CCI Women Leading in Tech


by Chelsea Schneider

Since the beginnings of the computing era, women like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and recent Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Margaret Hamilton have made significant contributions to the computing field. Yet despite the achievements of these role models, the overall rates of women in technology have historically been underrepresented. Women can often face added challenges while fighting to find their footing in this currently male dominated field. However, one doesn’t have to look back in time to find powerful women who are working to change the game; several can be found without leaving Tallahassee city limits.

Barbara Wescott

When Swellcoin CEO Barbara Wescott first started working at the local business incubator Domi Station, she noticed that there were few women in the ranks. Knowing that women were both wanted and needed in Tallahassee’s newly emerging startup community, she, along with fellow entrepreneur Amy Keys of Hat Rack Studio, started Women Wednesdays. Each Wednesday serves as a time for women across the community to come in for free co-working and weekly panel discussions. This not only allows more women to experience the benefits of Domi’s collaborative environment, but add a diversity that will lead to more success for the startup community. This week’s panel featured a project manager from the Devoe Moore Center, three leading CCI students, and Associate Dean Ebe Randeree. Mrs. Wescott facilitated the panel discussion to showcase the talents of the panelist, but also how “Stand Up Men” like Ebe Randeree are helping to blow the doors wide open to help bridge this diversity gap.

Alissa Ovalle

All accomplished individuals with bright futures and a desire to support other women, the panel members each emphasized the need for allies versus male saviors.  “One of the biggest issues with bridging the diversity gap in tech and in leadership is all the “help” is painting women as helpless people. And that influences how we interact with one another and, especially, how males view us when we’re in those environments. There needs to be a culture change where we view everyone as an individual first – where we look at skills and passion.” said Alissa Ovalle, a senior IT student who has excelled not only personally through numerous hackathons but as a role model for other first generation college students. Following graduation, she plans to return to her birthplace of Haiti to help empower budding technologists.

Associate Dean Ebe Randeree emphasized that as women continue to “lean in” to male dominated industries, it is up to men not only to stand up with their female peers but to listen their needs, “Men are definitely part of the solution – acting as mentors and sponsors, actively recruiting women, paying attention to implicit bias in organizational structure, hiring practices, language, rewards and opportunities.  Basically, listen to women – let them tell you how you can help – don’t make assumptions! ”

“As women continue to “lean in” to male dominated industries, it is up to men not only to stand up with their female peers but to listen their needs.”

Randeree has helped lead the college in its effort to attract and retain more women in computing and other technology based fields. “The Tech program at FSU College of Communication & Information has grown and our female students have also increased; we have gone from 12-18% female in IT to 45% over the last 4 years and the graduating classes from IT is a 50-50 mix every semester.  More companies are reaching out to us to find tech talent, connect with female student groups, and to develop their pipeline.”

FSU Senior Chelsea Schneider

Senior ICT student Chelsea Schneider sees more room for growth at the start of this pipeline. For a decade she has been a member of the Technology Student Association (TSA) first as a student, and now as a mentor. “Young girls believe they can do anything until someone says that they can’t. Organizations like TSA kept me motivated and inspired to continue on a technology path even when I had other people and influencers telling me it wasn’t for me. Being able to give back to this organization that made me the person and leader I am today is what it’s all about. As I grow more successful it’s my responsibility to help create the same types of spaces and opportunities I had access to.”

Schneider is the cofounder of a travel based startup, Driftour, along with Val Rodriguez who is currently a project manager for the Devoe Moore Center. Rodriguez also sees a place for more gender diversity in the entrepreneurship community which faces many of the same challenges, “We’ve come a long way and I’m optimistic about the future of women in entrepreneurship. However, it’s not enough to depend on large institutions to change cultures. We have to work within these companies while simultaneously supporting and empowering all women to create their own initiatives and opportunities.”

FSU Senior Hannah Brock

Hannah Brock is the current president of FSU STARS and sees it as her role to help bring all these goals together through several student led organizations, “CCI plays a crucial role in supporting women in technology and giving them the tools and resources they need to strive and succeed as leaders. Within the 8 organizations under the STARS umbrella, 6 have female leaders. It is the best environment for women to learn and grow; having an advisor/sponsor like Ebe to listen to what we want to accomplish and guide us to accomplish it and then to do go beyond, and not to be afraid to fail is an invaluable support structure. As the STARS president I am able to see each of these women develop in different ways to become effective leaders and grow their organizations into thriving and sustaining organizations.”

During his presentation, Randeree stressed that increasing classroom and workforce diversity isn’t a “zero sum game” adding “just because women win, doesn’t mean men are losing. Everyone benefits.” This panel was more than just a question and answer session or a list of strategies, it was a celebration of the roles that people of all genders can play in supporting one another. Just as Randeree suggested, as long as the tech community of Tallahassee continues to invest in student talent, when men and women jointly stand up and lean in together, everyone wins.

Women Wednesdays occurs every Wednesday with free coworking from 10am-3pm, and a Lean In Lunch & Learn from 11:30am-1pm.  Just bring your laptop or project, and your lunch, and experience the benefits of a collaborative environment. for more info, or visit them on Facebook.