Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you to Women In Technology International (WITI).
Leighton: After starting my career in education, I moved into the technology industry when I founded my company, Criterion Research, 1984. We landed contracts with some amazing companies, such as: HP Labs, Borland, Hughes Aircraft, Raytheon Semiconductor, SLAC. I loved the tech industry. I built relationships with so many talented people from whom I learned volumes.
Many of the women working for our client companies started sharing their frustration that they were continuously losing opportunities for promotions, great projects to men they believed were less qualified, asking me if I thought they should leave and start their own business as I had done.
At the same time I was hearing growing numbers of stories from women in those companies, I was also seeing men dying of heart attacks in their 40’s and 50’s. Not only women were unhappy in their jobs.
These experiences kept me up at night. I kept searching for answers as to why any company would want to lose these amazingly, talented women – well educated, smart, and committed to doing whatever it took to help their employer grow and become successful. And, I thought about all the men who had been conditioned to believe that only they were responsible for supporting their families, taking stressful jobs they did not want or like.
While all of these questions were swirling around in my head, U.S. News & World Report came out with a featured front page story about the glass ceiling for women - stating that while women made up about half of the workforce, the growing number of women moving into Mid Management positions were leaving corporate America to start their own businesses, because they knew they were not going to be promoted into Executive positions.
I read this article, thought about all the stories women were sharing, and felt driven to find a solution – after all, this was not only a loss for women, for the companies, but for our great country – since many of these women had secret clearances, contributing to important science & technology projects.
This is why WITI was started in 1989.
Email was becoming a central communication tool and I felt starting a network which gave women access to a global network for women working in all sides of technology would give them a competitive edge when they were interviewing for new opportunities.
WITI’s central message to companies then and now was: don’t hire or promote women to satisfy compliance requirements, but because you recognize the business value women bring to the table.
Q: Tell us about Women In Technology International: its creation (who created it and why) and its programs, namely the B-STEM Project programs.
Leighton: B~STEM Project was co-founded by David Leighton, president of WITI and Tracie Dean Ponder. This partnership is considered an organic extension of what WITI has dedicated itself to for over 26 years. B~STEM Project is designed to educate young women and girls about the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math in business. Our interdisciplinary approach integrates both STEM and core business competencies into a cohesive learning approach. The program stresses real life scenarios, reinforced through practice, coaching and collaborations with role models across industries. Through our content, programming and rich toolset, we provide a unique experience that combines business, technology and STEM, preparing young girls and women for successful careers.
Q: Can you please expand specifically one two of WITI’s B-STEM Project programs: the Virtual Hackathon and the WITI Girl Power Boot Camp?
Leighton: The "B" in B~STEM Project represents "Business." We understand that STEM in integrated into all aspects of business across industries. The primary goal of the program is to provide an invaluable experience in building a business that utilizes technology to enrich global communities. It explores an array of topics from idea and product development to branding and marketing with leading industry professionals as mentors. We not only focus on hard but soft skills such as leadership, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and the like. Through the WITI Girl Power© Bootcamp, B~STEM Project helps to prepare young girls and women as they transition into higher education and grow in their careers.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top 3 reasons for the low STEM participation worldwide of girls and women in general?
Leighton: We know that it's a complex issue which is why it has remained such a challenge. The lack of resources made available and dedicated to ensuring young girls and women receive the necessary exposure, education and support. This must happen cross-culturally and among all ethnic groups. There is a large population of girls who do not receive the foundational training to ignite a spark of interest. Exposing girls at a young age to subjects like chemistry, computer programming, calculus, and economics will foster interest and help to build their confidence. We must not only dedicate ourselves to short term but long term solutions. There has to be a system in place that continues to nurture and build. The shift will come by encouraging and supporting girls as they become the change we desire to see.
Q: How can we increase the number of girls and women in STEM nationally in the US and internationally as well?
Leighton: The B-STEM Project addresses this gap by creating access to information and opportunities, offering educational programs and promoting higher education. Our online and offline components will allow young girls and women to engage, learn and grow on an on-going basis -- particularly in communities that lack the infrastructure and resources needed to cultivate talent and encourage innovation. Collectively we have the opportunity to increase the number of women entering into the workforce whether in information technology or other industries. Together, we can address the talent gap, increase the pathways for economic empowerment and upward mobility for young women to deliver economic value and great social impact.