How Pittsburgh’s Women in Tech Aim to End Disparity

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Pittsburgh’s technology industry may be a hub of innovation and research, but women are often shut out of these spaces. Pittsburgh ranks 46th among the best 58 cities for women in tech, according to a 2018 SmartAsset report that analyzed data on the gender pay gap, income after housing costs, representation in the workplace, and overall growth in employment.  

It’s well documented that a diversity of people in the room leads to diversity in ideas. In a city looking to lead the charge in technology, an industry that aims to solve the world’s problems with apps and ideas, solving the gender gap is paramount. 

It’s a problem that’s not solved in a few brainstorming sessions or hackathons, but StartNow spoke to some women leading the way in the region about what steps the city can take to make our booming technology industry more inclusive.

“We are 100% women-run and didn’t realize how rare it was.”

RedTree Web Designs’ team has always been 100 percent women-run, but it was only last year that founder Meesha Gerhart considered that it might be noteworthy.

RedTree Web Design staff picture. Photo Credit: RedTree Web Design

Gerhart is a leading member of RedchairPGH, a nonprofit committed to gender balance in Pittsburgh’s technology professions, but she didn’t set out to create an exclusively women-staffed company. “It was completely by coincidence. We just tried to find good people that were a good culture fit. They all just happened to be women.”

In an industry where only 5 percent of tech startups are owned by women, the data on entirely women-run companies or teams is nonexistent.  

“For us, it has really been a conscious effort when we’re marketing not to make that our differentiator.” Click through RedTree’s website and you’ll see headshots of the all-women team, but it’s not the banner greeting visitors. “Then people can take a look around and realize, ‘Oh hey, they just happen to be women.’” 

Though she comes from a women-owned and -operated tech company, Gerhart is first to say that’s not the solution to Pittsburgh’s gender disparity. “The first course of action for any kind of movement is to start the conversation.”

How does the conversation start? It’s education all around. Gerhart advises at Chatham’s Women’s Business Center, leading courses on salary negotiation. “What I really love is that you see a lot more women knowing their value.” 

Gerhart’s also seen the effect of RedChairPGH’s efforts in Pittsburgh’s bigger workplaces. “Leaders are realizing there’s a problem within their company structure, and they’re inviting women to the conversation. That’s the thing—you don’t need to get a whole bunch of your guys together to solve this. You need to bring more women to the table.”

“I realized we’re not reaching everyone that needs to be heard.” 

Erica Peterson saw her venture as a way to break down a few of the many workplace barriers that face women in tech. Moms Can & Co. provides online programs for moms, busy parents, and anyone else interested in learning more about coding. 

“Transportation is one of the reasons globally that women have trouble getting work,” explains Peterson. With the workforce, especially in technology, becoming more remote, Peterson knew what angle she wanted to take with her coding boot camp.

The signature 12-week program, now in its fifth cohort, is entirely online, and students learn the ins and outs of GitHub and begin a web developer portfolio. “Remote work is the future of the workforce,” Peterson says, and Moms Can & Co. courses help prepare participants for remote work culture. 

Working remotely isn’t for everyone, but it can remove some of the barriers to entry that keep women from finding jobs in tech, Peterson explains. “I’ve taught wives of NFL coaches, or spouses of athletes because they couldn’t sustain that five-year or 10-year career at a company with their husbands moving season to season.”  

Remote work also appeals to stay-at-home parents who want to kickstart a new career while balancing childcare duties. Peterson, who works full-time from home with her children, views remote work as a great equalizer for women in technology. “When you interview someone for a remote role via video, you can’t tell where they live, you can’t tell what brand they’re wearing. It’s not as much about the person sitting in front of you as the work that they’re presenting.” 

Learning new skills and launching into a remote tech career could go a long way toward solving the gender disparity in tech, but Peterson acknowledges it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. But cubicle-laden workplaces could learn a thing or two from the fully remote office, adopting more flexible policies to foster an inclusive workplace. 

“One of the barriers I see, at least locally, is the infrastructure to go remote or flexible just isn’t there; they rely too much on that in-person communication,” says Peterson. In contrast, a remote company has processes clearly outlined and meetings and presentations recorded. For instance, if a mother has to leave her software engineer job to pick up a sick child at school, she doesn’t run the risk of missing out on the new launch ideas in the big afternoon meeting. “Let’s think of other ways to accommodate everyone and be more accessible for everyone as a workplace,” says Peterson.

Emma Diehl
Contributing Writer
Emma is a Pittsburgh-based technology and lifestyle writer, covering everything from machine learning in law enforcement to historic building preservation. Her byline has appeared on XOJane, NPR, Huffington Post, NEXTPittsburgh, and Very Local.