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Thriving on Technology

Thriving on Technology

Careers in technology offer a wide range of opportunities for women to thrive and lead, despite stereotypes.

The following article, Fox Cities Tech: Where Women Can Lean In, was written by Alison Dirr and published on May 25, 2017 in the Post-Crescent. 

Fox Cities Tech: Where Women Can Lean In

Even as technology plays an increasingly important role in Fox Cities businesses, there are certain elements of Silicon Valley that locals are happy to leave on the West Coast.

For one, the area's tech industry won't be making headlines for its hostility toward women. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

"I think the companies locally are very eager to hire women – when they have women apply for those jobs," said Michelle Schuler, founder and president of Women in Technology Wisconsin, a group whose goal is to "attract, grow and retain women of all ages in technology-related careers."

The problem is often getting women to apply for jobs, especially high-level management positions in information technology, said Schuler, who is also the director of business development at Excelion Partners in Neenah. Even so, there are some very prominent women in technology in Northeast Wisconsin, she said.

It's important to open women's eyes to the job opportunities available to them in this field and remove the stereotypes of tech jobs, she said. It's not just someone sitting alone in a room with a computer, but rather positions that are much more collaborative and offer a lot of leadership opportunities.

"I don't think that the male-to-female ratio here in the Fox Cities is atypical of that which you find in the technology sector across the country, but I know a lot of people here are really looking to change that and make the technology industry more accessible to women," said Beth Pritzl, director of research and technology at the Fox Cities Regional Partnership.

When it comes to opportunities – for everyone – there's more to Fox Cities tech than meets the eye.

Technology is becoming more pervasive throughout all of the industries here, Pritzl said. Some larger firms are starting to see themselves foremost as tech companies, while smaller boutique tech firms are developing apps, software and games, she said.

And, she noted that in late April, a couple West Coast startups were looking into the Fox Cities as a possible location. Employers are able to pay lower salaries here than on the coast, while employees enjoy a lower cost of living and higher quality of life, she said.

It's increasingly important to have workers with technology backgrounds in the area to keep every sector of industry growing, Pritzl said. On any given day in the Fox Cities, there are about 100 to 200 information technology jobs waiting to be filled, she said.

The fields of manufacturing and agriculture, too, offer opportunities for tech jobs in the area, said Steven Straub, dean of manufacturing and agriculture technologies at Fox Valley Technical College.

In manufacturing, those jobs including automating production of products. Fox Valley Tech offers degree and diploma programs, but industrial employers also send their employees to boost their skills, he said.

And technology is changing the agriculture landscape, too.

"In agriculture, again, technologies are rapidly changing the way farming is done both from an agronomy perspective, the use of global positioning systems in tractors and agriculture equipment," including the planting and harvesting equipment, Straub said.

Tractors are self-steering and running off the guidance systems from GPS. The fertilizing and irrigation systems and planters take into account information about the different soil types to optimize the amount of fertilizer and seed used for the soil conditions, he said.

There are also quite a few dairy farmers in the area using robotic milking systems, he said.

"There are still a ton of jobs in agriculture, but the jobs are a little more sophisticated because they need to understand these technologies," Straub said.

There are efforts locally to encourage girls who might be interested in the tech field and women who work in the industry. From a very young age, it's important to prevent girls from getting discouraged when it comes to science and engineering – and to help them see themselves in these jobs.

"If you ask some typical third-graders yet, you are still going to have some of that divide of traditional-type careers that they're already thinking of," said Mary Hansen, director of K-12 partnerships at Fox Valley Tech. "It's at the middle school level planting that seed very early about ... what is a career in IT or in manufacturing and what are the opportunities for any middle school age student, but specifically to encourage young ladies to think outside the box and go a non-traditional route because they can have success in those careers just as much as their male counterparts. And they can have fun doing it."

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