Shanta Nathwani moved to Hamilton six months ago and went looking to connect with women of her kind: technology specialists.
But the independent IT consultant hit a roadblock.
"When I came to Hamilton, I went looking for the women in tech groups and went to places like Software Hamilton, and they said, 'We can't find them either,'" she said.
Nathwani had been involved in women in technology groups in Toronto, and knew of one in Waterloo, but found nothing in between so she decided to start her own.
Women in Technology Hamilton, or WITH, launches with the first meeting Thursday night. The group will be a space where women in traditionally male-dominated professional fields can connect and plan events to engage others in Hamilton's technology sector.
"From the list [of attendees] I've seen, there are a number of names I've never heard of," Nathwani said. "This will start up and draw out the community."
Kenvin Browne of Software Hamilton said the tech community in the city is small to begin with, and the number of women involved is even fewer.
"I always try to bring female speakers to our events," he said. "But they are hard to find."
And this shows in the stats. Statistics Canada found that in 2009 only 3.3 per cent of working Canadian women were employed in the natural science, engineering and mathematics sectors.
In Hamilton, enrollment numbers for McMaster's graduate computing and software engineering graduate program in 2010 were 23 females versus 89 males. The computer engineering program in the same year had 140 females versus 143 males.
From Nathwani's experience as a student in Ryerson University's Information Technology Management program, the problem exists in attracting young women to technology-based education and retaining them in post-secondary programs.
"We need to encourage high school and university students to stay in science and technology programs," she said. "They don't see it as something girls do, that it's not creative enough."
Nathwani said she knows of many companies who are willing and looking to hire women in technology roles, but they can't find any.
Christopher Blackwood, associate dean of building and construction sciences at Mohawk College, agrees. He said young women who attend events for prospective students shy away from technology and engineering programs. They don't think they can make a career out of it, he said.
"The opportunity for women in engineering or any field exists," Blackwood said. "It's a matter of someone keeping their interest because they get to high school and it's not cool to enjoy the sciences."
Blackwood said the more educators can do to keep girls' interest in subjects like physics and chemistry through high school, the more young women would continue their interest through to their profession.
Nathwani has several long-term goals going into her first meeting Thursday, one of them being outreach to girls and young women. She also hopes to hold Technology 101 for women to learn basic skills and boot camp sessions for females looking to break into the tech sector.
WITH's first meeting begins at 6:30 p.m Thursday at the Baltimore House.