Yesterday we announced that Ignite TAO is presenting 11 tech talks at an event later this month. Some of you noticed that of the 11 speakers, only two are women. As one StartupBend reader and growth strategist/public speaker Kristin Luck put it in a tweet, that’s “not awesome.”

Nope, it’s not, and the lack of gender diversity in startups and tech remains a significant issue for our community to continue to discuss and address. But before we do, I think it’s important to point out that the Technology Association of Oregon and TAO’s Central Oregon Coordinator Teri Hockett are not only keenly aware of tech’s diversity problem—they’re some of the people working hardest here to tackle it.

Teri is a driving force behind TAO STEAM, a group that launched a few months ago with the specific mission of creating a gender balance in STEAM careers. Their first meeting in June attracted more than a hundred people, and the group’s momentum has been nothing short of inspiring. In fact, the two women speaking at Ignite TAO—Zilaida Salgueiro and Kerri Fry—are founding members of TAO STEAM.

The TAO STEAM founding members at the group’s launch party in June.

“We cast a wide net looking for women speakers for Ignite,” Teri says. “As a woman who has worked in tech, and specifically on this issue of gender balance for decades, there are many reasons why equal representation continues to be a challenge—even when you’re trying hard to solve it.”

In the big picture, the issue entails everything from institutionally sexist workplace cultures to historic biases regarding women and STEM careers to the lack of confidence our girls have in their math and science capabilities. The result: The number of women in tech remains relatively tiny. You can see it when you attend tech events. You can see it in the few number of women execs at tech companies, the limited number of women startup founders, and the declining percentage of women earning STEM degrees.

But groups like TAO STEAM don’t want to see this anymore. And they’re asking what can we do right here in Central Oregon to bring more women into tech and support the ones that are there. While the problem can seem overwhelming for sure, there is good news: We can move the needle every single day. Women and men. It starts with getting informed and then getting involved.

Which brings us back to Ignite TAO. I would hope that people don’t dismiss Ignite because there’s only two women on stage. Instead go to Ignite, cheer loudly for all the speakers and show your support for the awesome women who are there. Then next year, help Teri and TAO spread the word to even more women. Also go to TAO STEAM events, sign up for their newsletter and suggest speakers for their speakers library.

We not only need to build a bigger pool of tech and STEAM women in our community, but we also want to make sure that the women already here feel empowered and welcomed to jump on in too.

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley