Gender inequality is a pervasive issue that affects many avenues of society. The problem can probably be most quantified when observed in the workplace. Women are still making 77 cents to every dollar a man makes in the same position and paid maternity leave is still not a widely accepted practice in America. It is no surprise that the obstacles of a majorly male dominated workforce would extend to the tech and startup industry.
Dare 2B Digital, produced by the nonprofit Invent Your Future, is working to address the lack of diversity by trying to get girls interested in technology and computer science at a young age. The company’s fifth annual conference for young girls will take place at Plug and Play Tech Center on March 1st.
“What we’re trying to do with Dare 2B Digital is to get young girls interested early on in the idea of taking part in creating technology and not just becoming a consumer,” said Ruth A. Stergiou, CEO of Invent Your Future Enterprises.
The disparity of female students choosing to study computer science has dropped drastically, with the number of undergraduate women interested in the subject dropping 79% in the past decade. Since job growth in most industries is either stagnant or shrinking, the fact that there are opportunities for jobs that require computational skill makes this all the more staggering.
“A lot of it is an image problem. The image of the lonely anti-social male geek sitting in a cubicle is not terribly attractive to a lot of young girls,” explained Ruth. “I don’t think it’s been explained to young women that by leveraging technology you can actually do some fantastic projects really get behind social change.”
As it stands now, the startup scene is fairly male centric and not perceived to be a female friendly environment, due the intense 80-90 hour work weeks that an early stage start up requires. These hours preclude most young women who have children from being a part of the central process.
“Then you end up with Twitter going public with no women on the board. The majority of Twitter users are women, how can there not be a single woman on the board?” Ruth asks.
The conference is an all day event that lets young women chose from a robust selection of technology-based workshops. The workshops are run by representatives from companies like Intel, Mozilla, IBM, and DreamWorks Animation. One of the most valuable aspects of the conference, however, is its effort to expose young women to role models who are doing groundbreaking things in the tech world.
“We feel that if we can expose young women to role models that they don’t often see in school, and introduce them to some of the exciting things that are happening in these companies they will make more of an effort to stick with the subjects that will keep the doors of opportunity open a little longer. This year, for example, we have Julia Landauer who’s a student at Stanford studying science. She also happens to be a Nascar driver. Her goal in life is to ‘green’ the automotive industry. She’s doing that from the inside. She’s a rare bird. We want to bring in role models like that,” said Ruth.
Saguna Goel and Rachel Mellon, the Co-Directors of She++ will end the conference with a talk entitled “Good girl gone geek” which will attempt to dispel some of the restrictive stereotypes surrounding women and innovation.
The conference will also offer workshops for the parents of young women on how to support their child’s interest in technology. Overall, Dare 2B Digital has created a comprehensive program that’s working to change the tech world one woman at a time.
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