Girls don’t know they can work in technology. That truth hit home when my youngest daughter graduated from elementary school. The principal read aloud each child’s aspirations as they walked across the small stage. For every girl in the class, technology was decidedly out of mind. Doctors, lawyers and teachers got the nod instead.
When asked about her future career, my daughter wasn’t sure what to say. She has written programs with MIT’s Scratch programming language and was the only girl on the robotics team during the school year. Still, she chose a future outside of technology.
Today’s women grew up in an age where STEM careers were generally thought to be the domain of men. Such tracks weren’t even considered by many of us and plenty still don’t realize that they can work in technology.
While change feels slow or sluggish, technology companies are paying attention to the data about women in tech. In June, General Electric sponsored a summer camp for girls, a week-long adventure called GE Girls, which showed participants what it’s like to be a real scientist. The hands-on experience helped ignite interest in STEM fields for girls who were mostly unaware of the opportunities available. They were quickly convinced tech careers were right for them. Sixth-grader Erin Colgrove, for example, decided computers and chemistry were in her future. “I love to build electronics, work with computers and experiment with science and chemistry,” she said. “I enjoy baking in the kitchen and seeing chemical reactions take place.”
Earlier this year, the BlackBerry Scholars Program opened applications for first year undergraduate women interested in mobile technology. BlackBerry created the program to increase the number of women studying and influencing tech’s future, and to encourage women to get involved in mobile technology. More than 500 students applied, and four-year scholarships will go to 10 participants. An internship with BlackBerry during the student’s third or fourth year is required, but all travel and living expenses will be paid for.
Facebook’s on this path, too. Saint Mary’s College in California received $25,000 from the company to set up a scholarship fund for young women interested in tech careers. The Facebook Women in Technology scholarship will provide $5,000 a year to women who want to study digital media. SMC hopes the opportunity will increase the number of female graduates who will work in technology, and also that it will lead to jobs at Facebook.
Meanwhile, the craft marketplace Etsy, is funding a summer learning program at Hacker School in Brooklyn. Etsy Hacker Grants fund an intensive full-time summer program for women who want to be better programmers. One reason for the effort may lie within Etsy’s own walls: It struggled itself with gender inequality until senior staff examined team dynamics and realized they were in desperate need of more diversity. Hacker School is an integral part of a two-year process deigned to quintuple the number of women programmers at Etsy.
In technology, women have a marketing problem, and it has to be addressed at the grass-roots level. These and other programs help young women get into the weeds, and discover the promise they might otherwise have never seen.