Sometimes we come across Pittsburgh stories that shine by their genuineness and sheer honesty, which help make all the other stories all that much more meaningful. This is what we found in Meesha Gerhart’s story. A tech entrepreneur and activist Meesha wasn’t born in Pittsburgh, but you’d never know it. She speaks with a certain conflict between self-criticism, pride and possibilities, all framed in a cadre of care and authenticity. And you could pretty much say the same about the city she now calls home.
Meesha is the Founder and CEO of web development firm RedTree and a board member of the nonprofit RedChair. Born in Las Vegas, she grew up a military brat moving between Germany, Phoenix, Ohio and eventually landed in town to attend the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Since then, she has made it her mission to polish what she calls the “diamond in the rough.”
“My experience with Pittsburgh is that here the people will give you the shirt off of their back; from the professional community to my personal life the people inside of Pittsburgh have always been very community driven and that’s something that I’ve always admired and wanted to maintain.”
Her entrepreneurial journey started back in college following a passion for creating a digital and visual language for small businesses. In the early days she recalls often bartering and taking payment in the form of meals or stock photography, just to pursue her dream. After working for a few small agencies, she decided to go it alone, though lonely she felt not. “Building RedTree in Pittsburgh was fantastic, between the Tech Council, Chatham Women’s Business Center and other organizations that were vested in the success of my business it’s been phenomenal because they are people who genuinely do want to help you grow.”
Today she runs a team that builds websites from the ground up and helps small businesses evolve and upgrade them. Oftentimes small businesses lack the vision or know-how to properly leverage what a well built website can do to help their businesses, and that’s one of their goals, to level the playing field for all companies’ websites regardless of size.
Outside her day job, Meesha is what you could call a devoted activist. She has a very critical eye, but you can sense from her tone it comes from a place of caring and wanting to fix issues where issues need to be fixed.
She candidly points out that attracting and retaining good talent in town is an issue, largely driven by a lack of diversity, particularly when it comes to African Americans. “How do we keep more people of color inside of tech? We’re trying to, but people just think ‘nah, it’s just not a good fit for me.’ And they leave, and I don’t blame them. There has not been enough movement in this area,” she states as a call to arms. “I see us trying, but for some reason we just can’t actually figure it out. I was at a panel for women in tech not long ago, and it was all white women. Is that because we can’t find a woman of color in tech? I know they exist! We need to educate ourselves a bit more to have a full picture. We’re trying, but we’re not quite there yet.” She’s not alone in this line of thought, and this is a challenge the entire tech community is all too aware of and has been dialed up in everyone’s agenda. As she recognizes, “we do have work to do, but I think the big thing is people want to do the work for the city.”
Meesha is also a board member of RedChair, a non-profit that serves women in tech. “The idea is a lot of women are getting to a certain level in their companies and then they plateau, so we started RedChair to first help with awareness and second create ways to help them make it through the glass ceiling. We create a mentor-mentee relationship to help women get to the next level.”
A member of the LGBTQ+ community, she’s also concerned and trying to change things for that group. “The change I’d like to see in Pittsburgh is the diversity as a whole and the diversity of thought. As an LGBTQ+ family in Pittsburgh, there are times where I was scared for our safety, whereas if I was in a city like Philly those kinds of thought processes wouldn’t have popped into my head. We don’t have that many trans people or LGBTQ+ business owners. That’s on me,” she claims taking responsibility. “I have a lot of work to do there, how do we put the spotlight more on them and make this city look more diverse?”
It’s refreshing to see someone acknowledge the issue not with an air of complaint, but with a can-do attitude, backed by tangible actions. It exemplifies the commitment and determination that many locals share, but some of who also need a bit of an awareness push. “I LOVE the people of Pittsburgh, I do. I’ve found the diamonds in the rough and my wife and I will never leave. But I know that I want to do more to make our city better. I know the gems and I know the true people that you would find, but it’s a lifelong effort. I want to make the change to make it the inclusive city that I know it can be, and I’m ready to make that investment.”