Girls just want to have fun ... in high-tech careers
Girls Who Code steers young women toward careers in science and technology, fields traditionally dominated by men that face a shortage of workers in the future.
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Paula Ellis, former vice president of the foundation, began her career as a journalist when there were few women in the news industry. She believes that introducing girls to female mentors is an important step to breaking gender barriers. “Mentoring is a really strong way to support a girl’s interest or a woman’s career. It’s the fact that you can see that you can do this. [GWC’s] model is pretty simple – it’s exposure to what’s possible.”
Female role models help break down the idea that males are inherently more skilled at math and science, a belief that deters women from classes and careers in these fields. Even Saujani, whose parents were both engineers, says she was afraid of math and science, convinced that she wasn’t good at them.
But Carolyn Chandler, former adjunct professor for DePaul’s Human-Computer Interaction program and co-author of a book on UX design, argues that technology represents much more than cold numbers. She credits her background in anthropology with influencing her work in creating user-friendly online experiences. “Women tend to be very socially aware and designing requires that as a skill, to be interested in gaining the empathy of the folks you’re designing for and trying to solve problems with that human element.”
She points to research linking collective intelligence with the number of females in a group. The study found that women’s social sensitivity positively affected group cooperation, improving overall performance.
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In contrast to the image of a lone programmer, Chandler champions teamwork, encouraging women to share their ideas and attend meetups outside of work. For her, the field opened up when she stopped feeling intimidated by the male-dominated industry.
“I started to feel not like a woman among men, but a designer among designers, a developer among developers,” she said.
Gender or otherwise, Ellis agrees that technology will benefit from teams of diverse individuals. “Everybody has something unique to add. When we all see something from a different perspective, and we share that perspective, something creative and new happens. We better represent the world.”