Missy Reitner-Cameron and Kristen Hazard are business owners who have proven that gender need not stand in the way of women pursuing their dreams.
The founder of (iii) Design, a Web and design studio, Reitner-Cameron worked for other firms in Los Angeles for years before launching her own in San Luis Obispo nearly 12 years ago. The company, which counts PG&E among its biggest clients, has eight employees.
Hazard, founder of Suntoucher Software, which builds Web applications for small- and medium-sized businesses, some for (iii) Design, earned degrees in mechanical engineering and law before discovering her true passion: computer programming. Hazard, who has taught many classes as part of the Women in Code breakout group through Code SLO, a group for code enthusiasts, founded the company in 2009. It has seven employees and is growing, she said.
Both women, whose firms share office space on Santa Barbara Avenue at Railroad Square, believe women in the industry — locally and nationally — are carving out a place for themselves with the help and encouragement of like-minded men and women.
“It’s about having strong female leaders,” Reitner-Cameron said. “That could be a teacher or any kind of mentor to help you to get a grasp on this stuff. The key is how to inspire women and keep them engaged.”
Reitner-Cameron, whose 14-year-old daughter has a keen interest in math, said girls have to be caught early before they lose interest in science, math and technology.
“Those conversations are changing,” she said. “But it takes time. I think schools are focusing on it more. It’s also letting young girls know they can do anything. There have been times people have dismissed me. But I tried really hard to keep the focus on what I’m good at, not what I look like or what my gender is. That doesn’t matter.”
A woman’s success in the industry may rest on her ability to overcome a lack of self-confidence, Hazard said. She believes getting girls involved in tech means letting them know it’s OK to speak up and have a voice.
“There’s this feeling that I’m not as smart as other people, and that I’m not worthy of this,” she said. “Often, if a woman takes a class in a programming language, she won’t put it on her résumé unless she feels like she’s completely mastered it first.”
Still, Hazard said more women are pursuing computer science, even if it hasn’t experienced a huge jump yet.
“Everything is changing in tech, and in general there are more companies in technology, and I believe the representation here is the same as anywhere,” she said.
It’s important, said Reitner-Cameron, for women to “step up and take ownership, even if it’s a male-dominated field.”
“If this excites you, then you should just do it,” she said.