Anyone who has been a part of Oklahoma Women in Technology (OKWIT) knows it as an organization that lives its mission.
OKWIT was founded in 2016 by Brandy Semore, Jilian Doll, Maggie Durguner, and Ashlie Cornelius. These four founders were also co-workers who spent a serendipitous happy hour discovering that they all shared similar experiences of feeling dismissed or overlooked in their field because of their gender.
Their discussion led to the founding of OKWIT. The idea was to create a space where other women in IT and tech-related fields could get together to collaborate and network with each other. “We thought, surely, there must be other women out there who feel like this,” says Brandy, former President and current Advisory Board member of OKWIT. “We just needed a way to find them.”
Within 24 hours of coming up with the idea, the organization had a website and the founders had started the process of applying for nonprofit status. Within one week, OKWIT’s first event was scheduled.
The event was scheduled at a venue in Oklahoma City that had a capacity of 60 people. The founders were excited about their first event, but quickly became disheartened when they realized only a handful of people had registered.
Worried that the event would be a huge flop and concerned the organization would be over as quickly as it had started, the founders proceeded anyway. “We figured we could still meet a few women who felt as strongly about our mission as we did. If nothing else, at least we would know that we had tried to make a difference,” says Brandy.
As it turns out, there was a huge need for OKWIT. A few days prior to the event, it had reached full capacity. After the event, the founders were approached by women eager to volunteer and help spread the word about OKWIT.
Within three months, there was a board of directors, committees, volunteers, members, and corporate donors. The organization had spread from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, providing opportunities to reach women across the state of Oklahoma.
Clearly, there was a hunger for an organization that would help women connect with each other to discuss challenges, offer advice, and learn how to lead in tech-related fields throughout Oklahoma. As the organization grew, it gained an advisory board and leadership in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Over the last four years, OKWIT has found innovative ways to actively engage its members and achieve its four core objectives.
1. Reach young women ages 13 – 18
It’s critical to reach girls when they are in middle school and high school and introduce them to opportunities within STEM fields. OKWIT achieves this goal by hosting spring and fall retreats in Oklahoma City and Tulsa for girls ages 13 – 18. The retreats include networking, keynote speakers, and hands-on STEM activities.
2. Help girls pursue a STEM-related academic program post-high school
OKWIT has a robust scholarship program that offers scholarships to women entering an undergraduate or graduate college program in a STEM field. Scholarship recipients receive a monetary award along with OKWIT membership, so they can attend all events to meet and learn from others in their field as they pursue their studies.
3. Mentor women to find and navigate careers in tech-related fields
Women leave tech-related jobs 45 percent more frequently than men because they lack a clear career trajectory or don’t think they have opportunities for career growth. OKWIT believes that mentorship should be available to all women and strives to help women at all stages of their careers learn the best ways to land jobs in tech-related fields and excel once they get there. OKWIT’s mentorship circles give women an opportunity to talk to other women in tech fields and learn from industry leaders.
4. Help women reach leadership positions within their organizations
When women hold leadership positions, they have significant opportunities to create change. OKWIT is dedicated to helping women reach these positions through monthly events. These include networking events, collaboration events, and professional luncheons.
OKWIT continues to actively fulfill its mission through networking, mentorship, and education. It has an engaged member base, an active executive board, and a supportive advisory board that all share the common goal of bridging the gender gap in STEM fields throughout Oklahoma.