As a female technologist, I’m familiar with the bleak statistics: Women only occupy 20% of the technology workforce, a number that drops to 5% for women in leadership roles. These numbers are often presented at the start of conversations about how we can help bridge the gender gap in STEM-related fields and increase female representation.
Recent research indicates that providing young women with context and role models of what STEM looks like in the real world, along with extracurricular activities and community support, is a contributing factor in building confidence to pursue STEM degrees and later go on to become professional technologists. Research also shows that diverse teams perform better, and as technology continues to impact everything we do, it’s critical to have the input of half the population in research and user experience.
For these reasons, West Monroe hosted Girls Who Code, an organization that is building the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States. In our Chicago and Seattle offices, we provided role models, hands-on activities, and career connections. Throughout both events, there were four ways we instilled confidence in young girls to pursue a STEM career.
1. We Showcased Different STEM Career Paths
We showcased different STEM career paths through a panel discussion featuring West Monroe employees from different backgrounds. The young women were able to ask questions about pursuing a career in technology and heard first-hand the value of a STEM education. A conversation about the pros and cons of working as a consultant versus working in industry or at a start-up showcased the myriad of options a STEM education can lead to. These kinds of discussions help the girls connect their personal interests to potential career paths, an important process that helps keep girls engaged in STEM education.
2. We Helped Young Women Experience a Day in the Life of a Developer
Our Build-A-Bot workshop taught the girls about conversational interface technology and took them through the process developers undertake to understand and solve our clients’ problems. After learning why our clients care about chatbot technology, we led them through a design activity where they identified a problem that could be solved by a chatbot. They even got to build out their chatbot’s personality. This helped them understand how we collaborate with our clients.
3. We Did Hands-on Coding and Taught New Technologies
The girls were taught the basics of professional tools such as Visual Studio and Azure, and then built their own question-and-answer chatbot using Microsoft’s Bot Framework. By the end of the workshop, the girls had interacted with several new technologies and had a chatbot they could share with family and friends.
4. We Shared Our Stories as Women in Technology
The day ended with a discussion on being a woman in technology, a panel I sat on in both Chicago and Seattle. We talked about our experiences as females in technology and shared stories about our most interesting projects. One of my favorite moments was a discussion about where we think technology is going. We talked about personalized medicine, quantum computing, VR, and robots, and even made wild predictions about how our world will be transformed in the next 20 years. I felt inspired hearing the girls’ excitement about the future of technology.
The Bottom Line: Success Requires a Support Network
Throughout the day, one piece of advice stayed consistent: Build a support system that will help you advocate for yourself. As a female technologist, I have experienced the importance of having mentors, friends, and colleagues to support you during your professional career. Being one of the only females in a room isn’t always easy, but having a community that supports you makes it easier: High school students are more engaged in STEM education when they have support from their teachers and family.
I’m proud to work for a company whose mission is to develop the next generation of leaders. We don’t only seek to grow our leaders at West Monroe but invest time and resources in developing young leaders outside our four walls and within our local communities to strengthen the pipeline of future talent and encourage diversity of thought, backgrounds, and experience.
Thanks to our own Rick Garber for the fantastic photos.