What an honor it was to be at one of the front tables of last week's Women In Technology (WIT) Luncheon at the PASS Summit in Seattle, WA. From this prime location I watched the keynote presentation by Angie Chang (@thisgirlangie), VP of Strategic Partnerships for Hackbright Academy. She described how she came to be involved with Hackbright Academy, and how they are front-and-center in the effort to give women the community, mentoring, and learning environment to help better promote women in leadership roles in engineering and other technology industries.
I came away from the luncheon with a couple of points that really stood out for me.
First, why are we still talking about getting more women into technology? It is 2015; this is something that we should have resolved by now. After all, we are in the United States, "the land of opportunity." Well, the reason we are still talking about it is because it is still an issue, and an important one in our industry. To be a vibrant industry for the long term, there needs to be representation from the best and brightest of all segments of our diverse society. We have to do more than talk about it; we have to create environments and businesses that attract all talent, not just those that look and act like those already in it.
The other point that stood out was that Hackbright Academy is not all about "the degree." It is about a welcoming community, a powerful network, and mentoring to help women succeed in leadership roles and create partnerships with companies like SurveyMonkey – who often see a stronger company as a result of programs like this. There are so many of us in technology that have non-tech degrees that we shouldn't be so hung up on that aspect of the person. Hire the best, period.
This was SQL Sentry's 5th year as sponsor of the WIT Luncheon. As part of this year's sponsorship, I wanted the opportunity to ask a few "bonus" questions, and she graciously accepted. Below are three questions that I received from Sheri Villers (LinkedIn), Software Developer at SQL Sentry.
- Villers: I am currently mentoring two young women in the CompSci department at UNCC, and I am somewhat at a loss as to what to say to them with regards to the huge gender gap. I realize simply being an example of a woman who has made a successful career in a mostly male profession is huge, but I would like Ms. Chang’s thoughts on the best/most effective ways to mentor girls and young women who are interested in STEM.
Chang: Connect the young women with your peers in the tech industry to grab coffee or lunch. Have them get a tour of the office and meet the other women in the company, especially those in development and leadership roles. There may indeed be a dearth of women in these roles, but have the young women meet the women currently in these roles. This will inspire the young women and keep them engaged in tech to hopefully join the industry and stay. You can also help them understand (faster) the importance of basic career skills like salary negotiation, sharing the latest studies and resources that are often circulated within women's groups that exist in larger tech companies, or mailing lists of women in tech/business.
Villers: Many people outside the technology world (and inside?) still think technology professional = "a geeky dude who plays video games in mom’s basement" or even just "a dude." How can we change the image of what a technology professional is/looks like to outsiders?
Chang: You have to be the change you wish to see in the world. There have been many campaigns to change the image of technology professionals. Recently in the San Francisco Bay Area, engineers who happen to be women banded together on social media to share their pictures with the hashtag "#ILookLikeAnEngineer" together — even raising enough money to put billboards of women engineers' faces up to show that women are in fact engineers. If you can help tag your pictures with "engineer", "programmer" or tech descriptors, you can also be found on search engines – one day changing the ratio of these images that come up for a Google search of "engineer".
Villers: What is the best way to address those who deny that the STEM gender gap is a problem, or insist that it is an unsolvable problem or that we should just wait for it to resolve itself?
Chang: The numbers speak for themselves. The number of women studying computer science aren't as high as the number of women studying medicine or law, arguably equally rigorous professions, due to negative cultural stereotypes of computer scientists. We can and should do what we can, whereever we are or whatever we do, to help aid positive perceptions and stereotypes of women in STEM so that more women are interested in pursuing STEM studies and related careers.
Almost all of us know a sibling, child, or significant other that can be a great addition to a technology company if just given the encouragement and chance to be part of our great community. I want to thank Ms. Chang and PASS Summit for the opportunity to be part of such an awesome and informative event. The SQL Server and Data Professional community is a large part of what makes it such a great thing to be a part of. We can all say "ILookLikeADataPro"!