Girls in Tech: Building Ladders to the Moon

By , Vice President of Marketing and Business Development
Audience, Health IT
Creating Ladders for Girls in Tech

Girls in Tech: Together We Can Make a Difference

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference in San Francisco—a series of immersive sessions and conversations with women from various technology-related companies and backgrounds. It was an opportunity to listen and engage in conversations around a subject I am passionate about: girls and women in technology.

A Passion that Hits Home

For me, this is personal: I have three daughters of my own and want them to grow up in a world where women leading, driving and building technology is a foregone conclusion. I love conferences that embolden the concept of women—and girls—in technology. The speakers at this conference were phenomenal, each in their own ways; they all prefaced their formal presentations with personal reflections that were both thought-provoking and moving. I gleaned many takeaways from the sessions I attended:

  • Shoot for the moon. Obi Felton, Director of the X Foundry at Google, talked about thinking big—really big—and leveraging radical solutions to bring breakthrough technology to our world. She suggested emulating Google’s ambition and going for the moonshot—but also setting the terms, in advance, upon which a project will succeed and fail. Just as the X Foundry works to blast the internet to the masses via balloons through a project called Loon, Felton inspired us all to think big.
  • Speak up, even when we are not sure or do not feel we have all of the information we need. Both Merline Saintil from Intuit and Lisa Jackson from Apple called on the lot of us to feel emboldened to talk about our successes as we build our brands.
  • Don’t just network, super network. Jennifer Fonstad, a venture capitalist in the Bay Area, talked about going beyond just networking at events to hosting the events as a super networker. With four kids, Fonstad prioritizes family and has had to find a way to leverage her time. Super networking lets her bring people together in a way that finds her sitting at the top of the proverbial networking pyramid.
  • Map your experiences to create the result you want. Elisa Jagerson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Owner of Speck Design, explained how she uses techniques to map out the perfect experience for a consumer, taking the brand beyond the immediate task or product to something larger: a feeling. Jagerson—who, by the way, is so down to Earth, I wanted to invite her out for a drink—uses the same techniques to map out the experience of coming home after a long day and being immediately “pounced upon” by her kids. Only a true geek-ette would use design mapping to optimize the “Mom is home” experience.

Of course, all of this brought me to two big takeaways:

  • I love being surrounded by my people: working moms and self-proclaimed nerdy women, who undergo common experiences.
  • It’s important to build a community that fosters the development of girls like us in technology.

Engaging Girls in All Things Tech

I think and write a lot about women in technology. However, if we do not begin to engage women at a young age, we risk a scenario where there will not be many women in technology in the future. According to Girls Who Code, the percentage of female computer science and engineering graduates today (18 percent) is less than half of what it was in 1984. The data also confirms that the biggest drop off in interest in computer science-related topics occurs between the ages of 13 and 17. By the time they enter college, only four percent of women are still interested in computer science—although 66 percent of them were interested between the ages of six and 12.

We need to keep our girls engaged. Women bring different and unique points of view to the workforce; we need their brain power, their creativity and their innovation to keep propelling us in new directions and toward new innovations. It is not just about getting girls excited about technology and getting them into classes and universities—it is also about getting them to stay in school. Sadly, women graduate rates in engineering and sciences today, when compared with men graduate rates, are much lower. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Creating Ladders for Girls in Tech

How can we create more experiences for girls to network with other girls who share their young passion for technology and science? To create spaces where they feel supported, empowered and emboldened to continue along that path—through high school, college and their careers?

Well, for starters, we can:

  • Serve as role models—especially those of us who work in technology-related fields. Our children are watching, and chances are their friends are watching too. Whether we see it or not, we are making an impact. I know I have been influenced by many amazing women in technology.
  • Bring technology-minded girls together to learn from and support each other. Forums like the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference help women do that. We need to create the same kind of opportunities for girls to come together to share experiences and to create shared experiences—to learn that there are lots of other girls out there who also love technology.
  • Teach girls not to hold themselves back. Encourage them to share their ideas, ask questions, speculate and wonder. Boys—and men—seem to be less hesitant about doing this. We need to help girls become less hesitant about this too.

For me, it is all about creating pathways, similar to the game Chutes and Ladders. Girls face a lot of chutes throughout their lives that keep them down—we need to work harder to create some ladders to help them to move upward with confidence, to not give up. Together we will make a difference.

What opportunities would you recommend as a pathway for girls in tech?