I was lucky enough to grow up with two parents who truly led by example. My dad, a technical writer, worked from home quite often. My mom owned her own travel agency. I helped my mom at her agency after school and on the weekends, and I was able to see my dad every day when I got home from school. We ate dinner together, worked together, and played together. They may have not realized it at the time, but my parents set the earliest example for me of what an ideal entrepreneurial lifestyle looked like: a lot of hard work, but a heck of a lot of flexibility.
So it wasn’t too surprising that I eventually made my way to San Francisco. After early career stints in Los Angeles and Miami, San Francisco was refreshing. The rawness of the tech industry captivated me; it was honest. It was also grim, hard work. I eagerly entered my career in tech, ready to give it my all.
What I didn’t know at the time was this: I was going to be the only woman at my startup.
The only woman. At first I brushed it off. In the excitement of the job—well, I actually didn’t realize that I was the lone female. When I did notice, I suggested we ramp up our recruiting efforts to target more women and other under-represented groups. And this is when the storyline took a turn, a story shared by so many other women in tech: a culture of dismissal, lack of inclusion, sexual harassment, and discrimination.
Enter Girls in Tech. The first Girls in Tech event was in San Francisco in 2007. It was held at a club downtown and promoted via Facebook. At the time, I wasn’t sure of its course. It was one night, one event. However, to my surprise, more than 200 women showed up. They came to support one another, to vent, to lift each other up. I knew then that it wasn’t—it couldn’t be—just a single event.
And that’s what Girls in Tech does, at its core: We engage and empower women of all ages, at all levels of their careers and support them as they pursue careers in STEM fields. After nearly 10 years, our programming and events are quite different. But we still operate with the same intent as we did with that first San Francisco event: to funnel more women into STEM and to let each and every one of our members know that they aren’t alone. That they belong.
Today, Girls in Tech is a global non-profit organization with more than 50,000 members and 60 chapters. Our chapters are far-flung: San Francisco, Kuwait, Singapore, London, Austin, Melbourne and more. We’re a small but scrappy corporate team, and we rely heavily on an amazing, talented group of volunteer managing directors. These managing directors push Girls in Tech programming to their chapters and tailor it to meet the needs and interests of the local community.
We put on boot camps that cover entrepreneurial topics such as coding, negotiation, and startup success. We bring in luminary women to speak on panels, we operate annual conferences focused on celebrating women’s success. We host networking dinners, tech delegations (we’re headed to Cuba in 2017!), hackathons and more.
Technology does not exist in a vacuum, nor do the customers who use technology. Math and science and engineering aren’t passions meant to be explored by one type of person or one type of group. I strongly believe that everyone wins when women are involved. In fact, research shows that companies run more efficiently, products are born from innovation breakthroughs, and teams are stronger when women are at the table.
People often ask me what the end goal is. Girls in Tech was born out of a very real need. We’ll continue to transform and morph to meet the needs of our changing membership base, to meet them where they’re at as they grow and as society evolves. I’ll know we’ve made a difference when we don’t need to exist any longer, when we’ve shattered the barriers, bias, and inequality that prevent women from being the STEM superstars they’re fully capable of becoming.
I hope you’ll join us on our journey to support women in tech. Welcome to Girls in Tech.
For more on how you can help foster a more gender-inclusive tech industry, see Mentoring Generation Z Girls In Technology.