ANGORA- Few sectors of the U.S. economy are more gender segregated than technology, where women represent barely a quarter of the workforce and a similar proportion of management.
But there’s a thriving tech-savvy marketing company tucked away in a little corner of the forest west of Angora that’s turning those numbers upside down and proving that technology is not the job of tomorrow but a career for today for women with the drive and ability to succeed.
Tom and Pat Chapman founded Art Unlimited in 1982 as a print-oriented marketing company, but today their daughters, Chief Executive Officer Anna Anderson and Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Chapman, lead a high-tech digital marketing operation with nearly 40 team members, two-thirds of whom are women. On the development team, the group tasked with creating the coding, design, search engine optimization components and more for their clients’ internet footprints, the mix is about 50-50.
When Tom determined the company needed to get into the digital realm in the 1990s, Anderson eagerly dove into the realm of coding, basically learning by doing it.
“There really weren’t any coding classes at that time,” she said.
But there were coders who would teach and mentor, including Rick Pearson of Eagle One Productions.
“I got this local fellow to teach me coding,” Anderson said. “Dad would drive us over to Lake Vermilion and go into his basement ‘man cave’ and he would teach me some tips and tricks. So, the passion was started then. We knew that’s where growth was, and when you’re an entrepreneur you always look for places that are growing.”
Elizabeth Chapman started at Art Unlimited managing the paperwork and finances, but she, too, jumped into the technology side of the operation, pursing a degree from the University of Minnesota.
“I think I was one of the first totally remote learners that graduated from the U of M because I was in one of their pilot program classes, so I was able to do that while at the same time working and continuing to grow the company,” Chapman said.
Anderson and Chapman, along with Operations Director Mike Laulunen, oversee the big picture for Art Unlimited these days, but most women, and men, start their technology careers as Anderson did, working in the hands-on arena of development. The Timberjay spoke with three women on the Art Unlimited development team whose experiences illustrate that the pathways into tech for women are varied and numerous.
Denisa Lalikova has worked for Art Unlimited for a year, coding websites while working from her home in Duluth. It’s not at all the career she originally envisioned.
“I grew up in Slovakia, and pretty much my whole life I was just playing hockey,” Lalikova said. “Then I was lucky enough to leave my country and come to the U.S. I studied in high school for three years, still played hockey, and then I came to (The College of St.) Scholastica. My main goal was to graduate in exercise physiology and then pursue becoming a physical therapist.”
However, she was interested in technology, too, and added computer information science as a second major in her senior year. The additional major meant extra time in college, and Lalikova used some of that time to do some research.
“It opened up my doors to technology,” she said,” and I guess I kind of fell in love with it. It’s like when you’re working on something and you lose track of time. It’s that same feeling that I had playing hockey, so I said OK, that’s the thing. That made me learn more on my own, because I only did the CIS major for three semesters.”
A few weeks before she graduated in 2020, Lalikova landed a virtual internship with Art Unlimited, and the mentorship she received there led her to stay on.
“It was just really cool to start from the bottom and make my way up to be fully independent and do websites and all the tasks by myself.”
As a child of the Iron Range growing up in Virginia, Amanda Jacquart also had her sights set on something other than technology for a career.
“My first initial thought was to be a paleontologist,” she said. “When I looked into it, I said no, that’s too much physical work that I can’t do. My other passion was just messing around on the computer.”
Jacquart started learning CSS code and making “my own little websites” when she was 14 years old and got hooked into the virtual world of cyber pets.
“It was a huge community at that time,” she said. Creating virtual web environments for these digital creatures convinced Jacquart that technology was what she wanted to do. But she didn’t explore it seriously until enrolling in the graphic design program at Mesabi Range College after taking a couple of years off after high school.
“I found a really good happy medium of the design aspect and the coding aspect as well,” she said.
It just so happened that Anderson represented Art Unlimted on the graphic design program’s advisory committee, and that, Chapman said, led to a serendipitous encounter.
“It was at an open house for the advisers to come see work that Anna met Amanda, and she came back and said ‘Can you hire this person for me?’” Chapman said.
Jacquart lives in and works from Babbitt, and during her seven years with Art Unlimited she’s progressed through multiple levels of changing engagement with technology.
“I like the randomness that my job provides,” she said. “One day I’ll be doing my (user experience) review and all of a sudden there’s a weird issue that comes up and I’m off onto another path to solve this problem. Then that leads down another crazy path.”
There’s another reason technology has been a good choice for Jacquart – family.
“When I started this field, I was a single mom,” she said. “Being able to have the opportunity to work from home and still do my job to 100-percent full capability was a great aspect to this. There are no boundaries, really, when you’re in tech. You’re free to do all different kinds of aspects of technology while being able to work pretty much anywhere.”
Jana Carlson’s path to a technology job at Art Unlimited is the most unorthodox among the three. A wife and mother of seven, with three still living at home, she spent about 20 years homeschooling her children. Her technology background was as a user, not a coder or designer, but that didn’t deter her from looking into a technology career.
“A big part of wanting to homeschool was just being a learner myself,” Carlson said. “I have been constantly learning, and that’s one of the things that appeals to me about this job and tech in general, because things are always changing. There’s always something new to learn and implement to help people.”
Carlson was in luck. As a company that embraces the core values of family, vision, empowerment, and excellence, Art Unlimited is wired to embrace candidates with her background and qualities.
“By running everything through that filter, you don’t focus on the differences as far as gender, or their socioeconomic pathway or the education, you focus on first on how they fit the core values,” Anderson said. “Because we’ve trained ourselves in things and we know what’s possible, those who have an innate desire to learn and want to do it and fit the core values, they can do just as well as someone who has a master’s or a PhD.”
“It’s been a really fun experience,” she said. “Always something new. I’m excited that a lot of our clients are starting to gain some traction, to see their ranking on search engine results go up. It’s always exciting to find new ways of doing that, or if something’s not working to try something different.”
All three women agreed that technology is a great fit for women who want careers with variety, opportunities for continuous learning and professional growth, and a wealth of different options for the future.
“I have had the experience of being laid off from a job, so I know what it’s like to be in an industry that isn’t necessarily going to provide a good position in the future,” Carlson said. “But I know that in tech there are always going to be opportunities out there. It’s something that’s growing and expanding and not retracting.”