As the Technology & Innovation Director here at GYK Antler, I was honored to recently participate in the New Hampshire High Tech Council’s (NHHTC) TechWomen Ambassador Week at Bedford High School. This opportunity allowed me to share my education and professional background within small groups of women in 8th and 9th grade. My goal was to showcase how technical skills can be applied to a multitude of industries and interests. Hopefully, my words helped open their minds to pursuing any interests they have in areas of technical skills.
While I prepared for this event, I reflected upon my own journey as a woman in tech and how I got to where I am today. I quickly realized the profound impact that professional female technologists had on my career and ultimately my life.
Although I didn’t necessarily recognize it at the time, the presence of female tech leaders throughout my education and career truly shaped my belief that women are equally capable of succeeding in STEM fields compared to our male counterparts–from my two female high school AP computer science teachers at Boston Latin who helped prepare me for college courses, to my fellow female classmates at Stonehill College who were the top students in our graduating class, to the female Director of Professional Services who led an entire team of male developers at one of the first software companies I worked at. These women took me under their wing and became mentors, giving me the opportunity to develop my professional skills alongside them.
And now, I still draw inspiration from our COO at GYK Antler, Jen Jonsson. Jen not only runs the operations of our entire company, but also leads technical services for both client and internal work. The presence of these women in my life has not only helped boost my own self-confidence within a field dominated by men, but it has inspired me to become that same mentor for the next generation of young women. When women in the tech fields take an active role in the interest of tech among young girls and empower young professionals at the beginning of their careers to be unintimidated and bold, we will continue to chip away at the gender gap within this field.
Here are five ways that you can help empower the future female tech leaders of our industry:
1. Get involved
Join local women-in-tech groups like NHHTC’s TechWomen|TechGirls. Creating relationships with other leaders in the tech industry allows for a collaborative community where ideas and careers are supported. The more that leaders work together and learn from each other, the more innovation is likely to be fueled. And the more we help women to grow into leadership roles, the more we can continue to pull each other up.
2. Connect with the youth
Take advantage of opportunities to speak to young women at colleges and high schools about your professional career and successes. For those young girls who may still believe the misconception that there aren’t women in STEM fields, you can be the real-life example they need to inspire them to pursue their interests in this field.
3. Be proactive with young women in your company
Take them out to lunch, answer their questions, let them shadow you at presentations or in meetings. Making yourself accessible to the individuals just beginning their career will not only help increase their confidence but accelerate their professional capabilities.
4. Start early
Have young girls in your life? Gift them STEM toys and activities. By introducing technology at a young age and in a fun way, girls (and kids in general) will be more likely to discover their talent and passion for the STEM fields in a way that’s enjoyable.
5. Change the narrative
When talking about women in tech, stop clamoring on about the low numbers and negative stats. Instead, talk about the vast amount of opportunities for women in this industry. Women and girls are needed in tech conversations not to raise the percentage but to be an instrumental voice within the community. It’s time that all women in tech truly understand that they deserve their spot at the table.
Like any successful professional career, the road to where I am today was not free of difficult days. I’ve also certainly encountered my share of doubters along the way. And while I was lucky to see many women in technical leadership positions along the way, I also understand how rare that actually is – not only from a gender perspective, but also as a first-generation immigrant Latina from Boston’s inner city. Too many female computer science students and young professionals have been exposed to intimidation and discouragement–the exact opposite of my experience. You never know what someone has been through or what they are experiencing. That’s why it’s so incredibly important for professional women in tech to be present for young women and girls. By being a part of the journeys that these tech women will embark on, we will together shatter the ceilings that hold too many women back.
Leslie Witham is the Technology & Innovation Director at GYK Antler.
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