The Path: A Girl’s Journey From Middle School to A Career in Tech

I’ve heard from many of you that my recent description of The Path girls must follow to a career in technology resonated. For those of you that missed it, I had likened it to the Yellow Brick Road where each step on the journey to the goal brought new challenges, rewards, and excitement. Our mission as mentors, advocates and teachers should be to inspire, instruct and support girls along their way to becoming technologists and ultimately economically empowered, successful women.

In response, some of you shared your own path or wished that someone had helped point it out for you along the way. But nearly everyone lamented that The Path as it exists today is often unclear.

I would add that it’s also incomplete. We are doing a decent job of getting our girls interested in technology careers, but we are not doing enough to sustain them along the way to that end goal. This is because while starting on The Path can be easy, remaining on it can often be much more difficult.

To help, I would like to begin crowdsourcing The Path so that we can all have a more complete idea of how to help girls launch and then sustain their journey through a successful career in tech. I will frame up the primary stops along the way in this piece, and then ask you to send me programs or opportunities that exist out there in the world. I’ll do my best to capture and categorize them, then share back with you as a resource.

So here goes, what I believe are they five key stages on the Path through a woman’s career in tech:

Middle School

From my experience with TechGirlz, I know that many girls and their parents are interested in having the opportunity to learn about technology in middle school. This is encouraging as studies show this is when girls historically opt out of these courses. We know that girls need a place to learn about tech without boys in the room. Unfortunately, we also know there are few other, free programs outside of school to learn about technology. And many that do exist focus only on a limited number of technology subjects.

My sincere hope is that more organizations - school related, independent, for-profit, non-profit - join in and help establish a solid foundation for girls at this critical time. In addition to TechGirlz, I know there are groups like Black Girls Code and First Robotics. What else is out there? I am excited to see what you share.

High School

As a step along The Path, high school is tricky to assess. Currently, many girls already opt out of tech-related instruction before they ever reach high school. So a lack of available infrastructure could be attributable to supply and demand. But that is changing, and I think it will accelerate as more resources are deployed at the Middle School level.

Today, I know that some high schools have co-ed tech classes available as part of regular instruction or after school clubs. Unfortunately, many of the girls we speak with that participate in these classes note that the are often boring and uninspiring...and that they are usually the only girl in the room.

Areas of strength in high school seem to be robotics related courses and competitions as well as Girls Who Code. These can vary greatly by region, so girls have to seek them out. I’d love to hear more about what’s available in your areas or if you have great experiences to share.

College

The college years add a layer of complexity because you have to factor in enrollment, recruiting and the choosing of a major. We do know that fewer young women are choosing computer science as a major, but the question remains whether colleges are recruiting young women for these programs or even encouraging them to pursue the major.

I believe our role is to ensure that there are multiple opportunities for college-aged women to discover, experience or sustain a love of technology through extracurricular programs or course enhancements. We’ve all heard stories about juniors and seniors discovering programming late in their studies. It would be terrific if we could build more (and earlier) opportunities for that to happen or even encourage more companies to design programs specifically for women on college campuses.

First Job

The first job or jobs out of college are defining for any young person. It is an incredibly exciting time that is critical for women in advancing their skills and expanding their professional network. For many women, it is also the time when you identify or build a relationship with an important mentor. So as the tech field expands far and wide beyond Silicon Valley and traditional tech industries, how do women across geographies find the networks and organizations that will help them grow?

The list of resources is certainly expanding. From emulating strong female technology leaders to local networking organizations to our own Women in Tech Summit, there are more opportunities than ever to feed a love of tech. That said, it still pales in comparison to resources in other industries or for men. What do you know of? How can we do better? I am eager to hear your thoughts.

Mid-Career

Just as middle school is when we lose many young girls because of a lack of infrastructure and opportunities, so too is mid-career a phase of The Path when we lose many of our most promising technologists. Whether it be a personal choice - family, new job - or a result of external pressures from their industry, company or co-workers; more than 50% of women in technology leave the field mid-career. The system as it’s designed today is obviously not working.

This was our primary motivation in launching Women in Tech Summit. But I believe we need even more resources and opportunities to help women deepen their network and skillset at this critical point in their careers. What are organizations to which you belong? What’s available for your industry or location?

Next Steps

As I said, The Path is not complete. And it will take a community to build a community. So please help me fill in the blanks. Send me your ideas, suggestions and questions - I’ll gather them as a starting point for a crowdsourced project to illuminate the Path. In this way, we can identify and fill the voids collectively. My hope is that together we can chart the many ways to make The Path a complete, continuous journey.

Send me your ideas here.

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