Our company was founded by Kim Gehling in 2003 and she still leads the crew. We also have great leadership and expertise from Cindy Whiteman (Digital Marketing Division Director), Beth Yaeger (Web & Hosting Division Director), Michele Nelson (Director of Operations), Alaina Riewerts (Director of Strategy & Forecasting), Kelly Curran (Digital Marketing Team Lead), Linda Morrison (Financial Assistant), Julie Loitz (Financial Assistant), Cynthia Reade (Web & Digital Marketing Specialist), Kate Whiteman (Digital Marketing Specialist), and Alyssa Yenor (Digital Marketing Intern).
This is particularly notable when you remember that the tech world is largely a male-dominated industry. But, it always hasn’t been that way. Let’s jump into our Way Back Machine and return to the early years of computing: the 1950’s. Back then, computer programming was vastly different than it is today. One of the biggest computers at the time, the IBM 704, could only process about 4000 pieces of code at a time. A programmer had to be able to be efficient in how they wrote out the code, so as not to waste any words. Even more than today, programmers had to be very precise and pay extreme attention to detail.
In the 50s and 60s, it was widely held that women were the ones that had this type of mentality. Women ran “computers” that were used for code-breaking during World War II, were a large part of the programming workforce in the 50s, and in the 60s, most “career programmers” at MIT were women. According to government data, 27% of computing and mathematical jobs were held by women. In 1990, that figure had grown to 35%. After that, though, the numbers began to decline. In 2013, the percentage was 26, less than the amount in 1960.
So, what happened? The common belief is that there was a change in how and when kids learned coding and programming. In the early 80s, when the first generation of personal computers started appearing in homes, kids were able to familiarize themselves with computing. Prior to that, most students came to college without even having seen a computer, let alone worked on the processes that made it run. But why the decrease in women’s involvement in computing?
A study by Jane Margolis of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies determined that the cause was in the homes of the students. Parents were twice as likely to give their son a computer as their daughter, and, if they did purchase a “family” computer, it often ended up in the son’s room. Fathers would work with their sons one-on-one to figure out BASIC and other ways to use their new computer. I can attest to these findings. My parents bought an Atari 400 when I was a kid and enrolled me in a BASIC class at the local Atari store. My sister was younger and not really interested in this new addition to our home.
Schools backed up this message that computers were for boys with computer clubs. It was found that these clubs were just as exclusionary as the jock teams. School computer clubs not only pushed away females but also black and Latino boys. The clubs became a kind of support group for white males that moved into the college and business world. This toxic culture began to manifest itself with a type of “bro code”, where men were given some leeway, but women were expected to be “hardcore” coders that lived in their computer world all day, every day. If the men didn’t consider the women serious coders, they would drum them out of the class or organization.
Hollywood didn’t help, either. In the entertainment industry in the 1980s, movies like “Weird Science”, “Real Genius”, and “D.A.R.Y.L.” were about young, white, male nerds. Video games were marketed to boys and the culture was well on its way to a seismic shift. It was reinforced that computers were boys and that girls were not welcome in the club.
Fortunately for those of us at WTI and our wonderful clients, Kim didn’t pay attention to “the rules” and pursued college courses and a career in something that she not only loves, but is very talented at. A college campus can be a challenging environment on a good day, but imagine being a woman in a male-dominated field. Peers and faculty may not have wanted her there, but she persevered, graduating and starting her own business. She has built a company that is inclusive of gender, race, and other characteristics. The women that work here are all talented and bring a lot to every project. WTI is truly a team, everyone plays a part in the success of the company and the success of our clients.
On this International Women’s Day, take a moment to recognize the women in your life, what they’ve brought to your world, and what they have had to deal with to achieve it. Our hats are off to you.