As I blogged about previously, I became a software engineer largely because of other intelligent and strong women I met throughout my life. Based on these experiences, I believe that women role models and mentors are the key to recruiting more women to technology. In my experience, the women do not necessarily need to be tech women; they need to be motivated, smart and confident women.
1. Encourage young girls who are interested in technology.
Everyone can work towards this. Encourage girls to take technology related classes, attend camps or participate in the numerous extra-curriculars and contests. The fear of being different, of being the only girl with a group of guys can be intimidating and isolating. Only by encouraging more girls to attend, can we begin to see more girls’ innate interest in technology increase. You can start or volunteer at a women focused technology camp for young girls as my friend Alison is attempting in Northern NJ.
2. Mentor young women and provide them with female role models.
If you are a woman in technology become more involved in the community. You can volunteer at a camp or attend an elementary school class or special program to discuss your work. At the college level you can see if there is a women in computer science group you can meet with. I have attended a Women’s Tea with the Colorado State University Computer Science department. Attend a women in technology conference such as the Rocky Mountain Celebration of Women in Computing. Through any of these avenues you can share your experiences and knowledge with others.
If you are a woman not focused on technology, authentically expressing yourself and your intelligence to young girls can provide great inspiration to them. For a girl to know how much she can achieve no matter what anyone says is critical and you, as a woman, are a shining example to this fact.
3. Educate women on public speaking, debate, and conflict resolution.
If there is one college class that any “A” student dreads the most, it is public speaking. However, the ability to thoughtfully express yourself while attending a work meeting, facilitating a meeting, or giving a talk at a conference can differentiate you from your peers.
My greatest difficulty is handling conflicts, handling that little bit of doubt that creeps in when someone disagrees with me. To combat this doubt I research and prepare to make sure I am as knowledgeable as possible on a topic. Alternatively, I offer to come back and discuss an issue later to further research it. Additionally you can make sure that everyone is on the same page. If a debate continues to circle around, you can ask your opponent to repeat what you just said. You then do the same. Make sure that you understand what everyone is saying and that everyone understands what you are saying. Everyone, particularly women in a male dominated field, needs to have the confidence and the ability to disagree with others and explain why they disagree to have the ultimate impact.
In addition to women there is a dearth of minorities in technology related fields. These same principles could recruit more minorities to tech fields. Women communicate differently from men. Likewise, various cultures communicate differently from Americans. A change in dialogue, in language, is key to diversification. We need to value modes of communication that differ across cultures. To do this everyone needs to authentically express themselves and invite others into their mode of dialogue.