For Women In Tech, Inspired Community Is Essential

The Grace Hopper Celebration reminds me that I am not alone as a women in tech and that diversity progress is not only possible, but inevitable. — Kaylyn Gibilterra, Software Engineer, Capital One

For Women In Tech, Inspired Community Is Essential

The annual Grace Hopper Celebration wrapped up on Friday night in Houston, with the 15,000 jubilant attendees gathering to hear the closing keynotes from Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff and U.S. C.T.O. Megan Smith. From the posts, snaps, updates and tweets (I participated from afar with the hashtags #GHC16 #InvestedInTech in support of conference sponsor Capital One’s inclusion in tech efforts) this year’s GHC event was a resounding success from the content to networking opportunities to the inspiration. As is frequently heard when it comes to STEM careers “you can’t be what you can’t see” — but last week in Houston, women (online and at the conference IRL) could see themselves in a lot of technology-driven roles.

For Women In Tech, Inspired Community Is Essential

When it comes to STEM conferences targeting women, content rules, however community and inspiration are vital programming components. Tia J. White is a senior tech leader at Capital One and attended the GHC (again) this year. Her reaction, one day into this massive, annual celebration, sums up the importance of women in tech events:

What makes GHC so awesome is the fact that you have an opportunity to meet very diverse female technologist from all walks of life. In a world where women in tech is such an important topic and a real issue, I get empowered and re-energized by seeing that I’m not the only Gen Y, black women in tech striving to change things and grow my career. The ability to make organic connections and learn new things are added bonuses.

For Women In Tech, Inspired Community Is Essential

The demand for skills-focused, content-centered women in tech conferences and events is growing. GHC grew from 12,000 attendees (from 63 countries) in 2015 to 15,000 attendees in 2016 (in 2015, GHC had over 200 sessions and nearly 700 speakers). Philadelphia’s Women In Tech Summit renamed itself to the Women In Tech Summit when it responded to growing market demand and expanded into Raleigh-Durham and Washington, D.C. in 2016. Additional markets for this one-day summit are planned for 2017. All profits generated from each Women In Tech Summit event support the non-profit TechGirlz.org (inspiring middle school girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers by offering free 1-day workshops). To date, over 5000 middle school girls attended the hands-on TechShopz and 81% of the workshop attendees have changed their mind about a tech career.

And earlier this summer, ProjectCSGIRLS held their 2-day national gala in the Washington, D.C. metro area (the gala offers technical workshops and inspirational keynotes as well as an awards ceremony). ProjectCSGIRLS is a national 501©(3) nonprofit working to close the tech gender gap. Their approach is to getting girls into technology is by running a national computer science competition for middle school girls. Since it was founded in 2013, ProjectCSGIRLS has reached over 1,800 middle school girls in 35 states. The 2016 ProjectCSGIRLS competition drew over 300 entrants (over 600 middle school girls).

Pooja Chandrashekar is a biomedical engineering student at Harvard University. She is also the Founder and CEO of ProjectCSGIRLS. When asked what was the biggest takeaway from this year’s ProjectCSGIRLS national gala, Pooja told me:

Undoubtedly, the biggest takeaway from this year’s National Gala was the sense of community it fostered among the girls, their parents and mentors, and our speakers. It was amazing to see the friendships that were built over the span of just two days and to see these talented, creative, and passionate girls connecting and sharing ideas with each other.

For Women In Tech, Inspired Community Is Essential

Like TechGirlz, ProjectCSGIRLS is focused on offering more computer science workshops throughout the calendar year.

I asked Pooja “how to get more girls interested in STEM?” her answer, sounds a lot like some of the solutions offered up to keep women in STEM careers:

· Education and training initiatives (“In order to get girls interested in computer science, we need to ensure that computer science is something they are exposed to at a young age and research has shown that middle school is an especially critical age for development.”)

· Role models and mentoring (“We also need to provide them with female role models so that they have someone to look up to when entering a field as male-dominated in computer science.”)

· Community building (“Community is essential so they can share experiences, receive mentorship and collaborate. Women often feel left out in technical environments because of the lack of other women in the room, so this is especially important to drive change in corporations and organizations.”)

What can you do to change the future face of technology and innovation?
Get involved! Sign-up, mentor and/or volunteer:

· Capital One is hosting a #WITDemoDay hackathon on October 29 in Plano, TX.

· The next Women In Tech Summit is being held in Philadelphia in April.

· TechGirlz is offering TechShopz on C++, gaming, mobile apps and more through early November.

· Deadline for 2017 ProjectCSGIRLS 2017 competition for middle school girls is February 15.

Get inspired (and activated)!
1. Men at Capital One have signed on as male allies as part of the bank’s women in tech initiative (watch the video). It takes a community, and for tech, it is essential that men sign-up to be part of the powerful community momentum for change.

2. (re)Learn CS history: the world’s first computer programmer was a woman.

3. Learn more about the winners at the 2016 ProjectCSGIRLS National Gala:

· Grand Prize Winner: Emma Yang. Emma developed Timeless, a mobile app that Alzheimer’s patients can utilize to remember events, stay connected with friends and family, and recognize loved ones through automatic facial recognition technology.

· Second Place: Baheen Huzan. Baheen built a comprehensive air-quality sensor that can detect gas, dust, and other pollutants which can be used to not only measure the air quality in a particular location, but to also detect the source and direction of the pollutants.

· Third Place: Sruthi Kurada and Kristen Su. Sruthi and Kristen developed a belt for the visually impaired to help them navigate hands-free. Their invention (incorporated an ultrasonic senor and gyro sensor) used an EV3 robot to detect how far a certain object is and tell the user which direction to walk in.

· Third Place: Kavya Muralidhar. Kavya created an alarm system to notify parents if they inadvertently left their baby in the car, and to contact the police when a baby is left unattended.

· Fourth Place: Sofiya Lysenko. After researching the Zika virus, Sofiya wrote a machine-learning program with the Microsoft Azure Machine Learning Studio to assess genetic mutations based on rhesus monkey data. She also built a homemade gel electrophoresis chamber that could have been used to unfold Zika DNA.

· Fourth Place: Anusha Ghosh. Anusha built a portable and low cost device for detecting diabetic retinopathy, a disease that arises as a side effect of both Type I and Type II diabetes and which affects 126.6 million adults.

· Fifth Place: Simrithaa Karunakaran. Simrithaa developed the Drowning Alert System, a device that sounds an alarm and sends a text message to the user’s phone when submersion into water for over 10 seconds has occurred.

I’ve invested a lot of my career in mentoring talent and in particular diverse talent. As an investor in emerging technology companies since 2011, I’ve seen first hand how important having women at the helm of the future of innovation is, which is why I’m proud to partner and work with companies like Capital One. These opinions, like everything I post and tweet, are obviously my own. Learn more about Capital One here.