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Nonprofit organization seeks to increase female participation in technology careers

Women are often missing from the applicant pool for careers in technology and a new organization called ChickTech is working to change that.

“Having more women in technology benefits the products we make, and diversity changes development teams and increases quality,” said Brigitta Lee, president of ChickTech in Missoula.

ChickTech is a national nonprofit organization that supports women as they pursue careers in technology and provides exposure to opportunities. A chapter of the organization was recently developed in Montana with a home base in Missoula. The first high school program for western Montana girls was held at the Salish Kootenai College on Saturday. The college provided computers and building space as well as a central venue between high schools within a 100-mile radius. Students attended several workshops throughout the campus to learn more about technology. 

Katrina Schweitzer, ChickTech marketing manager, said the workshops included data science, building ads for the Internet, creating play lists, and 3D printing. 

Schweitzer believes women on average have historically avoided jobs in technology because young girls are not encouraged to follow those careers. “The problem is built into our society,” she said. “We want to change the foundation of that thought and give girls more opportunity.” 

During one of the workshops, a group of girls sat in front of various computers to learn about and practice coding skills. Trish Duce from the University of Montana led the workshop. 

Duce said it’s common to have a small percentage of women attend the classes she teaches at the university. She once taught a class of 80 and only eight of the students were female. Overall, about 18 percent of her classes are comprised of female students.

“It’s been like that for years,” she said. “We need to get more women involved in technology. There are two to four times as many jobs in computer science as there are people getting those jobs. Women need to fill those positions.”

Meaghan Toomey, 17, traveled from Missoula to attend the event. She said she is looking for as many opportunities as she can find to learn about computer sciences. She plans to combine marketing and computer sciences as a career, but she also really likes creating computer games.

Kaiti Deering, 17, from Victor, said smaller schools don’t often have opportunities to learn about technology. “Being from a small school, I’ll take anything I can get,” she said.       

The ChickTech program supports women starting out in technology careers and women already in the field with networking and support. More information can be found at www.missoula.chicktech.org. Mentors and teachers can also nominate a female student for future programs on the website once they are available.

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