Ever since I was younger, I have personally experienced the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) discrimination when it comes to girls pursuing tech. Whether it's a blatantly disparaging remark like, "Isn't that a guy thing?" or more subtle responses such as expressing surprise at girls attending tech-related events, people must acknowledge that social pressures are a reality and make it harder for females to pursue their passion. Some mistakenly attribute the reason for smaller percentages of women engineers to biological differences and an innate gravitation towards humanities professions, which is yet another misconception brought about by social conventions. After all, weren't many of the (often uncredited) leaders of computer science and engineering in its early years women, like Grace Hopper?
To solve this issue, several organizations like Girls Who Code have been founded to foster girls' interest in STEM, and although they have contributed greatly to the number of young women who involve themselves in this field, they face backlash as being discriminatory against men. I strongly think that this notion is untrue, since several co-ed opportunities in STEM already exist. I believe that having exclusive programs for girls is analogous to supporting minorities and serves to eliminate the social pressure that tends to deter those groups. As long as these outreach programs work towards the goal of a more integrated, diverse society, I do not see anything wrong with this mode of reform. Furthermore, to those who attempt to discredit such efforts by claiming that notions of sexism are false because of laws preventing it, aren't there several laws against racism? Yet how many people are victims of the negative effects of racial discrimination? Even if there are certain people with extreme takes on these issues, it often feels as though any sort of effort to support girls is immediately opposed.
Seeing all of this backlash and the fact that gender disparity is still persistent in our modern society, I felt motivated to do my part. Through some research, I found that although 66% of tween girls participate in computer science programs, only 4% of girls pursue a tech degree in college (src. Girls Who Code). Furthermore, studies have suggested that the best way to increase the number of women in the tech field is to appeal to young teens. Growing up, I have been fortunate enough to have received guidance from my older peers on how to explore my interests. However, not everyone can receive this kind of help. Through my startup InspireUNI, I decided to start a series of outreach events called Pathways to Tech, where I would share resources on how to become more involved in the tech field with junior high to high school girls.
I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students had signed up within the span of a few days, and this heightened my resolve to reach out to more people. During the two events, I introduced the girls to different professions in the tech field, such as programming and electrical engineering. Although “artificial intelligence” and “developer” are frequently used buzzwords, not many people know what engineers who work in these fields actually do, so I used clips of things like prosthetics and AI generated music to garner their interest. I then delved into activities they could participate in now to help them explore the tech field, from free classes inside and outside of school or participating in junior high robotics programs, to directing them to resources where they can create their own video games. I explained that the “Pathway to Tech” for them has 3 steps: 1) a spark of interest, 2) learning skills, and 3) applying those skills in real life situations. I talked about how they can gain real-world experience through research internships in high school, and the importance of collaboration with their peers.
Throughout the presentation, I emphasized the positive aspects of the tech field like creative freedom and accessibility, and more importantly, their potential. I especially stressed the importance of staying strong in their passion even if people undermine their accomplishments solely because of their gender. Seeing their eagerness and inquisitiveness in asking about activities, and the interest in newcomers and girls with years of coding experience under their belt alike, I decided to continue Pathways to Tech as a series in an effort to reach more girls. I have hope that they will grow up to level the playing field for women in tech. I truly believe that by interacting with our communities, we all have the power to help empower girls to pursue a career in this industry.
Prerana is a senior at Mission San Jose High School who is fascinated with computers and artificial intelligence. Currently, she is an intern at UC Berkeley's HART Lab where she works with sensors in AI research. She is co-captain of Transformerz, her all girls robotics team, and also the VP of her [...]