lea eriksen

Lea Eriksen

The city of Long Beach has been at the forefront when it comes to women and leadership roles in technology — after all, the city is the birthplace of the Wonder Woman tech conference.

But now, new findings strengthen that claim. In its sixth annual study, SmartAsset analyzed 59 of the largest U.S. cities to find the best places for women in tech to work and live, considering metrics ranging from the gender pay gap to tech employment growth, and Long Beach ranks seventh overall.

Even more impressive is the fact that Long Beach is the only city in the 2020 edition of the study where median earnings for female tech workers are higher than those for male tech workers. According to AJ Smith, vice president of the Financial Education Census Bureau for SmartAsset, data shows that women in tech roles in Long Beach earn roughly 102% of what men in tech do, well above the national average of 83%.

Smith also said that the 2019 study showed that female tech workers in Long Beach did even better, earning roughly 115% of what male tech workers did. Smith added that in the five previous editions of their study on the best cities for women in tech, only four cities (Indianapolis, Indiana; Kansas City, Missouri; Detroit and Arlington, Texas) saw higher median earnings for women in tech than men in tech.

The study’s results were interesting, but not surprising, for Lea Eriksen, director of the city's Technology and Innovation Department.

“In a way, it’s exciting that that happens anywhere, so does it surprise me in general, yes, but that it’s in Long Beach, no,” Eriksen said. “Because in Long Beach we are really focused on technology. We are a very diverse and inclusive city. We are the birthplace of the Wonder Woman tech conference. It brings people from all over the world to Long Beach. We have LaserFiche headquartered here in Long Beach and there’s lots of women in leadership there. There’s lots of women in leadership at the city of Long Beach in the technology department so I’m not that surprised.”

Eriksen moved to Long Beach from Cincinnati in 2014 where she worked for the city. She was recruited to come here as a budget manager and was then promoted to assistant finance director. She worked on two of the largest technology projects the city was undertaking — the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) replacement of the human resources and finance payroll system and the new city hall, which has technology built all around.

“When there was a vacancy in the technology department, they picked me to be the interim and fill-in because of my familiarity with those two large projects in a leadership role,” she said. “I fully intended to go back to my budget assistant finance director role; I don’t know technology, I’m just here for a little bit to keep these projects on track.”

But what Eriksen learned was that 15 percent to 20 percent of CIOs come from non-technology backgrounds. The most important skill set is leadership.

“I think I’m known in the city as a people-focused leader,” she said, “and so I was welcomed and embraced by the team that I was leading and I was learning so much and having, actually, fun learning about technology and just enough to ask good questions because the important thing for me was building the team.”

Currently, Eriksen is focusing on digital transformation, a new application for residents to request services and track them, and a partnership with LaserFiche, which last week held its Empower 2020 conference at the convention center.

Employment opportunities for women in the technology sector in Long Beach continue to improve, according to the SmartAsset report. In 2015, there were about 4,500 residents working in tech, but by 2018, there were close to 6,000 — an increase of more than 30%, the fifth-largest percentage growth in employment in the study.

“There are parts of the organization that are male heavy,” Eriksen said, “but in my tenure there, you look at my senior management team and we have myself and five bureau managers and three of the bureau managers are female. Just having women at the top positions is helping inspire women growing within the organization. It’s going to continue to be increasingly diverse and inclusive, so we will have more and more women pulling roles in technology and so I’m really happy Long Beach is leading the way.”

The list is led by Baltimore, then Washington, D.C., Arlington and Chesapeake, both in Virginia and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The full report, including methodology and rankings, can be found at: smartasset.com/checking-account/best-cities-for-women-in-tech-2020.

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