QUINCY -- Women are entering the technology industry in ever increasing numbers.
According to a recent nationwide study commissioned by Economic Leadership LLC, more than 33% of employees in the technology industry in Illinois are women.
This is a significant change from the mid-1990s when a similar study said fewer than 5% of employees in the industry in Illinois were women.
It is a change that Quincy businesswomen Darlene Scheuermann, LeeAnn Homberger, Lisa Novinger and Michelle Schuckman have all seen unfold around them.
Scheuermann said she remembers walking in to a technology-related conference in 1994 and being one of only two women there.
"That was back when the internet was first starting, and no one really knew what it was or what it would become," Scheuermann said. She said she recently returned from a similar conference and was "pleasantly surprised" to see the gender difference had evolved.
"It was nearly 50% women," she said. She now works as director of business development at Adams Fiber after previously being director of internet operations. "It was kind of nice to no longer feel like a minority in the room anymore."
Novinger, who works as a web designer at Vervocity Interactive, said she first noticed the gender difference when she was the only female student in a computer graphics course at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.
The four women, who all work in occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as being in the technology industry, say they are not surprised to see that the percentage of women in the industry is growing.
"I think there is definitely a place for women in every workplace," Schuckman said. She works at Vervocity Interactive as a digital media specialist.
Scheuermann added: "In our interactions with our clients, I really feel like 99% of them are more interested in what we can do for them as a business and what solutions, what knowledge, we can offer rather than if we are male or female. I really think that Quincy as an environment has an openness to it that any person is judged by what knowledge and skills you bring to the table rather than the demographics you represent."
According to the study, the national average for women in the tech industry is 31.5%.
Homberger pointed to examples of women leading Fortune 500 companies -- Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO, and Marissa Meyer, the former CEO of Yahoo -- as evidence of how women are shattering glass ceilings in the industry.
"You see a lot more women coming to light," said Homberger, a business sales executive at Adams Fiber.
Her colleague, Scheuermann, agreed that more women likely will be leading tech companies in the near future.
"Glass ceilings are being shattered, and women don't feel inferior in this industry," Scheuermann said. "I think educational opportunities and the atmosphere in the workplace have come a long way."
All four women said their educations at Unity High School, Quincy Notre Dame High School, Highland High School and Hannibal High School prepared them for jobs that didn't necessarily exist when they graduated.
Schuckman said, "I didn't even know that social media would be a thing (when I graduated from high school). Getting out of high school, the internet was a brand new thing. It was on the cusp of being developed. Not a lot of people had websites. When I was in high school, I had no clue there would be a platform where you could have entire conversations online. The idea that you would be able to reach advertisers was completely out of my grasp."
The women also said their lack of degrees in computer engineering or computer programming has not held them back. Three out of the four -- Scheuermann, Homberger and Novinger -- graduated with marketing degrees. Schuckman has a degree in graphic design.
They all offered similar advice to the next generation of technology gurus, often referred to as "cradle techs" because they have grown up since birth with technology interwoven with much of their daily life.
Scheuermann said, "Don't be intimidated. Try everything. Take every opportunity to learn new things."
The women said they also agree with the study's analysis that the Midwest is poised to be the nation's next technology hub.
According to the study, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa are all poised to have between 5% to 9.5% growth in technology sector employment over the next five years.
Some of that growth will be in occupations described by Schuckman as jobs in the "ecosystem of the technology industry."
"I think technology embraces so many facets today," she said. Those jobs include financial analysts, industrial engineers, software developers, computer network specialists, computer programmers, management analysts, market research analysts and marketing specialists.