By CV Harquail (Blogger, Authentic Organizations)
What is the best, purest way to get more girls interested in tech (and more women employed in tech)?

Get them deeply interested in what tech can do and what problems tech can help us solve.

When girls (and boys) become genuinely interested and genuinely curious, they will pursue careers in tech not because ‘that’s where the jobs are” or because “that’s what smart people do”, but because that’s what they *want* to do.

How can we get girls curious about tech?

Take them to events where polished, enthusiastic, hip tech evangelists share their world-changing ideas.

Take Our Daughters to Tech Events

My DH and I tried just yesterday evening to do just that: We took our daughters (13 and 11) to a tech event -– IgniteNYC. The setup of an Ignite event seemed right for introducing the girls to an array of tech-y topics and an assortment of speakers. There were 16 people on the agenda -— both female and male, white and people of color. The presentations are short -– only 5 minutes —- so if any one talk was boring, a new one was on the horizon.

Plus, I knew that some of the speakers would be especially interesting… like my OpEdProject pal and tech entrepreneur Tereza Nemessanyi, who would be talking about her startup, HonestlyNow.

Finally, the price was right -– instead of $800 for a day pass to Web 2.0 conference, I could take them to a live event for $11 dollars each. That plus a trip to Shake Shake. No problem.

Until we showed up at the venue. It turns out, No one under 21 was allowed into the tech event. Ostensibly, this was because there was a cash bar at the cocktail hour before the event. This was not a worry for me. My girls have been to plenty of wedding and fundraisers with cash bars, and they have never tried to spend their allowances on gin & tonics.

But, even though my tweens looked obviously too young to sneak up to the bar, even though they were accompanied by not one parent but two, and even though they’d brought their kindles to sit in the auditorium and read with me until the presentations started, we could not get around the event coordinator/caterer’s policy.

Turns out, the IgniteNYC organizers were surprised too (see note, below). They were unaware of the age restriction, which was part of the larger contract organized by Web2.0. They have had teens speak at previous events, and they are committed to reaching out to the younger tech-curious community.

(What was also distressing was that the catering contract prohibited people under 18 —- even though the legal drinking age in NY is 21. What’s up with that? Some inconsistency there, if the point is to prevent “underage” exposure to liquor. But I digress. See correction below.)

Consider that it wasn’t just precocious 13 yr olds who were barred… College students and startup interns under 21 18 were also not permitted to attend.

Do you have to be over 18 to be interested in Tech? One would hope not, because by then it’s too late.

The Ignite Coordinator was genuinely distressed at having to turn away the girls. She quickly refunded our tickets and apologized for the constraint, and my kids went off to hang out with their cousins while I stayed for the (fun) event. I understood later that the cocktail hour of mingling was a big part of how the event was framed — more like a party than a TEDx. But still, it made me think:

If these tech events exist to get people excited about and involved in tech, why not make room for people under 21?

Inspiring Tech Curiosity While Girls Are Young

We have to take our daughters to tech events, because we have to catch their interest while they are young.

We have to catch them young, before they’ve set their sights on becoming the next Taylor Swift.

We have to catch them young, so that they can see tech stars and rising stars —- people like Caterina Fake, Joanne Wilson, Carlota Perez, Sekai Ferai, Kanika Gupta, Tara Hunt, Birame Sock, Annie Chang, Selma Zafar, and Adria Richards -— and imagine themselves becoming like these dynamic tech-y change agents.

These kids need to see more than a fancy software site in beta when they look over their parents’ shoulders at the computer. They need to “see it to be it”, as @SCJoson reminds me These kids need to be inspired, by seeing a bit of the real thing – the real people -— powering our tech revolution.

We need to expose our kids to tech events and rising tech stars so that we can catch them while they are young. So, I’d like to propose that we do two things –

  1. Take our daughters to tech events. Let it be(come) normal, and not a surprise, to see teenage girls in the tech event audience, all hepped up to see the latest change-the-world digital product. And, make it easier for teens to attend tech events, by creating room for them. For example, create a seating space with no access to alcohol (e.g., a small side section of the seating area, with an entryway that doesn’t take them past the bar).
  2. Clarify policies, so that teens can attend with adult chaperones.
    • Identify age limits — Make it clear whether or not people under 21 are welcome.
    • Rethink catering contracts -– If it’s underage drinking that’s the fear, address this in other ways.
    • Check your contracts w/ venues, caterers and event planners — Ask them to find ways to include teens lawfully, sensibly, and with a genuine welcome.

Not too young though. I’m not recommending that we set aside places for toddlers in strollers, or put out coloring books for kindergartners who are up past their bedtimes. And, I’m not recommending that there be childcare at these events, although that is an appropriate step too.

Nobody really wants to bring her or his child to professional event where the kid would disrupt the scene. BUT some of us want opportunities to bring well-behaved, interested kids to events where they can see tech as a solution, tech as an opportunity, tech as an option for them.

Let’s make it easier to inspire our kids. Let’s make it possible, and normal, to take our daughters to tech events

[** I forwarded this post to one of the IgniteNTC’s coordinators, to make sure I had the facts right, and IgniteNYC’s Director, Tikva Moriwati reached out to me to clarify a few bits. This led to a few edits, above. Tikva shared that they too were concerned and disappointed that IngiteNYC couldn’t be a family event– at least not this particular night. The no-kid policy was established by the contract of the larger event (Web 2.0), and wasn’t discovered by IgniteNYC until that evening. The exclusion of teens was not something igniteNYC wanted, and they will be more deliberate when they plan and publicize future events. I appreciate that Tikva and her team of volunteers are committed to reaching out to the whole community, not just grown-ups. My girls and I are looking forward to their Spring event — but planning to skip the Dec.1st cocktail party. — Oct 13]

This post was originally posted at Authentic Organizations.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: CV Harquail, PhD, is a leadership and organizational change consultant who writes about aligning organizational identity, action and purpose at AuthenticOrganizations. She focuses on questions related to organizational identity, image, reputation, social media and authenticity. CV holds a PhD in Leadership & Organizational Behavior from the Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan, where she taught in the Women’s Studies Program. Follow her on Twitter at @cvharquail.