Encouraging Tech-Savvy Nieces

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One founder reflects on what attending our recent Las Vegas conference taught her about getting more girls interested in tech. 

By Sheree Winslow (Writer & Founder, WomenAtTheTables.com)

We need more women in the technology industry.

Whenever I attend a startup event in San Francisco where I advise startup companies and established a new chapter of Startup Leadership Program, I look around and think that we need more women in technology. On a good day, 25% of women are in the room. But more often than not, it’s only 10% women—or less. The difference is surprising when considering that women comprise 47% of the U.S. workforce (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook”).

But a couple of weeks ago, I had a different experience when I spoke at the Women 2.0 conference. The event provided me with an opportunity to meet brilliant women who are changing the world with their work.

Thinking of my niece, I started to wonder how we could encourage girls to enter the technology space. Below are a few of the things I learned from the other speakers and conference attendees.

Technology Has Always Been Women’s Work

During the opening keynote address, Megan Smith, Vice President, Google[x], shared the importance of fixing the historic record to reflect women’s achievements in  technology. “Fix the visibility record,” Smith said. “We’ve always been at the table.” Smith gave examples of computer pioneer Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who was not only one of the first computer programmers but also invented the first compiler, and Ada Lovelace who is considered the first computer programmer. Smith sites additional resources for understanding the role women have placed in advancing the industry in a Huffington Post article.

We can help our nieces to understand that technology is not an industry just for men by helping them understand that some of the first technology innovators were women.

Give an Accurate Picture of What Technology Is

…and get it into curriculum

Company founder and CEO Sara Dansie Jones is working to make coding more accessible through her company, KoDefy. “We need to change how we talk about technology,” Jones said. Jones explained that the creative and collaborative aspects of computer coding, for example, are not well known. “Code literacy is missing from the education system,” Jones said.

According to Code.org, there will be a million more computing jobs than students graduating with computer science degrees over the next ten years. Based on the average computing salary of $80,000 a year that means there will be $500 billion available in salaries for jobs that can’t be filled (yep, $500 billion)! And in a video produced to help explain the problem, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talk about how they started working with computers and code at the ages of thirteen and twelve years old, respectively.

To encourage our nieces to consider a technology path, we can educate ourselves on what these jobs entail. And in the same way that technology pioneers became major innovators with curiosity and a computer, we can encourage our nieces to begin playing with code and help identify for them coding education opportunities. Finally, we can challenge school districts to bring computer science into the curriculum.

Create Girl Spaces

One successful entrepreneur (who asked not to be identified) told me a story about sending her daughter to a gaming camp where there were two girls and 60 boys. The entrepreneur was excited that her daughter was taking an interest in technology but after just two days, the young girl called her mother begging to go home. The middle-school-aged daughter complained that she couldn’t relate to the boys. It wasn’t that they intimidated her—she just didn’t enjoy being in a place where boys were roughhousing and wrestling. When the mother explained to the camp organizer why her daughter was leaving—a problem with the social dynamic—she asked what the drop-out rate was for girls at the computer engineering camp held at the same location: 90%. Nine-out-of-ten girls who enrolled in camp had such a horrible experience that they convinced their parents to let them return home instead of finishing their week.

As women who have led companies, we agreed that we traditionally have held to the belief that girls have to learn to work alongside the boys just like they would in a professional setting. However, for technology to appeal to younger aged girls, our thinking may be flawed and we might need to think like a girl first. Girls Who Code is working to create these opportunities through pilot programs in several cities.

There will be a time for co-ed activities, but we can help nieces to have a positive experience with technology by advocating for girl-only technology camps and clubs and finding those opportunities for them.

Tell Them to Think Bigger

Kay Koplovitz, the founder of USA networks and the SyFy channel and a venture capitalist, also spoke at the conference. She told a story of working for a TV station when she was 20 years old and having it suggested that she had reached the apex of her career. Meanwhile, she had dreams of being the president of a network.

Being bold is a signature of technology success and we should encourage our nieces to dream big. By encouraging our nieces to consider technology careers, we move them toward financial stability and opportunity in an industry where females are underrepresented but desperately needed. My big dream is that we radically change the statistics around women in technology and leadership positions.

Have you encouraged your nieces to consider technology careers? Do you have ideas on how we can get more women into the technology industry?

This post originally appeared on SavvyAuntie.com

3a3d1eaAbout the blogger: Sheree Winslow is a writer and founder of WomenAtTheTables.com. She is passionate about helping women advance as leaders. You can connect with Sheree via email at [email protected], through the Women At The Tables Facebook page or at WomenAtTheTables.com.