A montage of women working in IT

Marking 10 years of empowering women in IT at UW–‍Madison

A message from Lois Brooks, vice provost for information technology and chief information officer:

Women have long been underrepresented in the world of higher education information technology. While women make up 57% of professional occupations in the U.S., only 27% of computing roles and 24% of tech C-suite positions in the Fortune 500 are filled by women, according to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

The gap is even more alarming when you look at representation for Black women (3%), Asian women (7%) and Latina women (2%) in the U.S. computing workforce. And it’s safe to assume the disparities are as pronounced with other minoritized identities women hold like disability, age, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, and others. More than half of women leave tech roles by age 35, according to Accenture.

This disparity is reflected in higher education IT departments nationwide, and UW–‍Madison is no exception. Recent data from Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research shows that women hold just 28% of IT positions at our institution, even though they hold 53% of UW staff roles overall, and women hold only 26% of IT management positions here.

Recognizing the need for change, a dedicated group of UW IT professionals came together 10 years ago to make a difference. Founded in the spring of 2014, the UW Women in IT (UW-WIT) community set out to improve the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in technology roles at the university. Some of the IT community leaders who founded UW-WIT included Brandon Bernier, Mo Noonan Bischof, Rhonda Davis, Karen Hanson, Deborah Helman, Edward Hoover, Rob Kohlhepp, Jenny Kvistad, Sandee Seiberlich, Brenda Spychalla, Annette Stratman-Durrer and Sara Tate-Pederson.

With the backing of then-CIO Bruce Maas, UW-WIT established a mission focused on inclusion, mentoring, networking and recognition. A decade later, that mission remains vital as the group has grown to include more than 450 members of all genders.

Countering a systemic nationwide problem is no small task, but UW-WIT has certainly had an impact over the last 10 years. University data shows that the growth rate in the number of women in IT roles has caught up with the overall IT staff growth rate since 2019, although women are still significantly underrepresented. UW-WIT’s community-building, professional development, and networking efforts have consistently received high marks from the folks who participate in them.

In a 2024 IT Professionals Conference session reflecting on UW-WIT’s anniversary, co-chairs Mehrnaz Ahmadi Joobaneh and Amanda Thornton highlighted the group’s multi-faceted approach to building community (watch the recording). From events tackling issues like imposter syndrome and salary negotiation to outreach efforts with student organizations, UW-WIT provides a platform to support women at every stage of their IT careers.

As Amanda put it: “It’s hard to be it if you can’t see it.” By increasing the visibility of women in a wide array of technology roles, UW-WIT is showing the next generation what’s possible and paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive future.

I’m incredibly proud of what UW-WIT has accomplished over the past decade. To the steering committee, event organizers, members and allies—thank you for your tireless efforts to make UW a place where women can thrive in IT positions.

I encourage everyone in UW’s IT community—of all genders—to check out UW-WIT. You can get involved by joining their community email list, emailing questions and ideas to the steering committee at uw-wit-steering-team@g-groups.wisc.edu, and viewing their upcoming events on the UW-WIT webpage.

— Lois

[Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 9, 2024, to include the names of more individuals who helped found UW-WIT.]

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