16 votes

What would you include in a women-in-tech event for students?

Everyone loves the idea of “Yes, let’s teach girls and young women about technology careers!” However, too often I see people put their attention on “What do I want to say?” rather than “What does it actually help them to hear?"

Let's say you are planning to hold a school event to encourage more girls to get into STEM careers. What, explicitly, would you include on the agenda? How would the agenda differ based on age or grade level? What metrics would you use to judge whether the event was a success?

I’d like to hear from people who have personally been involved in such events, as organizers, sponsors, and attendees. If you attended: What should have been included, that you later wished someone told you?

I’m writing a feature article in which I aim to provide a checklist of “what to include” for those who plan these sort of events. So please let me know how to refer to you in the article.

11 comments

  1. [3]
    eladnarra Link
    So I don't qualify to answer this (not been personally involved in an event like that, despite having done biology in college). But I'd kind of like to highlight something I've seen said by quite...

    So I don't qualify to answer this (not been personally involved in an event like that, despite having done biology in college). But I'd kind of like to highlight something I've seen said by quite a few women in STEM: getting girls interested in STEM isn't necessarily the main problem -- it's making sure they don't get pushed out/discouraged by sexist barriers at the different levels of education/career. I didn't go on to grad school for different reasons, but that seems fairly accurate to me.

    Also, coming from the perspective of someone who didn't consider a science degree until halfway through college, I don't think being told that "girls can do science" would have made me pursue it sooner. (In fact, I'm pretty sure I was told that as a kid.) I didn't realize I liked science until it was taught in a way that interested me, focusing on the scientific method rather than a bunch of facts to be memorized. And unfortunately I didn't realize I liked programming until much too late in my degree to do anything about it -- my computer class in high school was stuff I'd been able to do for years, like how to use PowerPoint and Excel, so I had no idea how fun programming was until I took an elective course on bioinformatics and python.

    16 votes
    1. [2]
      asteroid Link Parent
      Would it have helped if you'd had a couple of hands-on programming classes/events early on? Several people have pointed out the social issues that women face. But how do we tell girls, "You're...

      Would it have helped if you'd had a couple of hands-on programming classes/events early on?

      Several people have pointed out the social issues that women face. But how do we tell girls, "You're going to have to deal with bro culture" (or worse) without scaring them away in the first place?

      2 votes
      1. eladnarra Link Parent
        Quite possibly. I didn't have any introduction to programming in high school, so it wasn't on my radar at all. Once I got to experiment with making programs for fun (like a simple python script...

        Would it have helped if you'd had a couple of hands-on programming classes/events early on?

        Quite possibly. I didn't have any introduction to programming in high school, so it wasn't on my radar at all. Once I got to experiment with making programs for fun (like a simple python script that calculated empirical/molecular formulas), I realized it was something I could theoretically do.

        But how do we tell girls, "You're going to have to deal with bro culture" (or worse) without scaring them away in the first place?

        Honestly? No clue. One can argue that forewarned is forearmed, but I imagine many girls would be discouraged. So the solution there isn't actually to get more girls involved, it's to make sure the environment that girls are going into is welcoming and won't push them out in later stages.

        For the more sexist environments/fields, I'd almost feel bad telling girls to go into them... At least not without concrete plans to tackle the leaky pipeline. We need to make it so that we're not warning girls about bro culture (or worse), but showing them how we're changing the structural issues and making things better for them.

        All of this, of course, doesn't really answer the original question though. Sorry!

        5 votes
  2. [3]
    Eva Link
    Some way for them to network, absolutely. It's actually a huge problem both for girls in general and guys in rural communities in specific; people have to have a network to really excel in STEM,...

    Some way for them to network, absolutely.

    It's actually a huge problem both for girls in general and guys in rural communities in specific; people have to have a network to really excel in STEM, and unless you're a guy in an urban area, you're going to have a bad time on that front.

    Teach them how to send e-mails!

    Very, very, very little is more useful for anyone in STEM than the ability to be able to e-mail someone in their field (or a field they'd like to investigate) and ask a few questions. It's a really simple thing, and you'd think people'd get it fairly intuitively, but it's a bit daunting for your average girl, especially given how frequently people push the whole "Stranger Danger!" narrative.

    11 votes
    1. [2]
      asteroid Link Parent
      So general "business communication" skills?

      So general "business communication" skills?

      2 votes
      1. Eva Link Parent
        Not really, it's a bit different in STEM than anywhere else. You shouldn't bother sending a professor or anyone in a non-corp. engineering STEM field a business letter (and you should generally...

        Not really, it's a bit different in STEM than anywhere else.

        You shouldn't bother sending a professor or anyone in a non-corp. engineering STEM field a business letter (and you should generally refrain from using HTML in your e-mail, though people will mostly tell you when to not use it), and in general more just touch up on that they should send them.

        And on the networking front I wouldn't say so, so much as just, like, point them in the right direction? They shouldn't be needing to be explicitly told how to network so much as where to get started.

        3 votes
  3. kfwyre Link
    Teacher here. Great question! If you're talking to late middle or particularly high school students, one of the most valuable things you can do is demystify broad categories and drill down to...

    Teacher here. Great question!

    If you're talking to late middle or particularly high school students, one of the most valuable things you can do is demystify broad categories and drill down to specific skills/careers.

    For example, many students know that they want to be a "coder", but their understanding of the field stops there. They don't know that underneath that is say, web development, and underneath that is say, front-end vs back-end, and so on. The same goes for practically any career label they're familiar with. They know what an "engineer" is, but they don't know the different fields and positions they could hold with that title. Giving them this kind of language and framework early can help them better target their particular interests.

    Basically, "I want to make games" is an aspiration, but "I want to do 3D modeling, and so I'm going to need to know about modeling, rigging, lighting, and texturing, and I can use Blender to start learning" is a plan.1 If you ask nearly all middle schoolers and most high schoolers, they'll give you their aspiration but not their plan, because they don't yet have one.

    This is not a dig at them at all. I'm a teacher and I relish when my students can get job advice from people in industries, because teachers are, quite frankly, terrible at it. Most of us haven't ever worked outside education and don't even know what's out there, much less how to break those down meaningfully for students. Our career landscape is often as limited as theirs is (e.g. doctor, vet, astronaut, basketball player, etc.). Giving them the tools to expose them to the depth of availability as well as putting a name to their specific interests will go a long way in helping them.

    1: Though not necessarily an accurate one. This is not my area of expertise, but I'm using it as an example.

    8 votes
  4. [2]
    NaraVara Link
    Have you tried approaching a young girl or a science teacher who teaches young girls to see what would get them interested? That might be a more productive avenue. I feel underqualified to comment...

    Have you tried approaching a young girl or a science teacher who teaches young girls to see what would get them interested? That might be a more productive avenue. I feel underqualified to comment on it since the closest I get to the target audience is my fleeting interactions with my niece.

    I had typed up a bunch of stuff and then realized it's almost all things I value in an employee (as a PM and team lead) rather than things that would motivate people from atypical backgrounds to join.

    3 votes
    1. asteroid Link Parent
      Oh, I'm asking broadly (so to speak). I like to get a cross section of people who may have participated at some level (particularly, "I went through one of these and it helped because...") with...

      Oh, I'm asking broadly (so to speak). I like to get a cross section of people who may have participated at some level (particularly, "I went through one of these and it helped because...") with experts. :-)

      1 vote
  5. [2]
    NecrophiliaChocolate Link
    Maybe on the jokey side but I'm sure horny teenagers would love to know the are plenty of good looking dudes in STEM. Maybe explain how they can impact the world? I feel like it shouldn't be...

    Maybe on the jokey side but I'm sure horny teenagers would love to know the are plenty of good looking dudes in STEM.

    Maybe explain how they can impact the world? I feel like it shouldn't be vastly different to guys. I just graduated but I'm not a chick, so take my advice with a grain of salt

    1. NaraVara Link Parent
      This is exactly the wrong angle, and it will become even wronger once it's filtered through the grown men and women who will be providing the advice.

      This is exactly the wrong angle, and it will become even wronger once it's filtered through the grown men and women who will be providing the advice.

      9 votes