In 1987, I graduated with a degree in computer science. There weren’t a lot of other women in the field and I was determined to get ahead in this man’s world making a pathway for more women. I did pretty well for myself on the fast track at IBM, but somewhere along the way, I got disillusioned with the corporate culture.
“For several years, I was humming along quite nicely in my feminist cause, but then I had a child, left corporate America, turned 40 and had a huge identity crisis. I had done well in a man’s world, but now I found myself in the world of motherhood. How was I supposed to excel at something I had no training for? What was happening to my feminist agenda? I thought I was helping to pave the way for the women after me to be treated as equals, but instead I was just playing by the rules of corporate America and they no longer seemed adequate for my life. I felt like a rebel without a clue.” ~ 2006
In 2010, I got a scholarship to attend my first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as a K12 educator. I was looking for lesson plans and connections. I naively thought that things were probably looking up for women in technology. But instead, I learned that when I was in college was the height of women in computer science – 37%. Now women represent less than 20% of CS graduates. I learned that pay is still unequal and high-value and high-income jobs in this sector are still mostly occupied by men.
It made me so mad and sad and frustrated and I wanted to know what the hell happened. I mean, technology innovations have fundamentally changed the way we work, communicate, govern and educate, yet girls are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career. I did a lot of research and I learned that by age 13 girls determine a positive or negative attitude towards subjects like CS, that stereotypes are a huge deal and that girls want to change the world.
I started Tech-Girls so I could work with girls and I learned that girls really are interested in technology. I learned that adults like you and me can make the difference in what they think about their future. I learned, hopefully not too late, that it is just not good enough to look ahead for my own career or even help create a pathway for others, but I also need to reach back to the women and girls behind me to be a role model and mentor. I now believe that gender equity will only be achieved if we also work toward changing the tech culture to be more inclusive of all people.
Most importantly, I learned that girls really can change the world – your world if you will let them.
I encourage each of you to find a way to reach back to younger women. Actively mentor or teach, encourage and inspire other women to engage and make their mark on the technology of today and tomorrow.