A new group for women in technology is seeking to fill the void created late last year when the Research Triangle chapter of Women in Technology International (WITI) was disbanded.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is the first speaker selected to present to the new group, called Women in Information, Science and Engineering (WISE), tonight. It’s part of the N.C. Electronics and Information Technologies Association (NCEITA).
The program began after women dissatisfied with the WITI chapter joined forces with the NCEITA, which had been looking to start such a group for some time.
“From our position, we chose not to do this programming…even though we always had an interest…because another group (WITI) was doing it,” NCEITA President Joan Myers says. “When they chose to disassociate, there was an opportunity in the marketplace, which we took advantage of.”
The two primary objectives of WISE, according to Myers, will be to address the problem of women not entering the field of technology in the first place, and for those who are in the field, to help them establish networking opportunities. Additionally, NCEITA will host six WISE programs throughout the year featuring informative speakers and discussion panels of interest to a diverse group of women.
To be WITI or WISE?
Before the WISE program started, the area’s major outlet for women in technology was the Research Triangle Park chapter of WITI, a national organization based in California with 34 chapters across the country, including Atlanta and a recently established one in Charlotte.
But women on the RTP chapter’s informal board of directors grew dissatisfied with the national organization and wanted something more locally focused and based, according to Kathy Twiddy, a partner in the Raleigh law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton. Twiddy, who also sits on the NCEITA board, had been involved with the RTP chapter of WITI and helped advise the group on different courses of action to take.
“We discussed forming a totally separate group, but with Joan (Myers at NCEITA), we decided to set up a local organization to focus on women,” says Twiddy, co-chair of the steering committee for WISE. “The WITI board resigned from their positions and started the new group (WISE). It was an individual choice, but the whole board came over from WITI.”
The national offices of WITI did not like losing one of its chapters, but there wasn’t much it could to do prevent the loss.
“It’s not something we love to see happen,” Jeanne Feder, executive director of the WITI Professional Association, tells Local Tech Wire. “In RTP, I always felt it wasn’t a match. They felt they wanted to be more locally focused, and other chapters feel better to be part of a national organization, because it really does help to be a part of something larger. Support from nationals was not there before, but it would be now.”
Twiddy, who focuses on legal issues relating to technology, contends that there were communication troubles existed between WITI’s national office and the local chapter all along. She says during the decision to disband, there was some concern from nationals about the return of “confidential documents,” but that the RTP chapter satisfied WITI by completely and legally cutting all ties.
Feder says the primary concern is with women who joined the organization locally under the assumption they are going to be part of something larger.
“Generally, WITI owns the database of women who joined the national organization,” she says. “Then it’s upsetting if they didn’t hear from us.”
While the issue seems to be settled, and the WISE program ready for launch, WITI has not lost all hope.
“If we felt the need for it, we would go and find someone to run that chapter,” Feder says. “I’d love to have a chapter in RTP.”
Perdue ‘a natural fit’
The first program is at the School of Textiles Atrium on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, where Perdue, North Carolina’s highest-ranking female elected official, will be the keynote speaker.
“It is very timely that the state is facing a lot of critical issues as we evolve to a knowledge-based economy,” Myers says about the choice of Perdue. “She is an outstanding statewide leader who is talking about technology and timely issues critical to everybody. It seemed a natural fit.”
Likewise, Perdue is happy about the opportunity to work with the WISE program, which already has some 80 women registered, in advancing its goals.
“I am excited to see NCEITA make this effort to encourage women to embrace the information technology field that is so critical to North Carolina’s economy,” Perdue said in a statement. “It is imperative we develop and enhance industry leadership to make our state more competitive in the new economy.”