Changing the World

Women And Technology: How More Role Models Could Foster Change

As James Brown might have said, the tech industry still appears to be “a man’s world.” According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s most recent survey, in 2013 a mere 26% of the of the tech work force was female (Dubow, 2012, p. 39). This statistic appears even more pitiful when considered in the context that today 70% of women are attending university and are statistically outperforming their male counterparts (Bureau of Labor, 2014). Yet despite this progress, women in the tech industry are regressing. Since 1984, the number of women earning degrees in computer science has dropped from 37% to just 18% (US Department of Education, 2012). Of the women who graduate and find a job in tech, almost 56% leave their employers midway through their careers (Dubow, 2012, p. 42).

Perhaps the most disheartening statistic about this dilemma is that Dow Jones released a study indicating that women VC’s were outperforming startups that were led only by men (Canning, 2012). Somehow this success is not correlating with an enhanced female presence in the tech industry. Women who do stay in the industry are doing as high-quality work or better than the men but are being paid less on average. Even worse, there is evidence showing a steady decline in the number of women graduating from college with degrees in computer science, which correlates to the number of women working in the tech industry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many factors causing this absence of diversity, and conversely, many possible solutions to the problem. One solution that would institute positive change would be to present young women with more role models within the tech industry. If girls are encouraged to pursue STEM fields in school and are exposed to the unique opportunities tech jobs can offer, the result would a more diverse workplace that would have the enhanced creativity and cooperation necessary to thrive.

My proposal for presenting these types of role models is the People In Tech (PIT) YouTube series. PIT would be biweekly, sixty-minute program that would educate the audience about men and women in the tech industry making a meaningful impact in the world. Specifically, the videos would articulate how these successful coders, programmers, engineers, and entrepreneurs found their beginnings, their opportunities, and their inspirations. By providing viewers with an inside look at how certain individuals, both men and women, got started in tech, there may be a positive ripple-effect that encourages others to do the same.

The ultimate goal of the PIT Youtube series is to educate a younger audience on the people making a difference in the tech workforce while demonstrating the abundance of work opportunities available with a computer science or STEM degree. Ideally the PIT series would invite many demographics to view its content; however, since the main issue at hand is the lack of women in the tech workforce, these videos would be primarily targeting a female audience. It is important to remember that women (and men) need role models, not just academically but professionally as well. Hearing people who have attained professional success talk about the obstacles they faced and describing their paths to success can be a powerful motivator and source of inspiration for those who are just starting out. Therefore, PIT will provide viewers with stories chronicling how professors, CEO’s and founders of tech companies got their start. The end goal of this series is to attract more women to computer science and STEM programs and to retain more women in the workplace once they find a job within those fields.

One of the main objectives in the PIT series is to promote a diverse mentorship group. It is pivotal that these videos not only broadcast messages of successful individuals of both genders, but also of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, one video could feature Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Saujani is an Indian-American lawyer and politician who in the beginning of her political career decided she wanted to change professions. In a video interview on Makers.com, Saujani talks about how her parents were the source of her inspiration, why she unexpectedly changed careers, and how risk and failure made her want to start Girls Who Code. Shellye Archambeau is an African-American businesswoman who spent fifteen years at IBM working her way up the corporate ladder. She was the first African-American woman at IBM to be sent on international assignment. Today, she is the CEO of MetricStream, a Palo Alto-based company that provides governance, risk and compliance support to global corporations such as BP and Pfizer and also serves as a guest lecturer at her alma mater, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

There are also potential role models working in the tech industry. Pop-culture can play two very important roles in diversifying the tech community. First, it can eliminate stereotypes of people working in computer science. The cliché description of a computer programmer is an awkward, nerdy guy who spends hours every day in front of a computer screen. Over the last decade, that stereotype has evolved into the modern day brogrammer. This satirical yet uncomfortably accurate label references men with a frat-house mentality who code with one hand while holding a beer in the other. Both schemas are not positive and do not accurately describe the many other populations who make up the tech landscape. These harmful stereotypes also have the effect of driving women away from the tech industry, and until the schemas change, the culture of the tech industry will not.

Therefore, the PIT series will include videos that promote celebrities who happen to code. Take for example, professional basketball player, Chris Bosh. There are many stereotypes that are applied to NBA players but “programmer” is usually not on from list. Bosh joined numerous computer science clubs in high school and attended Georgia Tech for one year before entering the NBA draft. While in Atlanta, Bosh studied graphic design and computer imaging and still has plans to finish that degree at some point in his life. He is a member of National Society of Black Engineers and the Dallas Association of Minority Engineers. In a piece that Bosh wrote for Wired magazine, the star power forward said:

I knew well before I was in the NBA that to feel secure with my future — our future, really — I would need to be able to manipulate those 1s and 0s. Luckily, having extremely geeky parents that were constantly testing gadgets and flashing mad AutoCAD skills helped push my hands towards a keyboard and learning to code when they weren’t palming a basketball or blocking an opponent’s shot (Bosh 2013).

Victoria’s Secret supermodel Lyndsey Scott is another example of a high-profile celebrity who looks nothing like the stereotypical programmer. When she isn’t on the runway, Scott is promoting her newest app “Code Made Cool.” This app—located in the Apple App Store—is targeted for young girls and introduces users to the basics of coding. In an interview with Daily Mail magazine, Scott explains why she promotes programming more than modeling. “It’s the sort of career [modeling] where you have absolutely no control, whereas you have complete control with programming, which I really appreciate” (London, 2014). Scott is trying to reach out to a younger audience and offer them a glimpse of what coding has to offer. Today more celebrities, companies and universities are trying to broadcast one clear message: anybody can code.

The PIT series, while aimed at a specific target audience, will hopefully be inclusive to all demographics that are interested in learning more about individuals making their mark in the tech industry. PIT will be very successful if it can parallel its marketing strategy to a company like Pixar. Pixar’s movies are intended for a younger audience, but they still contain enough content geared towards adults, which results in enjoyment for all viewers. The PIT series is aimed at girls between the ages of eleven to twenty three (roughly the time they see their first computer science class till the time when the graduate from college). However, this project will be unsuccessful if it is presented in a way that excludes other demographics. Men should be able to watch these videos and receive a better understanding of the problem at hand without feeling personally attacked. Parents should be able to watch the series and be encouraged enroll their children into computer science camps or a coding academy. The series will be successful if it encourages its viewers to explore programming. By changing the conversation, PIT can begin changing the culture of the tech world.

Another key component for PIT’s success is the necessity of a major tech company’s sponsorship. Messages tend to be more to be persuasive if they come from credible sources. Therefore, if the goal is encourage and recruit young women to join tech companies, why not have a major tech company deliver that request. A company that immediately comes to mind is Microsoft. According to Business Insider, Microsoft is the third-most valuable tech corporation in the world (behind Google and Apple) with a net worth of over $330 billion (Bort, 2014). The company owns the trademarks of Xbox, Bing, MSN, Windows, Nokia, Skype and many others. The company has the funding to find the right directors and writers, the access to contact individuals to get on the program, and a campaign already geared towards encouraging girls to code. Microsoft has already partnered with Girls Who Code, DigiGirlz Hi Tech Camp for girls, and Black Girls Code. Bing also released a feel-good add campaign in the end of 2013 celebrating “heroic women” of history and encouraging all women to be brave in 2014. This would be the perfect opportunity for Microsoft to expand upon that message, and continue to provide support and opportunity to young women interested in computer science and programming.

While Microsoft creates the PIT series, YouTube would be the perfect platform to broadcast the men and women highlighted in the programs. Statistically more people spend time on YouTube then almost any other website. According to the video-streaming website, almost 1 billion users visit YouTube every month (YouTube, 2014). YouTube is accessible through any computer, tablet and smartphone. More importantly, Nielsen has calculated that YouTube reaches more US adults between ages 18-34 than any cable network in the United States. Its accessibility and affordability make it extremely popular for creators and consumers alike. The target audience now consumes more of its media from computers and phones and is able to do so without having to pay membership fees. YouTube is an inclusive platform that encourages creativity and expression. Lastly, YouTube allows viewers to watch these programs at their own leisure. That flexibility affords people the freedom to watch a video as many times as they would like, whenever they would like. YouTube is the symbol of simplicity. All one has to do is search and click and voilà, the viewer is learning about the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty.

The absence of diversity in tech companies is a problem that must be addressed. Diversity breeds innovation. Technology is always changing and the world needs a diverse marketplace of ideas. The problem is that there is half of the population whose potential is being completely overlooked. The young women that PIT is reaching out to are the change the tech industry desperately needs. Hopefully PIT is the catalyst.

Works Cited
Bort, J. (May 29, 2014). The 20 Most Valuable Enterprise Tech Companies In The World. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/most-valuable-enterprise-tech-c companies-2014-5

Bosh, C. (October 31, 2013). Here’s Why You Should Learn Code. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2013/10/chris-bosh-why-everyone-should-learn-to-code

Canning, C.; Haque, M.; Wang, Y. (September, 2012). Women at the Wheel: Do Female Executives Drive Start-Up Success. Retrieved from http://www.dowjones.com/collateral/files/WomenPE

DuBow, W. (2011). NCWIT Scorecard: A report on the status of women in information technology. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/scorecard2010

Hafner, K. (2012, April 2). Giving women the access code. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

London, B. (April 1, 2014). Victoria’s Secret Girl Lyndsey Scott Reveals that she Prefers Coding to Catwalks. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2 593252/Victorias-Secret-girl-Lyndsey-Scott-reveals-prefers-coding-catwalks-ASOS- shoot.html

The Bureau of Labor. (April 22, 2014). College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2013 High School Graduates. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm.

US Department of Education. (July 2012). Degrees in Computer and Information Sciences Conferred by Degree-Granting Institutions. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_349.asp

YouTube Press Statistics. (Accessed December 16, 2014). No Title. Retrieved from                     https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html

Women of Color & Technology

Women are making wonderful contributions to the technology field, many thanks to backgrounds in computer science. However, despite the great things various women are doing such as Kimberly Bryant –founder of Black Girls Code —  or Reshma Saujani — founder and CEO of Girls Who Code — there are still not enough women in the field of technology. Moreover there the majority of computer science degrees are earned by men. The percent of women who graduate with computer science degrees or work in the technology industry and stay in it is low. The numbers for women of color graduating with computer science degrees, or working in the technology industry, are significantly lower than their white counterparts. Black, Latina, and Native/Indigenous women usually have the least representation within the field of technology and computer science. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 2011, only 18% of all undergraduate computer and information science degrees were obtained by women (1), meaning an overwhelming 82% of CS degrees were obtained by men in 2011. Despite women going into the field of technology without formal computer science degrees, it is still valuable for more women to obtain these degrees to lessen the gender gap in the technology field and to make the pool of ideas and projects in the tech industry more diverse and creative. This will only happen if the number of women in tech grows. In 2013, only 26% of computing occupations were held by women (2), however breaking this number apart leads to shockingly low percentages for women of color. In fact, in 2013, only 3% of the computing workforce was made up of Black women and 2% made up of Latinas, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. The problem that women of color face in obtaining computer science degrees and entering the field of technology is related to several barriers, related not only to gender, but also to race and culture. Some of these barriers include racial and gender discrimination, lack of resources, isolation, questions about their skills due to their race and/or gender, and lack of diverse mentors and peers (3).

My solution to the lack of women of color obtaining computer science degrees, along with the lack of women of color in the technology industry, is to propose the creation of startup program that will help women of color begin their own startups in the field of technology, along with providing classes for young girls of color to foster their love of technology and provide them with mentors that could eventually lead to more women of color entering computer science programs and completing them. The most optimistic outcome arising from my solution is that the number of women of color obtaining CS degrees and entering the field of technology increases after the program has been established for some time. Moreover, another optimistic outcome is that this company hosting a startup program and other tech classes for women of color will help foster a sense of community. I’d like it to be safe and accepting space where women and girls of color can collaborate and learn from each other to make the tech industry a better place. The unique experiences that come from being a woman of color in the U.S., I believe, would surely prompt creative solutions and projects that would change the tech industry, and maybe even our society on a small local level or large national scale.

As I mentioned, my solution to the lack of women of color graduating with CS degrees and entering the field of technology would be to create a company that hosts a startup program for women of color, along with providing classes in different tech related topics for both young girls and older women. This startup program would be similar to Dr. Luz Cristal Glangchai’s VentureLab 3 Day Startup San Antonio program. However, this start up would be a 5 day program, long enough to do many things, but also short enough that it wouldn’t be a hindrance to the women who may have families, jobs, school, or any other responsibilities they have to get back too. This startup program would specifically target women of color in order to increase the number of tech startups led by women of color, thus increasing the number of women of color in general in the technology industry.

This 5 day startup program would introduce women of color to investors and entrepreneurs that are interested in investing in women of color projects and helping them get ahead in an industry that isn’t a reflection of them. The women would be able to apply to the program, form teams, learn from other entrepreneurs and women in the technology industry. Women in the program would be able to present their products and ideas to a group of investors, venture capitalists interested in investing in projects that could potentially make the tech industry more creative and diverse. The 5 day program would also include a chance to network with industry professionals so that even if some startups are not chosen or invested into, the women still have connections to these professionals who may know colleagues that would like to invest in the women’s startups or help mentor them. The point of the program would be to foster a safe space where these women could learn from professionals and each other, and bolster enough energy and momentum to continue their projects.

Other than the startup program, I’d like the company to provide other round the year programs to help young girls of color and older women of color as well. Other programs would include coding camps for young girls so that if they do end up liking coding and want to continue programming, they already have a connection a group of women that can mentor them. BY having mentors this could solve the feeling of isolation and increase the number of girls of color entering computer science classes in high school and computer science classes in college.

Another year round program could be computer classes targeting older women of color, women who may have not grown up using computers or who would also like to learn how to use computers. Furthermore, the company could help women who have left the tech field who now want to refresh their skills and reenter the workforce.

By providing a startup program that is, hopefully, held more than once a year and by also providing different year round programs, my hope is that the number of women graduating with computer science degrees would increase over time, as well as the number of women of color in the technology industry. The importance of similar peers and mentors who deal with similar barriers, I believe, would be helpful in getting women of color ahead in the tech field.  And the exposure to investors and entrepreneurs interested in helping women of color led startups would diversify the tech industry and bring more creative ideas to the table.

 

References

  1. National Center for Women & Information Technology. (n.d.)[Girls in IT: The Facts Infographic] [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/infographic/3435
  2. National Center for Women & Information Technology. (n.d.) [Women and Information Technology By the Numbers] [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/btn_02282014web.pdf
  3. Scott, A., & Martin, A. (2014, July 9). Diversity Data Shows Need to Focus on Women of Color. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-scott/diversity-data-shows-need_b_5571685.html

We need more women! Of color, too, though!

The Problem:
Throughout the course of Women and Technology time and again we have realized, learned, and reiterated that there are not enough women in computer science or technology occupations. To put it plainly and in numeric form, women only made up 26% of the computing workforce in 2013 in the United States. However there is a looming issue that also needs to be addressed; the number of women of color in said fields (or lack thereof). Five percent of the computing workforce in 2013 were Asian, three percent were black and only 2 percent were Hispanic. [1] Clearly women of color are severely unrepresented in the computer science occupations, but whose fault is it? Tech companies say they would hire minorities and women if they were qualified to fill the positions.[2] Well we see that this is partially true as African American and Latina women combined earn just 5% of all CS degrees.[3] It goes farther back then post-secondary education however. Schools with relatively high concentrations of minorities often show a lack of tools, opportunities, and encouragement needed in order to choose and succeed in computer science as a field of study and occupation. [4]

The Goal:
The most positive outcome that could arise from addressing this issue is a much needed increase of diversity in the field of computer science and technology. It would be excellent to not only have gender diversity in these occupations, but to have race and ethnicity diversity as well. Ideally this outcome would arise from introducing computing skills and language to girls of color at a young age specifically in primary education. Teaching young girls to be fluent in the language of computers would help solve issues of “the pipeline problem.” Realistically we cannot reach all women of color at a young age because schools are and have always been under served. However even reaching a larger population of young girls then is currently being reached, would help increase the number of women of color in the jobs of the future.

The Solution:
There are already people combating the lack of women of color in computer science and technology occupations. And they are doing it by targeting young girls in schools that are underrepresented and at risk for the problem mentioned above. These programs provide workshops, summer camps, and mentors all to do with coding and computer skills to young girls of color. The solution would be to help expand programs such as Black Girls Code whose very mission reads, “Black Girls CODE has set out to prove to the world that girls of every color have the skills to become the programmers of tomorrow. By promoting classes and programs we hope to grow the number of women of color working in technology and give underprivileged girls a chance to become the masters of their technological worlds.” Partnering with the Latino Startup Alliance whose mission is similar, “To encourage the inspiration and cultivation of U.S. Latino led technology startup ventures by providing a strong support network of fellow entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, & mentors.”
So what do these programs need? They need funding, mentors, and willing participants! If the future of the US economic system resides in occupations dealing with computer science and technology, then the federal government must provide funding for programs that will help fill those jobs domestically. Having role models in any career is extremely important, having role models where there is scarce representation makes it even more important for women and men of color to participate as mentors to the youth in such programs. The most important tool however is young girls willing to learn and become interested in the computer science field. And they will not be able to do this without the funding of computers and technology for exposure, or without the encouragement and mentorship of successful professionals in the field.

Work Cited:

[1]By the Numbers. (2013) National Center for Women and Technology.

[2]Pepitone, Julianne. (2011) Silicon Valley Says Diversity Challenge Starts in College. CNNMoney. Cable News Network.

[3]NCWIT Scorecard: A Report on the Status of Women in Information Technology. National Center for Women & Information Technology.

[4]Margolis, J. & R. Estrella, J. Goode, J. Holme, K. Nao. (2008) Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Girls For Tech: Social Media Campaign

The Problem

When looking at the source of the lack of women in the tech industry, we can be overwhelmed by the large number of possibilities. One major reason for this gender difference falls back to young girls who may not even be aware of the opportunities available for them in the expanding tech career field. Often times, young  girls don’t even consider entering into tech careers because of deeply entrenched stereotypes that the jobs are anti-social and unimaginative (Miller, 2014). According to study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), high school age girls believe that high school computing belongs to boys who have been using computers and playing computer games since they were in elementary school. Because of this universal stereotype, many young girls lack the desire to participate in computer science activities. Only 18.5% of high school girls take the AP computer science exam. In 2013, only 14% of all computer science graduates were women, which is down from 36% in 1984 (Tiku, 2014).

The Goal

The goal is to tackle this problem by spreading awareness that there are opportunities for young girls in tech through social media platforms. My hope is to gain a significant following by working through databases from local female empowerment initiatives. One such initiative is an organization called The Fairy Godmother Project. This project seeks to empower young women to recognize their own significance and pushes them to make wise choices. In pairing with groups like this, as well as hands-on STEM and technology training through Dr. Cristal Glangchai’s Venture Labs, the most optimistic outcome of this solution would be that young girls from all over the city would become more involved in technology classes and have a more positive view of pursuing tech careers in the future.

Realistically, this solution may only be able to reach a small handful of young women, but the effect can make a difference, even if it is only one young lady. By including strong female role models in the campaign, the goal is to have someone relatable and  appealing that can help illuminate their minds to the endless possibilities in the tech industry.

The Solution

The solution is to target high school age girls through social media such as, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in order to begin raising awareness of the misconceptions about tech careers. For many of these young girls, this may be the first time that anyone even suggested they pursue a career in technology. One of the major features of the campaign would include posting about startling facts about the industry through visual statistics. Another feature would be providing information on Venture Labs and The Fairy God Mother Project, as well as provide examples of successful everyday women in the tech industry.

After creating the pages and accounts for the different social media platforms, I was able to gain a small following in a short amount of time with close to 50 followers on Instagram, 5 likes on the Facebook Page, and 10 followers on Twitter.

Here are some examples from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram:

IMG_6675 IMG_6671


Works Cited

American Association of University Women. (2000). Tech-Savvy: Educating girls in the new computer age.Washington, DC: Author

Miller, C. (2014, April 5). Technology’s Man Problem. New York Times.

Tiku, N. (2014). How to Get Girls Into Coding. Retrieved December 8, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/opinion/sunday/how-to-get-girls-into-coding.html?_r=2

An Opinion Piece on Impostor Syndrome

Throughout the semester we discussed various problems associated with the underrepresentation of women in technology fields, from intimidation by the male macho-bro culture to young girls’ lack of exposure to computer science classes and activities. I’m not about to say that these other problems aren’t real or even major contributors to the low numbers of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math); however, I noticed one specific problem mentioned time and time again during class discussions, speaker lectures, and research findings, and that is impostor syndrome. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and one of my favorite guest speakers, defines impostor syndrome as the fact that “you’re actually doing fine, but you have the impression that you don’t understand the material as well as others around you, or you get this scholarship or internship and think, ‘I only got it because I’m female, and they’re going to find out that I’m really not that good.’”[1] Unfortunately, Maria Klawe also says that “it’s unbelievable how common it is among women in technical fields where there aren’t a lot of other women.”[2]

This bothers me, because it’s completely true and something I can relate to very well: I experienced impostor syndrome in high school and I know other women who have too. As a result, my contribution to the solution of this problem is the following opinion piece. The realistic outcome of this is that young women in high school and college who may be experiencing impostor syndrome will read this and be able to, first, identify the problem, and then receive the proper guidance to overcome it. The optimal outcome is that everyone who reads this will consider my suggestion for creating a more comfortable school environment for women in STEM. Furthermore, I hope that, upon consideration, my readers begin to take measures in achieving this goal in high school and college classrooms.

[1] Hoffmann, Leah. “What Women Want.” Communications Of The ACM 55.9 (2012): 120-119. Business Source Complete. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

[2] Hoffmann, Leah. “What Women Want.”

 

I Don’t Belong – The Impostor Syndrome Epidemic

Kelly Tan

Kelly Tan

 
“The idea is, you’re actually doing fine, but you have the impression that you don’t understand the material as well as others around you, or you get this scholarship or internship and think, ‘I only got it because I’m female, and they’re going to find out that I’m really not that good.’” Those are the words of Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, during an interview with Communications of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). She was asked to discuss impostor syndrome, something Klawe she says she “talk[s] a lot about…because it’s unbelievable how common it is among women in technical fields.” Not only is it common, but it can also become so discouraging as to lead some women to give up a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

This is a major problem because we desperately need more women in STEM fields. It’s absurd that early voice recognition technology only responded to men’s voices, and could not recognize a woman’s voice, because the designers of the product were men. Furthermore, it’s alarming that statistical evidence reveals that the percentage of women receiving undergraduate degrees in computers science was cut in half from 37% in 1985 to 18% in 2012. This underrepresentation of women in tech fields is not solely due to the impostor syndrome; however, I do think it is one of the biggest contributors. Furthermore, I believe there would be a drastic increase in the percentage of females in STEM if we help young women in high school and college overcome impostor syndrome or, better yet, create learning environments that will prevent it.

The first thing young women facing the discouragement of impostor syndrome should know is that they are not alone. Throughout this course I noticed that impostor syndrome was a trend among many of our guest speakers’ experiences in technology fields. Kathryn McKlintock, a web code developer for Amazee Labs, mentions in her lecture that she is affected by impostor syndrome and identifies some her symptoms, such as “disclaiming or understating [her] experience or skill, [feeling] nervous about talking to others in [her] field, especially if those others are highly skilled or experienced, [and attributing] success to chance or luck.” Dr. Kimberly Hambuchen, an engineer for NASA and another one of our guest speakers, says in our interview with her that she has “lived with impostor syndrome for years,” and that a symptom she experiences is not “really [celebrating] the huge major achievements like [she] should.”

Furthermore, as the author of this piece, I think it is important to include my experience with impostor syndrome. During my senior year in high school I decided to take a specific math course because it best fit my schedule. However, this wasn’t just any math course; in fact, it was the toughest math course offered at my school, and perhaps the toughest math course offered in the entire district. A few weeks into this class, I felt like all of my classmates understood the material and that I was simply not gifted enough to comprehend such advanced mathematical concepts. When I received a good grade on a test, I attributed it to luck, and when I received a poor grade I attributed it to not being smart enough. I was always nervous to ask my teacher a question because I assumed I was the only student who didn’t understand a concept and I didn’t want to look stupid. I felt like an impostor; little did I know that I was facing the discouragement that comes with impostor syndrome. In fact, I finished the course with a B; not bad for the toughest course in the district.

However, when I looked back on this course, I completely ignored my grade and continued to regret taking the class because I wasn’t smart enough to handle it. It wasn’t until I heard about impostor syndrome this semester that I began to think back on this math course and realize that I actually knew what I was doing; it’s not luck that gave me a B in the hardest math course in the district! Therefore, the first step in overcoming impostor syndrome is identifying it. Once a woman realizes that she has it, it’s easier for her to look at her work and understand that luck is not responsible for her achievements: she is responsible for her achievements.

Another step in overcoming impostor syndrome, which Google software engineer Julie Pagano suggested during her presentation at PyCon 2014, is to “kill your heroes, [but] not literally.” This directly relates to the nervousness McClintock mentioned she felt when discussing her work with highly skilled or experienced peers. A young woman may think that these peers never fail and that they are judging her based on the mistakes she makes. However, it is important that young women stop comparing themselves to these “heroes” and start understanding that these peers make mistakes too.

Furthermore, many young women experiencing impostor syndrome may find it helpful to fake it ‘till they make it. That is, young women who are feeling discouraged should try pretending like they actually know what they’re doing until they achieve their goals. Better yet, Amy Cuddy suggests in her TED Talk to “fake it till you become it.” Cuddy says that she noticed female students were less confident to speak up and participate in class than male students. She later suggests power posing as a way of faking confidence; having a more upright and open posture can trick a person’s brain into thinking with more confidence. This can help a discouraged young woman feel more confident until she understands that she is fully responsible for her achievements and success, which, therefore, gives her real confidence and allows her to defeat impostor syndrome.

The final, and I believe the most important, way of overcoming impostor syndrome is creating a more encouraging learning environment. In fact, this is more than just a way of overcoming impostor syndrome; it is a way of preventing it. During this past semester I observed two very different class settings; one of a Spanish class and the other of a physics class. Toward the end of the year I realized that I was attending one class that encouraged impostor syndrome (this would be physics) and another that prevented it (props to my Spanish class). I noticed I was an active participant in my Spanish class but that I never raised my hand throughout the entire semester in my physics class. I felt too intimidated, and I can conclude that this is due to one specific experience I had at the beginning of the semester. While discussing with a friend how I obtained my answer to a homework problem, one of my male classmates, who got a different answer, claimed that my answer was wrong because I was female and his answer was correct because he was male and, therefore, inherently more intelligent. What made this worse was that this student was extremely self-confident; he was an active participant in class and was not afraid to make his voice heard in front of our fifty classmates. Unfortunately, this intimidated me to the point where I decided not to participate in class for fear of being wrong.

On the other hand, my Spanish class had a very different environment; one which I think we need to encourage in all classrooms as a way of preventing impostor syndrome in young women. On the first day of class my professor made it very clear that we were all going to make mistakes throughout the semester and that this shouldn’t hinder us from speaking up. She would continue to tell remind us throughout the semester that we should give an answer to a question, even if we knew it was wrong. Finally, she embarrassed all of us; if we weren’t paying attention she would suddenly tell everyone to stand up and stretch during the middle of lecture. I began to notice that this was my only class where every student was an active participant, and where I neither hesitated to answer a question nor felt like a complete failure when I answered a question incorrectly. This is the kind of encouragement we need in high school and college classrooms if we want to improve the number of young women who enter STEM fields. These female students need to have instructors and classmates that encourage them to participate in class and create learning environments where it is acceptable to provide the incorrect answer to a question.

By considering these suggestions, I hope that my female readers incorporate these solutions into their lives so as to overcome or prevent impostor syndrome. Furthermore, I hope that my other readers consider these solutions and find ways of incorporating them into making high school and college class settings more encouraging and comfortable for young women. As a result, I am confident that we will begin to see an increase in the number of women entering and remaining in STEM fields.

TV: The Root of the Gender Gap in STEM fields and the Seed for Future Growth

Problem: Is it nature or nurture that generates the prominent gender divides in our modern society, explicitly painting the spheres of education, work, and activities with the color pink or blue? Whether it is intentional or not, today’s young girls are taught to color in the lines, design sparkly things, and wear bows in their hair. Meanwhile, boys are seen with a hammer in their hand ready to fix a problem or solve a crisis. These cultural schemas penetrate every aspect of modern life, depicting the way we live, learn, and work. Schemas, according to Valian, are mental constructs that serve as the instinctual generalizations and perceptions of gender roles in society.[1] The representations and embodiment of these cookie cutter gender schemas are especially alarming within the televised education programs for young kids.

From an early age, a child’s brain is etched with sounds, shapes, and ideas. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s brain undergoes immense growth during the first three years of life, with the brain’s mass tripling in just the first 12 months. [2] The stimuli experienced during this period have significant effects on the child’s brain development. One prominent source of stimuli for this generation, who was born with their eyes glued to a screen, is television programs designed to educate, encourage and excite young viewers. For infants and toddlers, images on television screens differ significantly from those in the real world. The inability of the child to perceive the difference between the two worlds can have lasting effects on vital functions, including language development, vision and memory, cognitive development and attention. 2

In the 21st century the disparity of interests of young girls and boys is evidenced in the toy isles of your neighborhood Wal-Mart, and echoed in the array of popular Disney channel shows. Whether it is their parent’s iPhone or their home television, kids today are entranced by the characters that dance, sing, and act on the screens that are in front of their eyes on a daily basis. So what are they watching, and what exactly are they learning from these shows? Are the TV characters showing our kids that it is cool to be smart, to think critically, to solve problems, or even to be creative?

Despite the medium of entertainment or the general topic matter of the show, the universal interest of kids is to watch interesting TV characters so that they can later emulate the characters in their own lives. What kid wants to be the geeky computer nerd when he or she can be a princess or a superhero? What we chose to broadcast to our kids now will ultimately determine what life they will lead in the future. In a long-term study that concluded in 2001, researchers observed that preschoolers who viewed educational programs tend to have higher grades, are less aggressive, and value their studies more when they reach high school. [3] Therefore, it is imperative to regulate the shows available to young children as they play a significant role in establishing the foundational pieces of a child’s education.

Goal: In the recent Yahoo article, Sugared Puppy Dog Tail: Gender and Design, writer Elizabeth F. Churchill recounted her fond childhood memories of Lady Penelope Creighton- Ward, a stylish and brazen female British secret agent who starred in the 1960’s British TV series “The Thunderbirds”.[4] Churchill relates Lady Penelope to other iconic female characters of power from Rosie the Riveter to the modern day Powder-puff girls. All of these heroine type characters exude confidence in the way they dress, talk, and act. They represent everything that a young girl dreams of becoming, while encouraging her to dream big and to be confident. This is not exactly the message that is disseminated by modern kid’s TV shows.

A brief overview of current Disney Junior shows reveals that out of the fifteen shows that currently air on TV, nine have a male lead character and only four have female lead.[5] The additional two shows feature a male/female pair. However, the main issue is not that there are only four female lead characters, but rather that the four featured female characters consist of a princess, a baker, a girl who plays doctor with her cute stuffed animals, and a pink calico cat cowgirl who is the town sheriff. In juxtaposition, the boy character leads include a scientist, a pirate, a train, a handy man, a ship captain, a secret agent, a monster, a dashing prince, a monster, and Mickey Mouse.

Not only are the messages of these shows attempting to teach kids about problem solving, friendship, bravery, manners, sharing, and caring, but they also purposefully show them, through the behaviors of the characters, how they should act in their own lives. These are the role models that our children are learning to emulate, sing along with, and dream about. Where are these young boys and girls going to learn about a computer programmer or coder who saves the day or solves a problem with an app? However, this inherent problem that is reflected across the kid’s TV show industry can be solved. There are so many ways to show young kids that technology is a powerful tool for solving problems and that anyone can create new things with modern technology. By creating shows that encourage and stimulate the brains of our kids, we provide them with the technological tools necessary to create the future.

Solution: One direct solution to confront this problem is to change the status quo of kids TV shows by introducing something new.  For example, a new appealing yet educational show that features female characters who are innovative and daring tech wizards that tackle their every-day problems with a can- do attitude, would be a one-of-a-kind show.  A specific show that comes to mind is a YouTube series called Purple and Nine that was envisioned and created by Rebecca Rachmany and her organization, Gangly Sister. [6]This new show seeks to inspire girls and boys alike to explore the STEM fields by encouraging them to follow the actions of the two main characters, Purple Isosceles and Nine Helix. These two girls love to build, explore, learn new things, solve problems by daring to be themselves and face challenges, such as building a 3-D printer.

Although Rachmany and Rubin are adamant that this series remains non-commercial, the topic matter, setting, and plot line has the potential to combat the stereotypical messages sent to young girls in other shows, such as Disney’s Princess Sofia. If Disney opened their eyes to this opportunity of growth, they would be able to diversify the Disney Junior show and provide young girls with two new realistic role models.

Rachmany and her co-founder Ofer Rubin designed these two characters to be fun and realistic models of kids that believe it is cool to be creative, curious, unique, and independent. [7] When asked about the show Rachmany stated, “The world of TV has odd assumptions, for example, that you need a villain to make a plot work, or that girls relate to boy characters but boys don’t relate to girl characters. With Purple and Nine, we break a lot of the traditional rules of television and animation. We know the rules, but because we aren’t from the industry, we have a lot of freedom to break them.”6 Additionally, Rachmany believes that this show dives into the deeper issue of how kids form unrealistic self-images because of the things they are exposed to at young ages, namely TV and movies. She says, “If you look at TV and you see the ‘geeks’ are portrayed as socially inept, your subconscious will push you away from that. Nobody wants to be a social outcast…. It’s just crazy, but I (as a kid) had gotten a strong subliminal message that you could be gorgeous or smart, but not both.”6

 A show like this on the Disney channel would transform the means of stimulating kids interests in the fields of science, engineering, math, and even medicine. Referring back to Churchill, the product creator is responsible for embedding a gendered norm into certain facets of life, such as cooking versus coding.[8] Although most of these cultural schemas in kid’s TV shows are inadvertently reproduced cultural norms, the only way to change the status quo is to dare to create something new. Characters like Purple and Nine are the perfect example of this. Not only do so few of these types of female characters exist, but the ones that do seem to apologize for being different. Instead, Purple and Nine are proud of their unique gifts, and flaunt them as something that makes them cool. If we can teach our kids that it is cool to design 3-D printers, to invent edible play-dough, or even to design a robot that does your homework then we are really stimulating their brains and hardwiring their futures for a path of limitless creativity and growth. The future of women in the STEM fields starts with these foundational building blocks of a child’s education. By teaching young boys and girls alike, through educational, compelling, and realistic TV programs such as Purple and Nine, we can ingrain within them the belief that anyone, no matter your age, ethnicity, or gender, can be an engineer, a teacher, a nurse, a coder, or a CEO. This integral mindset plants the seeds for future growth of the STEM fields, and opens the doors of possibility for a future that stems from technological innovation and ingenuity.

References:

[1] Valian. “Schemas that Explain Behavior.” pg. 2 Accessed December 7th, 2014

[2] Holden, Martha. “How Does Television Affect the Brains of Young Children?” Demand Media. Accessed December 6th, 2014. http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/television-affect-brains-young-children-20676.html

[3] Raise Smart Kid. “The Good and bad Effects of TV on Children.” Accessed December 7th, 2014. http://www.raisesmartkid.com/all-ages/1-articles/13-the-good-and-bad-effects-of-tv-on-your-kid

[4] Churchill, Elizabeth. “Sugared Puppy Dog Tails: Gender and Design.” Yahoo News. March- April Edition (2010) pg. 52. Accessed December 5th, 2014

[5] List of programs Broadcast by Disney Junior (US). Wikipedia. Accessed December 5th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_programs_broadcast_by_Disney_Junior_(United_States)

[6] Gangly Sister LLC. “About Us” Page. (2014) http://www.ganglysister.com

Accessed December 5th, 2014.

[7] Bradford, Laurence. “Rebecca Rachmany: CEO and Creator of Purple and Nine TV Show.” (2014 June 18) Accessed December 5th, 2014.

http://learntocodewith.me/women/rebecca-rachmany/

[8] Churchill, Elizabeth.

Cover Image: http://www.eknazar.com/News/uploaded/GA4051_3iboytv.jpg

Retention – A Red Flag for Women in Technology

The Problem

One of the main issues across the board with women and technology is retention once they are employed in the field. Various women within the technology field, as well as texts related to the subject, have addressed this issue. Kathryn McClintock, from Amazee Labs, noticed that women are quitting at a rate of 57%. McClintock felt this desire to leave is a result of the macho culture and work pressure that females are facing today, reiterating her belief that the “bro culture” is the root of many problems with women in technology (McClintock, 2014). Amara Keller, from Intel, echoed this belief when she discussed retention on a more personal level. She explained how she had witnessed 5 females leave Intel due to problems with the male dominated culture (Keller, 2014). Erin Pettigrew, from Gawker, used an interesting metaphor that provided a new perspective on the issue. Pettigrew started by explaining how she viewed women in tech as market challengers while men could be seen as market leaders. She then went on to compare women in technology to Google doc and men as Microsoft office. Anyone who knows computers knows that Microsoft office is far more established than Google doc in regards to popularity and features. This comparison suggests the lack of women prevents them from rising to the level of men and, furthermore, having a significant presence in the technology field (Pettigrew, 2014). Amy McDonald-Sanjideh, from Google, pondered the reasons why women leave the technology field. She concluded it has to do with either career growth, the desire for more money, seeking a career change, dealing with a difficult manager or the decision to start a family (McDonald-Sanjideh, 2014) While all of these may be valid reasons, it still leaves us with a lack of women in technology as a result. As for readings that address this issue, Maria Klawe wrote an article called Women in Computing- Where Are We Now that explains the key stages women drop out of tech and reasons why they choose to leave. By explaining the problems women face at certain stages in their life, such as college, for example, it allows those in power during these difficult stages to understand the key problems and make adjustments accordingly (Klawe & Leveson, 1995). Finally, the article entitled Technology’s Man Problem by Claire Cain Miller, discussed how half of women in STEM leave. While this research is shocking in itself, it is even more discouraging that 51% leave to do something different while 49% remain in technology (Miller, 2014). The fact that more are choosing to leave the field suggests this is a problem that needs to be resolved with urgency.

The Intentioned Goal

The most optimistic outcome arising from this video would be a overwhelmingly positive response from women within the field that results in more women feeling inclined to join technology. This is the ideal response because the video would not only increases the retention rate but it has the potential to discourage women who were considering leaving the field from going through with that decision. Thinking realistically, however, the best outcome would be the influence that multiple viewings has on the general public in regards to getting people talking about this issue. These conversations, hopefully on the news, social media by using the hashtag (#) FlagIt or even on comments under the YouTube video, will increase awareness and prompt people to bring about change.

The Solution

In deciding upon a solution to this problem of retention, once can’t help but incorporate the recent technological advances in our society. Furthermore, in addition to these advances, there has been an increased presence online that is exemplified by visual storytelling. Large technology companies such as Microsoft and Google have been latching onto this trend by releasing videos that not only promote technology, but also provide a glimpse on women within their specific company. While some of these videos have gone viral and made an impact, the results could be greater.

A solution to improving the retention rate would be for some of the most influential tech companies to unite behind this cause and make a video that promotes women and technology. This video will be aired as a commercial in addition to being uploaded on every company’s YouTube account. The ideal companies for this project would be Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple, Google, Intel and Twitter as they individually have a reliable following and are all forces to be reckoned with in the technology community. This combined effort would suggest the companies are coming together for an amazing cause rather than only being concerned with the status of their own companies. Furthermore, their willingness to take a stand on such a controversial issue will ideally make a difference and inspire women to reconsider the next time they are ready to leave the technology field. In addition, having the same message distributed from six different platforms would allow this issue to reach people multiple times, considering many people use a combination of these companies, and the numerous viewings could potentially have a positive impact on viewers.

This movement can also become a social media campaign since half of the companies participating are a form of social media. At the end of the video, #FlagIt would be displayed on the screen in red. The hope is that, once released, the hashtag will trend as a result to the video trending. FlagIt is an acronym for Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple, Google, Intel and Twitter and the hashtag will be red to symbolize a red flag. Red flags usually signify a warning of danger or a problem and this is certainly relevant in regards to this issue. While FlagIt is an acronym for the companies involved, it is more important that people realize this is not an issue to take lightly and that if action is not taken fast, the technology field is in danger.

As for the specific layout of the video, there are a few necessary parts that will ensure a successful outcome. The first being the incorporation of women in the field.   The video will begin by following a woman at Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple, Google, Intel and Twitter. The footage would be edited together so even though we are following different women, it seems as if the viewer is receiving one perspective. This first part is meant to symbolize a day in the life of a women in the technology industry; therefore, it would be best to see some footage in a meeting or collaborative atmosphere to show how a woman’s opinion diversifies the workplace.

The next step is the incorporation of those in management. There would be a transition to those in higher positions in the office. Regardless if they are male or female, they can discuss the value of the women in their company and the desire for more. While the footage will be, again, edited together, it will be easy to identify which company the person is from due to their shirt or a lower graphic on the screen. This is critical because it reiterates that this video is for a greater cause, not something to promote one company in particular.

Most importantly, at the end, right when people are left wanting more and wondering how they can make a difference, #FlagIt will appear on the screen to act as an encouragement to keep the conversation going. Accompanied by the right music, this 3 minute video will allow an inside look into each of these companies that will trigger an emotional response from viewers. If successful, it not only has the potential to start a larger video campaign, but it can bring about the change that the technology industry so desperately needs.

 

Works Cited

Keller, A. (2014). Women in tech-what can you do? Personal Collection of (Amara Keller), Intel, Hillsboro, OG.

Klawe, M., & Leveson, N. (1995). Women in computing-where are we now? Communications of the ACM, 38(1), 29-35.

McClintock, K. (2014). Findings on women in tech. Personal Collection of (Kathryn McClintock), Amazee Labs, Austin, TX.

McDonald-Sandjideh, A. (2014). The tale of a texan in silicon valley. Personal Collection of (Amy McDonald-Sanjideh), Google, San Francisco, CA.

Miller, C. (April 5, 2014). Technology’s man problem. Retrieved December 6th from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/technology/technologys-man-problem.html?_r=0

Pettigrew, E. (2014). Problems with women in tech. Personal Collection of (Erin Pettigrew), Gawker, New York City, NY.