The Whole... Gender Thing

I used to care about “women in tech.” I used to jump into those discussions, blood boiling and hands flailing; I used to like to point people to some of my favorite articles and books, and partially still can’t help but click on every single gender-related article to pop up on HN…

… but after years of this nonsense, I’ve given up. There’s very little to be gained from discussing that topic - frankly, most people just get upset because they’ve already made up their minds. So I tend to try to take the higher road and ignore all the hubbub.

Until, of course, when they agree with me (grin). Blogger Jolie O’Dell has taken most of my thoughts and packaged them up nicely in a carefully articulated post:

We are misguided to demand more women in tech when there simply isn’t an adequate supply of competent technological professionals to support gender parity. Women in tech begins with little girls playing with science- and math-related toys, and it takes much longer than just a few months or a few years to undo the sociological mores of a few millenia.

I wholeheartedly believe that root of the women-in-tech problem is what we present (How Society Works, and Your Place In It) and show (“Math Class is Tough!”) to our girls. There isn’t enough out there to teach these incredibly impressionable girls (how many girls do you think say they like science at the end of elementary school? And how many at the end of high school?) that math and science are cool, can be cool, and can even make you cool.

This is what I care about - and this being my blog, I figure I’m allowed to try and sell you some of my favorite ways to fix this problem. There are so many ways to get involved, either by taking an active mentorship role or just helping them out with resources. Here’s a list of organizations I’ve been involved with over the years:

  • KEYs and WISE (MIT) - KEYs is a science/technology-focused Saturday full-day program for middle-school girls, with activity topics ranging from architecture to chemistry to physics. (Only open to MIT volunteers.) WISE is a similar program for high school girls, with a slightly more advanced look at similar topics.
  • Science Club for Girls (Boston/Cambridge) - an after-school program, once a week, for elementary school-aged girls. This is a fantastic program that really provides these girls a place to meet “mentor scientists” and get their hands dirty with hands-on science-related activities. Even if you’re not in the Boston area, they are always in need of donations and produce great results with the resources they have.
  • Iridescent Technovation Challenge (Mountain View) - an after-school program for high school girls, focused on technology and entrepreneurship. The Technovation Challenge split the girls into teams, each of which was directed to build and market a mobile app by the end of the eight-week period. They built Android apps (via Google’s App Inventor), came up with a marketing plan for their product, and pitched their product to investors.

And some programs that look interesting: (Please comment if you know of any others that are similar / might be interesting!)

  • We Teach Science (anywhere!) - an online tutoring program for K-12 students (not girls in general) to “better understand lesson materials”. Low commitment (approx. 1 hr/week videoconference)
  • Expanding Your Horizons (San Francisco) - “a one day conference for middle school girls that allows them to explore career opportunities in mathematics and science,” with hands-on workshops led by women who use math and/or science in their professional lives.

Now stop complaining about the problem, and go make something happen! :)

Let me know what you think on Twitter.