In today’s Brands for Good feature we zoom in on Gloria Bell, Marketing and Events Manager for WITS (Women in Tech Summit) and TechGirlz, to talk about their remarkable work to engage women and girls in technology opportunities and careers. Let’s get started!

How did WITS get started, what’s the story?

In 2011, several women who were active in the tech and entrepreneur community in the Philadelphia area were having discussions about women in tech. We were observing the small number of women attending technical conferences, as well as the lack of events that brought together women working in technical roles with the women working in more business-related roles such as project management, sales, marketing, HR, etc… We knew from our own networks that there were a lot of women working in tech in the area who were not attending area events. So, we decided to hold a one-day conference to bring together some of these women. We hoped for around 50 attendees and we had 125 women that attended the first summit in 2012.

How have you seen WITS grow and evolve since it launched?

We started WITS with the intent of holding a one-day, one-time summit to bring together women in tech in the Philadelphia area. By the end of the first summit, everyone was raving about the event and asking the (volunteer!) organizing committee when the next event would be held. From that simple beginning, it grew to an annual event in Philadelphia. By our 4th year, we had grown to 300 attendees, created a programming framework of speakers and panels in three tracks (Innovate Yourself, Trends in Technology, and Hands-on Workshops), and solidified our partnership as a fundraiser for the non-profit TechGirlz. That same year, our keynote speaker, Kelly Hoey, told us we were doing something completely different than other tech and/or women’s conferences and we needed to “take our show on the road.” Despite being an all-volunteer organization, we took Kelly’s advice. Now, finishing up our 8th year and heading into our 9th, we are holding five multi-day regional summits across the country, have full-time staff, and have been acquired by Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s non-profit division.

What’s surprised you as you’ve watched this movement take place?

The strong, positive community response is always a pleasant surprise. We know there is a need for this type of conference, but we still get a thrill each time a ticket is sold, a sponsorship is booked, or a speaker agrees to be a part of the summits. The growth has been a direct result of consistency and community building. Our programming has a three-pronged focus – educating, inspiring, and connecting – that is grounded in actionable skills, positive, forward-looking content and sufficient opportunities for our attendees to network with each other. Even knowing that the success has been a direct result of a lot of hard work, we still get pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response and the growth. We have also learned a lot of lessons, many of which have been surprises, along the way. From what motivates sponsors, to what drive ticket sales, to what topics and speakers most resonate, each summit is a learning experience.

Can you share a few stats or stories about the impact you’re seeing in the WITS community?

In 8 years, we have held 22 summits, with ~6000 attendees, 440 sessions, and 647 speakers. Our attendees come from a wide range of technical and non-technical positions in tech and at every level of their careers, from students to CEOs.  WITS attendees are divided 50% in technical and 50% in non-technical roles.

We have heard from attendees who found new positions, gained the confidence to ask for raises, discovered new fields that they wanted to enter, found the courage to join a coding bootcamp, developed mentoring relationships, and even start their own companies. We are consistently told that WITS is the “best curated conference” that many of our attendees have attended.

How can people get involved or support?

Attend, sponsor, apply to speak or help us spread the word!