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Philly-area’s TechGirlz acquired in deal to build a bigger pipeline of women wanting tech careers

TechGirlz plans to remain headquartered in the Philadelphia area, but will have a broader reach as a result of its acquisition by Illinois-based Creating IT Futures.

Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, which aims to bring technology education to middle school girls in order to inspire their career choices.
Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, which aims to bring technology education to middle school girls in order to inspire their career choices.Read moreMARGO REED / Staff Photographer

This story has been updated to include a link to a report, 2019 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, released March 8 by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

TechGirlz, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit founded nearly 10 years ago to ignite a passion for technology among middle school girls, is being acquired by an Illinois-based nonprofit in a deal designed to create a more reliable pipeline of IT workers nationwide.

Acquirer Creating IT Futures, which helps prepare adults underrepresented in the tech field for such careers, is no stranger to TechGirlz. It has been one of its funders for five years, and TechGirlz founder Tracey Welson-Rossman has served on its board for the last three years.

“We felt together our combined efforts would increase both of our goals and support both of our missions," Charles Eaton, CEO of Creating IT Futures, said in an interview.

TechGirlz’s free workshops got off to a popular start around Philadelphia and have now engaged 15,000 girls in 14 states. They will operate as a program under Creating IT Futures, but TechGirlz will remain headquartered here.

“The brand and logo stay the same. Our website will also be separate,” said Welson-Rossman, who is also chief marketing officer at Fort Washington software developer Chariot Solutions, where TechGirlz is housed.

Eaton said that while nonprofit consolidation is sometimes a sign of trouble, usually with the acquired entity, that is not the case with TechGirlz, which has an annual budget of $200,000 and six employees. With a budget of $6.25 million and a staff of 25, Creating IT Futures, founded in 1998 by trade group Computing Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA, can help extend TechGirlz’s reach among a demographic Eaton’s agency wanted to get involved with, he said.

“TechGirlz is doing great,” Eaton said, adding that the goal now is to “accelerate their growth and accelerate their impact.”

Applauding that aspiration is Ellen Weber, someone who knows what it feels like to be a relative rarity: a female investor. She is executive director of Robin Hood Ventures and also heads Temple University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute.

“If we don’t have women following tech careers ... we are really going to fall behind" as an economy, Weber said. “I think it’s one of the best ways to narrow the wage gap, narrow the skills gap. It’s tech, baby!”

The combination of TechGirlz and Creating IT Futures underscores both the expected growing need for IT workers and a continuing shortage of women in such jobs, Welson-Rossman said.

“The lack of available tech talent and the proven competitive advantage of a diverse workforce has created a unique opportunity to build a path for more young girls to pursue a career in technology,” Welson-Rossman said. “By ensuring these women have a critical part to play in America’s technology industry, we can also help them secure greater economic and social influence.”

TechGirlz has yet to do a long-term assessment to find out how many of the 15,000 girls who participated in its workshops currently have a tech job or are pursuing a computer science degree.

“We have conducted exit surveys from our workshops and with recent alums over the last several years. The results have been very encouraging — over 90 percent intend to continue pursuing tech education or careers,” Welson-Rossman. She hopes the partnership with Creating IT Futures will help find out how effective the workshops are in ensuring that participants eventually end up in the tech workforce.

A report issued this month by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics shows that although the number of women receiving a college degree in computer sciences increased between 1997 and 2016 — women are making up a smaller percentage of bachelor’s and doctorate recipients.

According to the NCSES’s 2019 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 18.7 percent (or just over 12,000) of the bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences in 2016 went to women, down from 27.2 percent in 1997, when nearly 7,000 women earned the degree. Of the doctorate recipients, 20.1 percent were women in 2016, up from 15.9 percent in 1997 but down from 21.7 percent in 2006.

Senior analyst Karen S. Hamrick said in an email about the report, released in full on March 8 and available here: “The computer sciences story is a dramatic finding.”

Creating IT Futures was originally intended to serve as CompTIA’s foundation arm, said Eaton, who was hired eight years ago to make a change. He transitioned the agency into one whose mission was to help prepare nontraditional populations in the IT workforce — low-income individuals, minorities, women, and military veterans — for tech careers through its IT-Ready program.

The last three years brought an additional focus — “what can we do with kids?” to help build interest in IT that carries through to an ultimate career in it, Eaton said.

Through association with TechGirlz, he said, “we did recognize middle school is that moment where we have to capture their attention."

That’s where TechGirlz captured Dhivya Arasappan’s.

Now 17 and a junior at Conestoga High School, she was in eighth grade when her mother signed her up for a TechGirlz class on designing mobile apps at the Tredyffrin Public Library. It dispelled what Arasappan said is a common misconception among young girls: “That technology is only coding.”

For Welson-Rossman, TechGirlz’s founder, the acquisition by Creating IT Futures will free her of some administrative work, but “it doesn’t mean we’re home free from the fund-raising,” including TechGirlz’s ongoing $1 million capital campaign through 2020.

Also, volunteers that help with workshops will remain critical, she said, expressing gratitude for the region’s support.

“This is a community that believed early on that diversity in tech was important and they put their time and dollars where their thoughts were,” Welson-Rossman said. “I think that’s really, really important to understand. We don’t always get from a Philadelphia standpoint around technology there’s a great community here.”