Women & Hi Tech is celebrating Women’s History Month 2021 by reflecting on our organization’s history. As the only Indiana-founded 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on women in STEM in existence for over 20 years, we have had significant impact to date. But when we reflect on the last 3-5 years in particular, we are ecstatic to see the tangible impact achieved by our intentional focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This March, we are celebrating the legacy of our past and the promise of our future with the release of a new Women & Hi Tech logo, in which we hope all women see themselves reflected. From age, race, gender expression, sexual orientation, and all facets of diversity in between, what unites our members is their passion for our mission - to make the landscape of women in STEM equally inclusive to all.
Let’s explore how our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion came to fruition, and the intentional and purposeful steps we have taken in recent years to amplify our mission of inclusion and belonging of all women in STEM in Indiana.
Women & Hi Tech’s 20+ Year History
Twenty-two years ago, Women & Hi Tech was founded by Eli Lilly scientist, Joyce Gustafson, and Indiana University academic, Georgia Miller. The two noticed that there were very few women working in high tech jobs in the Indianapolis STEM community. Manufacturing, telecommunications, agriculture, biotechnology, health care, information technology, and other technical industries, that are today called STEM fields, were still highly male-dominated. So, Joyce, Georgia, their charter members, and female peers decided to do something about it.
Throughout the decades, our mission has included networking and professional development for women currently working in STEM. We have also worked to create opportunities for young girls and women to be exposed and stay connected to science, technology, engineering, and math professionals.
- By 2001, two years after our founding, we awarded our first college scholarship.
- By 2003, we joined the K-12 National E-Mentoring program.
- By 2013, we created the Passport to Hi Tech program with Connor Prairie.
- By 2017, we launched the Ignite Your Superpower event with Indy Women in Tech (IWiT) and Connor Prairie.
In 2017, we also chose to revisit our mission statement and its alignment with our core values. We recast our mission and brand to emphasize the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion of all women in STEM. We began taking action to manifest those values in our organization. As part of these efforts, the organization elected our first African-American president, Angela B. Freeman, to leadership in 2019.
Current State of Women & Hi Tech
Though 2020 was a year of turmoil, uncertainty, and unrest in our country, it was also a year of progress for Women & Hi Tech as we enabled real change toward inclusion in our organization. Last year, we had more diverse representation in our scholarship and award applicants, judges, and recipients than ever before in our organization’s history. In a national culture of inequity, disparity, and disadvantage for women, our organization continued to provide a safe haven for female professionals by elevating our diverse members, colleagues, and peers for recognition of their STEM excellence and community impact.
Given the circumstances, our achievements in 2020 is rather impressive!
- The only in-person event Women & Hi Tech hosted in 2020 was our Special Edition Executive Women's Forum in February, Black History Month. A panel of six diverse female STEM professionals representing each facet of STEM discussed The Disparity of Diversity Amongst Women in STEM and how each of us may use our power of privilege to support and champion diverse women in STEM.
- The Board unanimously approved, organized, financed, and attended a custom, 2-day training and workshop in February 2020, entitled Interrupting Racism For Our Children by Child Advocates of Indiana.
- As a result, we revised and revamped our scholarship applications and judging criteria.
- We also committed to planning a new event to honor and celebrate multicultural diversity in STEM, which will occur in June, 2021
- Our first-ever virtual Executive Women’s Forum was held in April 2020 and focused on Leveraging the Gift of Feedback. This event had over 500 registered attendees from all over the world - record attendance.
- Women & Hi Tech expanded our partnerships with organizations such as the Girls Scouts, Girls Inc, Every GIRL can STEM, the Startup Ladies, and the Indy CIO Network. Women and Hi Tech also established a new partnership with the Indianapolis Professional Association (IPA), a local nonprofit focused on promoting education and economy of African-Americans, by sponsoring book scholarships awarded to 3 African American females pursuing STEM in college.
- Women & Hi Tech also partnered with Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) and donated our full K-12 budget to the IPS Education Equity Fund. This donation bought ~16 Chromebooks for diverse female IPS students who did not have computer technology to enable their remote learning.
- In July of 2020, the current Board of Directors was elected, which is the most diverse Board in our history. Our current board is 33% diverse, such that 5 out of 15 board members are not white females.
- We introduced 2 new programs, our Click Side Chats & the Women & Hi Tech Quarterly Book Club. These virtual events enabled members to stay connected, engaged, and encouraged during stay at home orders and social distancing.
- Women & Hi Tech created, held and/or participated in more community events than ever before, totaling 50 virtual events throughout the year.
- Our signature annual OperationALLTM event was held in October and was designed especially for our male allies.
- Our Virtual Holiday Networking Pajama Party raised $3,000, and 100% of the proceeds were donated to the DaySpring Center.
- We celebrated the 20th Anniversary of our Leading Light Awards and Scholarship Gala by hosting our first-ever virtual gala in October. Over 500 global guests registered, as we awarded over $58,000 of scholarships and grants to 17 women and girls in Indiana and honored 13 outstanding Indiana STEM professionals with our Leading Light Awards.
These accomplishments were made possible because we have taken strategic steps for the past several years to weave the intention of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the fabric of our organization. Well beyond words, we have established our commitment to inclusion through infrastructural policies, processes, and procedures that solidify diversity, equity, and inclusion in the foundational experience of any member or leader of Women & Hi Tech.
Our membership is almost 2000 strong; each member with a unique background, set of skills, and talents to help this organization of peers succeed. Our all-volunteer working Board of Directors is committed to advancing our mission and serving our Indiana STEM community. Though every STEM field is unique, the barriers women face go beyond the technical aspects of any STEM career to unite us in vision and the intention of creating a world where those obstacles no longer exist. As reflected by our new logo, our organization’s focus – today and since its inception – remains focused on the women in STEM, particularly those needing a resource of empowerment and encouragement. Every day we seek to identify and engage a growing number of women, a diverse group of STEM professionals, and leaders from across Indiana to help promote and support our cause.
We are Women & Hi Tech, committed to changing the landscape of women represented in STEM to be equally inclusive to all for over two decades. Won’t you join us and participate in our historical legacy?