final solutions

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

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

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

Becoming what they wish they’d had: why lack of mentorship for women in science is a problem and a proposed solution

The Problem:

Many of the readings and speakers have suggested that one big problem for attracting girls and women to STEM is a lack of mentors or role models in the science, engineering, technology and math fields. For example in Women in Computing- Take 2, Dr Maria Klawe said, “It is widely recognized that declining interest in technical disciplines among female students starts at a young age. Therefore early-intervention efforts are important to ensure future increases in representation… expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere, given that the absence of such models has proven to be a deterrent.[1]In How Mentoring May Be The Key to Solving Tech’s Women Problem, Cassie Slane said, “One of the difficulties wit keeping women in technology is that there are few female mentors for them to look to.[2]” In Women’s Entrepreneurship by Kelley et. al. we learned that, “When people know entrepreneurs, such acquaintances offer the possibility for role models, networking, advice, and encouragement.[3]” These sources all express the need for more mentors for women in technology, especially more women mentors.

The Intended Goal:

My solution to this problem involves talking to and learning from young women in college, studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and getting their opinions and stories of their experiences as women in these fields, particularly in terms of mentorship or lack thereof. Using these stories, I will write an opinion piece describing the problem and suggesting a solution. The proposed solution would be for women of college age to notice this problem and notice that they can fix it by choosing to encourage or mentor someone younger than them who is interested in the field. Ideally, the most optimistic outcome would be for the piece to be shared widely, perhaps over social media, and for many to see it and start the movement. Realistically, not a large majority of college age students would read it, but perhaps a few would and would still be inspired to encourage and mentor someone else.

Becoming what they wish they’d had: why lack of mentorship for women in science is a problem and what can be done to solve it

 

Chloe Phea, Brigette Lee, and Christine Campbell are four students at Trinity University studying to become doctors and engineers. Each became interested in their field by watching a parent or other adult and aspiring to become like those they looked up to. Each agrees that women are equally capable to men in STEM fields, however they also agree that women are underrepresented.

Underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields is a problem with several key causes. One of these causes is the lack of mentorship by other women or lack of women role models to look up to in these fields.

According to Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College in California, “It is widely recognized that declining interest in technical disciplines among female students starts at a young age. Therefore early-intervention efforts are important to ensure future increases in representation… expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere, given that the absence of such models has proven to be a deterrent.”

Early intervention should mean as early as elementary school, where girls are introduced to science, math, and computers, and develop either a love or fear of these subjects.

But, these fields aren’t appealing to many young girls. Typically, the image you envision when you hear “computer scientist” is a nerdy, overweight, white guy who lives in his mom’s basement. This is no different for young girls. They don’t want this image. Speaking for myself, I can say that the people I looked up to and wanted to be like when I grew up were the cool “big girls”- the girls that babysat me, or coached me or volunteered at my elementary school. I would argue that these are the most appealing role models to young girls.

So, when these “cool big girls” are the college-age young women, they should be reaching out to the next generation and hoping to inspire the girls sitting in the seats where they once sat.

Junior biochemistry and molecular biology major Brigette Lee agrees that having other women as role models is important. She credits her mother as one of her most important role models and one reason why she became interested in science. “They are not only able to show that women can be competitive in the field, but they can also demonstrate how to balance professional life with personal/family life,” she said.” However, she also noticed that many of her professors are men, and that in classes with male professors, men are more participatory in class because women fear being seen as loudmouths.

Another science major, sophomore Christine Campbell is studying engineering. She says that “it is easier to relate to someone who is the same gender as you. If you don’t see yourself in your mentor or role model, it makes it harder to imagine yourself in that position.”

Sophomore neuroscience major Chloe Phea reinforces the importance and lack of mentors for women in science. She says “I have yet to meet a female neurosurgeon. Girls aspiring to be in science should be able to find themselves a female mentor.”

All of these women’s experiences echo the benefits and need of more women to be role models for those following in their footsteps.

One proposed solution would be for these women, who are realizing the importance of mentors and the discrepancy between mentors for men and women would be for them to take the initiative to become mentors for younger girls. There are many volunteer opportunities for facilitating these relationships. Women in college could inquire with local elementary schools about programs that allow older kids to mentor younger kids. They could encourage cousins or neighbors or friends’ younger siblings. There are tons of opportunities, young women just need to take them. Younger girls look up to older girls and if they see these young women succeeding while studying to become doctors and engineers, they may be inspired to do the same and not deterred for fear of having a negative or nerdy image. These women agreed and hope that others with similar experiences will too.

[1] Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). Women in computing- take 2. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68-69-76. doi:10.1145/1461928.1461947

[2] Slane, C. (2014, 10 April, 2014). How mentoring may be the key to solving tech’s women problem. Huffington Post Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cassie-slane/how-mentoring-may-be-the-_b_4717821.html

[3] Kelley et. al.Women’s entrepreneurship. (pp. 28-29-32)