Women seeking tech careers have more support in Richmond now thanks to Rita Hill, founder of a local organization that helps women seeking high-paying jobs.
Hill started Girl Develop It RVA, a local chapter of the national organization, with her co-founder, Sarah Hartless. Richmond is one of 63 cities that host a local chapter of the national organization, which has grown to represent over 100,000 women since its 2010 founding in New York.
The chapters support women with classes in programming, including front-end and back-end website development. The goal is to foster confidence and build a community while relaying valuable skills, and to build a strong foundation for women to accomplish their personal goals using technology.
Statistics show that the majority of tech jobs are held by men. However, with the rapid growth of the industry, the number of jobs available is also on the rise. While this should make more opportunities for women, they still face multiple barriers that limit their participation.
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, white-collar jobs working with computers offer some of the highest salaries available, but accessibility to training and education lags behind. Additionally, women already employed in the technology sector are leaving at staggering rates, so companies are failing to keep diverse talent that’s already in the job pool.
When Hill returned to Richmond from Los Angeles to start the chapter, she said she was impressed by the groups already operating here, mentioning Women Who Code and the programs offered by the Richmond Technology Council, which rebranded as rva tech, but felt there were still gaps her programs could fill.
“I noticed that there still quite wasn’t something that could get women who weren’t already in the industry a way in,” she said, praising the groups for their work. “Women who code are definitely a great organization and we’re not in competition with them in any way, shape or form. But their focus is on women who are actually experiencing the industry, meeting other women and coordinating with that.”
Hill said some of the problems in the tech world are financial, noting the high cost-of-entry for traditional education in the computer services. “The cost of degrees keeps getting higher and higher but not everyone qualifies for financial support,” she said. “That’s where we come in and it’s one of our biggest reasons for offering low [priced] classes.”
Other obstacles include sexist stereotypes, she said, such as the notion that women aren’t able to program, or that they’ll be “intimidated by men.” On top of stereotypes, they also face sexual harassment at workplaces, and many women in tech report that they never feel treated as equals, regardless of educational level or work experience.
“That’s where we come in, offering a judgment-free environment with no preconceived notions of anyone,” Hill said. She said they “give women that safe space to where they can explore the development and not have to worry about those kind of ideas.”
For women seeking to find a place in the field, Girl Develop It also has members who already work in the industry, who can offer mentorship, guidance, and even just a friendly ear.
Girl Develop It RVA is launching their local chapter tonight at The Broad, a woman-only co-working space at 209 N. Foushee St, at 6:30 p.m. Hill and Hartless will answer questions, conduct a meet-and-greet, and onboard new members. The inaugural Richmond classes are planned for later this month.
For more information about Girl Develop It RVA, visit their website or follow them on Twitter at @gdirva.