Want to Change the Face of Technology? Look to Our Girls

I live in Oakland, the most diverse city in America. Unfortunately, the tech workforce here does not reflect this richness of talent. The girls in my community can be part of the solution to expand and diversify the tech workforce.

When I first imagined Techbridge in 1999, I wanted girls in Oakland to have the chance to pursue studies and careers in which they could inspire and be inspired by technology. I wasn’t sure that they would — not because they didn’t have the potential but because they didn’t have opportunities. Techbridge was designed to even the odds and empower girls to design their futures in science, technology, and engineering with support from the National Science Foundation.

I’m hopeful to see U.S. policy makers now increasingly focused on this disconnect between young minority talent and the STEM career opportunities they can access, with the recognition that this issue deeply impacts our national prosperity and wellbeing. I have been invited to present Techbridge’s work at the White House STEM and Career, Technical, and Adult Education Conference on Marginalized Girls this week. This conference is sponsored by a cross-section of groups committed to increasing STEM opportunities for marginalized girls–The Domestic Policy Council, the Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Education, and the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. I’m looking forward to seeing how Techbridge can support and capitalize on their respective work and inject effective practices into this growing movement.

I am sharing on the multifaceted ways in which diversity matters in our Techbridge programs and highlighting lesson learned. We’ve learned that it’s not enough to make after-school STEM programs available at schools in underserved communities. We have to be strategic in whom we engage in these programs, from schools to teachers to role models. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. Like the engineering design process that we teach our girls, we learn from what goes wrong and make changes, all the while measuring our progress. I believe there is much to learn from our discussion of work in progress. Here are three lessons we are working on at Techbridge.

Lesson #1 Making Programs Truly Accessible for Marginalized Girls
There are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs for girls. For the girls who sign up, these experiences build confidence and skills that inspire new interests and expand options.

But what about the girls who hold back? I’m not smart enough. I’m bad in science. Coding sounds boring. Engineering — isn’t that for boys? I can’t afford the program and even if I could, how could I get there? These are some of the reasons why a girl in Oakland or in your community might not engage in STEM outside of school.

We are intentional about removing barriers that could…

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