Library Stacks Up Opportunities: Executive Director Supports Women Tech Leaders
When Rebecca Stavick moved from a very small town in South Dakota to Omaha in 2010, she didn’t know a soul.
She also didn’t have a job, but Stavick did have a bachelor’s degree in history and was working on her masters in library and information science virtually from San Jose State.
So she got a job at the local library.
“My first job was shelving books,” says Stavick, who is now executive director of Do Space, an innovative series of free programming that recently selected three Women Innovators Fellows who will develop projects that will address local challenges facing women in technology and tech entrepreneurship.
“I got promoted and ended up in administration developing staff and leadership programs in 2013,” Stavick says. The next year she took over Do Space and it was launched in 2015.
Now with a staff of 23 and a space open 90 hours a week offering up to 60 programs every month for pre-schoolers, youth, teens, professionals and seniors, Stavick says Do Space has hands-on workshops on 3D printing, laser cutting, software, coding, gaming, engineering and much more.
“There is a digital divide,” Stavick says. “We need a tech center that is free and open to everybody. So I built all the programs and operations.”
Do Space has a free membership of 68,000 and there are 400 visitors a day in the 28,000 square foot building that was once a Borders Bookstore.
“We haven’t yet found an organization like us,” Stavick says of the nonprofit.
Indeed while there are nonprofits across the country contributing myriad types of programs and services, there is a wide leadership gap for women in nonprofits.
Take The Lead reports, “According to the GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report, in 2012, nationally female CEOs made 11 percent less than their male counterparts at nonprofits with budgets of $250,000 or less. Female CEOs and women leaders at nonprofits with budgets between $25 and $50 million made 23 percent less. And women leaders led only 17 percent of nonprofits with budgets of more than $50 million.”
Stavick says she runs Do Space like a tech startup, but with the culture of a library.
“The value of a library is free and equal access to a space that makes sense for kids and older folks. Lots of people have tech anxiety,” she says, and programs address anxieties with skills workshops.
“Several Do Space members start their own companies,” Stavick says.
The success is due to the formula of access, learning experiences plus having 200 kinds of free software available and a volunteer mentorship program.
“We can get you an expert to help you for free,” Stavick says.
The three women who are awarded the 2019 fellowship receive $10,000 and are coached over six months to create tech solutions to help schools, libraries and educational nonprofits.
The 2019 fellows chosen from 38 applications are Carina Glover, who will develop a mobile application, HerHeadquarters, exclusively for women entrepreneurs that allows them to easily find and secure collaborations with fellow women entrepreneurs across a variety of industries, including tech, fashion, and entertainment. The app will launch in the Omaha, Los Angeles and New York City markets, connecting local women to the allies they need to build their empires faster.
Fellowship awardee April Goettle will create a resource website, Remote.Her, that promotes remote, flexible tech work to women in Omaha and the surrounding rural areas as well as to rural Midwest employers considering their first remote hire. The site will feature a job board plus targeted content for employers and women technologists.
Fellow Bianca Zongrone Jefferson will conduct a research study centered around 40 flagship interviews, exploring why local women choose to stay in or leave a tech major. In 1984, 37 percent of computer science majors were women. That percentage fell to 18 percent by 2014. Practical retention recommendations will be delivered to local universities, creating value for Omaha employers seeking diverse tech talent.
“I think this will help a lot of women because there are not a lot of women in tech in Omaha,“ Stavick says.
“The goal over the course of the fellowship is to have them each impact at least 50 local women.” Stavick says. “The goal is to create more women in tech leadership here,” she says.“Omaha needs that investment.”
A frustration Stavick has is that the non-profit she has created is having as large an impact as a tech startup, yet not receiving the same kind of attention because it is a nonprofit. Attention and funding create another gap in nonprofit leadership.
As reported in Take The Lead, “Ironically, according to research by The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, the gender pay gap is even greater in the nonprofit sector. Yes, the same sector which works tirelessly toward ending injustices, breaking down barriers and fighting for equality. The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management’s 74% Project has found that a woman working for a nonprofit is making even less than the national average, at only 75 cents on the dollar.”
Take The Lead reports, “Gender inequality is still a significant challenge throughout the country. As Lyndsey Hrabik recently wrote in Nonprofit Hub, the vast majority of workers and volunteers are women—75 percent as of 2011. But in top positions, the numbers are much lower as only 45 percent of women held top positions at nonprofit organizations. Almost half would be a great number, if the gender ratio in the industry were equal.”
Stavick says the stereotypes about nonprofits are as pervasive as the stereotypes about librarians.
“The stereotype is that we’re all sweet old ladies with glasses and buns who read all day,” Stavick says.
“Librarians are radical folks. We are large privacy advocates and we work to protect freedom of thought and freedom of information. We are at the forefront of information activism.” Stavick says.
“I don’t think you can have a democracy without libraries.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com