls who want to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies between elementary school and middle school.
As someone who spent eight years as a mentor with Big Brothers/Big Sisters I agree. Fitting in is a big deal when you're thirteen and I've seen bright young girls feign ignorance in math and science because one of the cool kids thought it was too much effort.
While she doesn't mention it, I am still struggling with the idea that Bethany Ross was the only woman in 2012 to graduate with a CIS degree at UNH - Manchester. I hope that it's a statistical anomaly, but suspect that it's a systemic failure.
Whatever the reason, keeping girls interested in learning basic math and science in middle school makes it that much easier for them to learn advanced topics in high school so they aren't working from a defecit once they get to college and decide that they want to build robots or explore space.
QCB: What does Future Tech Women do and how do you help young women break into technology?
BR: We provide mentoring for high school and college students and partner with other groups to encourage elementary and middle school kids to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math as well as a monthly meetup for women to share their experiences in tech fields.
The Future Tech Women group partners with local businesses and outreach groups to provide mentoring to young women considering STEM careers. Current partners include Dyn, UNH - Manchester and Meltwater. The group also does career day activities with elementary schools and will have a booth at the 3rd Annual Mini Maker Fair at the Children's Museum in Dover in August.
QCB: Are Future Tech Women and the Women in Tech Hangout two separate groups or is one a sub-group of the other?
BR: It used to be two groups, but now both operate under the Future Tech Women name
The Future Tech Women group is broken into two components providing mentoring services and the monthly Future Tech Women Hangouts.
The mentoring program matches woman working in STEM fields with high school and college women and the monthly meetup is an outlet for women working in technology to network, share their experiences and improve their skills.
She also states that the monthly hangout is a great resource for women who aren't STEM workers, but work for STEM companies. For example a marketing person working at a tech startup. Even though they don't need to know how to create the company's products, they do need to be able understand enough of the technology behind the company's products to identify and reach target customers as well as interact with co-workers.
QCB: How often does the group meet and where can people find more information?
BR: The monthly hangout is the 4th Tuesday of the month at Dyn in Manchester and we have a website: www.futuretechwomen.org
The original group meets the 4th Tuesday of the month in Manchester, but we've recently started a second group on the Seacoast. Their first meeting was last Wednesday the 15th at Market Street Talent in Portsmouth, but they don't have a regular meetup yet. We'll put something up on the webpage and on Facebook once they've set their next meeting.
The Future Tech Women's website is www.futuretechwomen.org. This is where you can find the event calendar and general information about the group. They also have a Facebook page where you can find discussions and RSVP for events.
Bethany Ross is one of those people who is simultaneously effervescent, down-to-earth and sagacious. She is a born motivator whose natural empathy will stand her well on her quest to smooth the path for anyone, especially young girls and women, trying to find their way in the tech world.
I don't know why so many bright young women opt out of STEM careers, but if you're an engineer, research scientist, web developer or math whiz struggling to take that next step or looking to expand your options, the Future Tech Women's Hangout is a great opportunity to share your experience with other women in male dominated fields.
Their next meeting is Tuesday, July 28th from 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM and if you're a women working in a STEM field you owe it to yourself to stop by.
Update: The Seacoast Chapter of Future Tech Women now has a regular meetup date of the 2nd Wednesday of the month and their next meeting will be August 12th. They don't have a regular home yet, but you can updates on Twitter, Facebook or their website www.futuretechwomen.org