Fostering future women in tech begins with the women already there

Women face a lack of representation in many industries. (In other breaking news, the sky is blue.) It’s still the same old, same old. Except that today we have lots of women and men talking about it, but not putting the next foot in front of the other in an attempt to really make a change. Oh isn’t it a shame that there are not more women in tech… but I’m going to go put booth babes on my stand at the next tech conference. I’m going to go speak on yet another panel which is full of … men. I’m going to invite a new block of mentors to my incubator program – who all happen to be men.
For the first time in my career, I have mentors who are women. Focused, passionate women who are interested in fostering achievement and growth. Women who are changing the face of industry, not just for women, but for everyone. Because ultimately, it’s not about your sex, but about the work. Nobody wants a token representation of women, but we all want to encourage diversity. When we do that, we achieve a cohesive, balanced approach to the work that needs to be done for the people who will ultimately access the result.
With the leadership of these women, it was natural for me to not only support their work by speaking to young women in Colorado high schools about the work of Project EPIC, but also now I’m in Sydney for the American summer, it was natural for me to reach out and also do that at my old high school. So on Tuesday I’ll be presenting to the young women at Beverly Hills Girls’ High in Sydney – a school which has an incredibly high immigrant and non-English speaking background, mostly muslim, population. A school full of young women who are able to build a brilliant future in the broad arena of tech. I’ve been invited to speak during the school assembly, in front of the entire school, about the work done by Project EPIC as well as the enormous potential a career in tech can offer.
It’s an incredibly emotional opportunity. I’ll be walking back into those high school gates for the first time in over 20 years. I can tell from the outside that the place has changed. But the curriculum has changed far more.
When I was graduating high school, computers were just being introduced as a 1-unit subject for the HSC (not even a complete course). Girls who took it were usually the math brains, and instead of computers to work on, they used printouts of keyboards and pretended to push the keys. The line was that “girls can do anything” and that we should all consider a job in a bank or something to do with computers, but nobody really knew what careers in computers meant – we all thought of hard core coding and data.
Meanwhile I took photography and legal studies as my 1 unit courses, and while I wanted to be a journalist I never dreamed I’d get the grades to enter the highly competitive tertiary education it required. So I applied to a teaching degree instead, which I thought I’d get offered – and when the offer came I defered, because I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted to do anyway. Years down the track, I love teaching at college level (never really wanted to be a school teacher), have had a fabulous career as a journalist and have taught the classes in college that I never thought I’d be able to take as a student. I’ve even written the curriculum for TAFE’s national framework standards.
It goes to show that you can’t tell the future, and that there are many roads to a goal, if you’re prepared to forge them and not listen to naysayers. I hope to open the minds of the young women of Beverly Hills Girls High on Tuesday.
Today, more than ever before, the pathways to success are many. You just have to be prepared to push the branches back to see the way. And I truly believe it’s our responsibility to hold those branches back for the next young women on the track.

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