As written by the four co-founders of Oklahoma Women in Technology: Brandy Semore, Ashlie Cornelius, Maggie Durguner, and Jil Doll.
It started on a Thursday afternoon in 2016, coworkers met for a happy hour, vendors were
chatting about the latest technology, and things were getting exciting. The four of us (Brandy, Ashlie, Maggie and Jil) were grateful to work for a company that empowered women and included us at the table in a male-dominated space. However, we noticed the vendor-led technology conversation during this event started moving away from us, the only four women at the event.
At this point, we started talking amongst ourselves about work and general areas for improvement in our company’s current market outreach. After reviewing our company’s website analytics that day, we found that the blog we published about the ‘Top Women in Tech Conferences’ was our most visited page – even over the homepage.
We wondered: How were other women in the tech industry faring? Were they facing struggles breaking into tech? Were they included in the conversation and were they leaning in? Was diversity at the table important to everyone? Was there an interest and need to discuss these topics? And how could we better connect with other women in technology – who and where were they?
The idea of Oklahoma Women in Technology was born in that moment, an organization for women working in technology. We wanted to encourage women currently working in STEM to stay with it as well as provide an outlet, resources, and networking opportunities for others wanting to break into tech. Most of all, the heart of our cause was simply being around like-minded individuals.
Within that first week, we had an official name, a brand, a mission, a website, and had submitted our application to build a registered non-profit organization. We each brought our different skills and perspectives to the table that when mixed – was the ideal combination for getting things done.
We then decided the best way to start was to plan an event – a happy hour. We invited everyone in our network, reached out for sponsorships, and watched the RSVP numbers on our Eventbrite grow like crazy in the days leading up to the event. One week before the date of our first planned event – we had already hit attendance capacity and had to close registration. That was the moment we knew, without a doubt, that this organization was needed. It all happened so fast. We found ourselves at the first OKWIT event surrounded by 60 other women. It got loud, in a good way. The conversations were flowing, old friends reconnected, and new friendships formed.
There was interest, a need, and with the help of so many that supported our cause, the right
things kept falling into place. So, we moved forward, and within a matter of weeks we officially
had a nonprofit to run and the need to meet the expectations of others. While it was a lot of work and time, it was easy for us because it was built from our hearts. Each of us four women brought a piece to our founding principles:
- Philanthropy: Providing a platform for volunteerism, awarding scholarships, and partnerships with other nonprofits to support and advocate.
- Professional Development: Promoting, advocating, and providing thought leadership for women working in STEM.
- Networking: Offering an expansive network, ranging from students to industry leaders, to create a community where we learn and grow together.
- Sponsorship: Providing the opportunity to companies and individuals who want to make a conscious effort to encourage women to enter a STEM field and to assist in fostering their careers.
- Education: Introducing students in high schools, technical schools, and universities to the different career tracks led by IT professionals, with hands on exposure to STEM related positions.
Since our inception, OKWIT has provided career development to thousands of Oklahomans, brought mentorship programs and education to more than 1600 students, and provided over $20,250 in scholarships to support continuing education. And the best part is, these numbers continue to grow.
None of this could have been possible without the people we met along the way, the organizations that sponsored us when we were just starting out and those who sponsor us today. But most of all, our success has been driven by the OKWIT volunteers who continue to work tirelessly to help grow and expand the organization’s outreach.
Some things we’ve learned along the way:
- There is a continued interest and a need to have these conversations.
- This isn’t just about women, and we openly include everyone at our events.
- Fathers with daughters are some of our biggest advocates.
- There are more people in our corner than we ever could have imagined.
- Starting and running a nonprofit is hard, but it’s worth it.
- When we put our minds together and work towards a common goal – women are unstoppable.
- OKWIT network is strong – women who support other women are powerful friends to have.
- If you’re on the right path and meet even the slightest resistance, stay the course. The resistance is often coming from the very source of why you started the journey.
- Know when to step up and do the work. Also know when to pass the baton and let
- Don’t trust Maggie, Ashlie, and Brandy at a Christmas party – they will pour you double
shots and not tell you. (says Jil)