This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.

Women make up 59 percent of the American workforce, yet they’re still underrepresented in many fields, including science, technology, engineering and math professions.

While progress has been made in some STEM areas, the Huffington Post reported last year that the percentage of women in tech jobs has actually declined since 1990.

It’s hard to nail down an exact number of women who work in technology-based fields, but to put it in not-so-mathematical terms, as a percentage, it’s not a lot. Big companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are all evidence of this trend.

At Google, women only hold 17 percent of the search engine company’s tech jobs; while at Facebook the number is 15 percent; and at Twitter, females make up just 10 percent of the staffed tech roles.

When 74 percent of middle school girls express interest in STEM, current industry statistics don’t reflect this initial curiosity.

But hope is not lost. They may be harder to come by, but women in tech are out there — and they’re not lurking in the shadows either. In fact, they’re shining their light and expertise in their roles daily, and creating successful pathways to lift other women up along the way.

“I spend most of my free time — if I’m not being a wife and a mother — helping coach and mentor females in the tech business,” said Amy Robertson, vice president of human resources and chief people officer for ChannelAdvisor Corp, a publicly traded software service company for e-commerce. “I feel like I’ve had great role models in my career. They’ve been male and female. But the majority of my role models have been strong women.”

Robertson added, “I believe anything that we can do just to build a stronger fabric of our community with these diverse perspectives is going to be good for our society and our companies, and our talent in general.”

Amy Robertson

Amy Robertson is vice president of human resources and chief people officer for ChannelAdvisor Corp. (Photo Courtesy of Momentum Learning)

Additionally, Robertson sits on the advisory board for Momentum Learning, a female-founded coding school in Durham with a majority female student base.

“I believe in Jessica [Mitsch, Momentum co-founder and CEO] and her leadership and her character,” Robertson said. “We need to amplify talent within our community. I believe that Momentum is providing that service to our community … and [is] providing an alternative learning environment for folks that may not come from your typical technical background and create possibilities.”

DeeDee Lavinder is one such woman in tech with a non-traditional background. As a back-end developer at Spreedly, a payments software start-up in Durham, she worked for years in various industries before “finding her calling.”

“I was really good at math, and I loved puzzles and problem solving, but I was pretty systematically steered away from math and computer science throughout junior high, high school and college,” she said. “[I] took a career assessment test, and software engineer was one of the suggested careers and it really got my attention. I was like, ‘Yeah, I can totally see myself doing that. I would love it.’ ”

Lavinder eventually enrolled in Durham’s first code academy, The Iron Yard, which Momentum Founders Jessica Mitsch and Clinton Dresibach helped launch locally. The Iron Yard closed down at a national level last year, but Momentum is filling the gap for Triangle residents who are interested in learning how to code.

Lavinder, a mother of three, took the course really seriously and “completely organized her family’s lives for three months” so that she could focus on the program. She estimates she spent between 80 and 100 hours per week working on projects and immersing herself in learning.

Samantha Davis, another graduate from the program, enrolled soon after her graduation from UNC Chapel Hill after seeing the success her older brother experienced as a result of the program.

“He got a job right after [it], and he really loved his job and felt really fulfilled,” she said. “That was definitely persuasive.”

Samantha Davis

Samantha Davis is a full-stack developer at Spiffy, a vehicle car wash and detailing services startup. (Photo Courtesy of Momentum Learning)

Davis is a full-stack developer at Spiffy, a vehicle car wash and detailing services startup. She works on all sides of the application and is one of two women on the tech team. Even though Davis was trained as a front-end developer, Spiffy needed her to also do back-end work, so she learned it on the job herself.

It’s work ethic like Lavinder’s and Davis’s that proves the worth of women in tech.

“Gender [is of real] importance in the tech community, because we tend to have to look harder for female tech candidates [than] in other industries,” Robertson pointed out. “You’ve got to create a safe environment for all voices to be heard.”

Lavinder has found such an environment with the Raleigh/Durham chapter of Women Who Code. Women Who Code’s mission is to “envision a world where women are proportionally represented as technical leaders, executives, founders, VCs, board members and software engineers.”

“As a member of Women Who Code, one of the things that I appreciate so much is we have a monthly brunch where women in technology can get together on a really informal basis, and just talk about stuff,” Lavinder said. “I think it can be discouraging if you feel like you’re the only one facing issues related to the challenges of women in tech, and if you are able to find other folks who’ve had similar experiences, that can have a real normalizing effect.”

Women in tech face the usual challenges females in a male-dominated sector encounter, but perhaps experience them at a different level due to the high level of gender disparity in the field. Not having their voices be heard, someone else taking undue credit for ideas, the stigma of taking maternity leave, and pay discrepancies are all things women are cognizant of.

Robertson works to create a culture where things like this don’t happen, and Lavinder and Davis have found professional homes where they feel respected and valued — even though they’re in the gender minority.

Recently, Lavinder participated in Momentum’s “Ladies Explain the Blockchain” event where she spoke about the difference between blockchain and bitcoin. Lavinder’s involvement in the tech community outside of her 9 to 5 job proves that she is committed.

Davis is also committed, saying that she sees herself in tech for years to come.

“There is always more to learn, because things are changing constantly, and you almost have to be learning all the time, just to keep pace,” she said. “So you’re never going to reach a saturation point, there is always something to improve, something to get better at. So, I feel like this is a life career.”

Davis added, “I think women are really important in tech because we just need more perspectives because these days everyone is using software. We’re writing tools that everybody [can use]. I feel like the more perspective, the more background that you have, the better.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.