Two years after Cornell Tech and The City University of New York established a program to bring more women into tech companies in New York, the number of female CUNY students who declared computer science as their major has risen by 27%.
The program, called WiTNY: Women in Technology New York, is a public-private partnership that trains students and helps them gain access to over 100 tech companies who are looking to diversify their workforce.
“If the participation of women in tech continues at the current rate, by 2026, we will only be graduating 17% of the needed tech workforce in this country,” said Amy Furman, director of strategic planning and operations at WiTNY.
The New York City tech industry launched more than 10,000 startups between 2008 and 2018—a 311% increase—according to The Center for an Urban Future. Job growth in artificial intelligence, cyber security, robotics, and data analytics has now put The Big Apple on equal footing with Silicon Valley.
But according to the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the tech industry nationwide is predominantly male (74%) and White (69%). Contributions from women and people of color aren’t being included—so the industry risks creating products and services that fail to address the needs of all Americans.
“We specifically innovate new programs based on the needs of the students that attend CUNY,” said Judith Spitz, WiTNY’s founding program director.
Those new programs include the Summer Guild, where students spend one week developing an app and then pitch their solution to peers and professionals while gaining skills and insights into how digital products are launched.
Another is WiTNY’s Winternship Program, a paid, three-week mini-internship offered during the January academic recess, where more than 80 companies have hosted roughly 700 students in the last two years.
Verizon, which is a program partner, sees CUNY students as a source of input and feedback for its future products and services. “We meet new talent and get great ideas, and the students get exposure to our leaders and our tech,” said Martha Delehanty, Verizon’s senior vice president of HR global operations.
Rina Schiller, a student at CUNY’s Hunter College, said she felt intimidated by the challenge of learning how to code. “I thought that it was something you were born good at—something meant mostly for men.”
She joined the WiTNY program and landed an internship at AOL. After graduating from Hunter, she worked as a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase, and is now earning a master’s degree in computer science at Cornell Tech.
Schiller said after she graduates, she’d like to work as a software engineer in journalism or politics. “I plan to stay involved with groups like WiTNY, Lesbians Who Tech, Out in Tech and other groups that foster a more diverse and inclusive environment in technology.”