For aspiring girl technologists, young women still discovering their unique color, sometimes the deepest inspiration flows not from luminaries--those who have already made it into Forbes lists, newspapers, onto the TED stage--but from our peers: other young women who have proven with their grit and their creativity that they can dream, and act, powerfully. These are fellow students who demonstrate that their "extraordinary" is grounded in "ordinary." Peers who pursue their vision so passionately that their sheer conviction recasts it as our own. Their ability to transform their idea from an individual conceit to a common cause is the key to social transformation. For from technology to traditional philanthropy, a new idea is only so powerful as the loyalty of the community it inspires to call it their own.
Ayna Agarwal and Ellora Israni are two such young women, who by fostering community are seeking to empower an extraordinary dream: to change the way not only women view technology but technology perceives women. These two Stanford students call themselves "femgineers," female technologists who, by their very nature, humanize computing by infusing an empathic awareness into the applications that they build. Femgineers, the duo argues, care as much about humanity as they do about Turing machines, leveraging computer science as a tool for sparking social change. They recognize that science, technology, engineering, math are at essence, vehicles for human expression, and every person-- male or female-- can discover his or her voice by pursuing them. We just need to support more femgineers to take the leap.
This is exactly what the two friends are now doing. In 2012, Ellora and Ayna launched She++ (note the pun?): an early-stage Bay Area community working to inspire more women to explore and pursue computer science. What began as two friends' frustrated email exchange about Silicon Valley's gender gap is kindling into a national organization that has now engaged nearly 300 other girls in learning about the world of computer science. She++'s first conference, held in April 2012, attracted 250 students to engage with female role models like Jocelyn Goldfein, Facebook's VP of Engineering, and Julia Hartz, the CEO of Eventbrite. And this year, the second conference is scheduled to highlight the premiere of She++: the documentary, the organization's 12-minute manifesto set to release April 3 to screenings nationwide. Mentorship programs, do-it-yourself Android curricula, regional events are in the works, too-- all to advance the power and potential of #goodgirlsgonegeek, by connecting successful and aspiring femgineers under a common goal.
Ayna and Ellora realized early what too many of us still do not admit: When we share our own stories of success, we tend to exaggerate our agency. But when we consider our community's challenges, we tend to minimize our responsibility, imputing the problem instead to factors beyond our control. What results from this casuistry is a distorted camera on success: one that fails to zoom out from our personal achievements, and to zoom in on our collective failures. But for the gender gap in STEM as for health care reform, we will never able to solve social challenges so long as we continue to define them as external to ourselves. We will never be able to maintain our influence and accomplishment so long as we continue to be provincial in who we are obliged to. What She++ is trying to show, is that the shortage of female technologists is not merely a women's issue: it is a national security issue, a human rights issue, our generation's shared issue. And one of the best steps we can take to address it is to broaden the definition of computer scientist; collectively acknowledge and embrace the power of femgineers; and build community among aspiring female technologists. Perhaps most significantly, right now, we can celebrate and spread the vision of young women like Ayna and Ellora, who are proving with every new click, She++ chapter, and Facebook follower that you don't need to have spoken at TED or run a major corporation to impact this field: Every person can play a role in advancing the She++ dream.
Sejal is the ambassador for L'Oréal USA's new initiative -- For Girls in Science -- which aims to inspire and empower more girls to pursue careers in S.T.E.M. The platform gathers all the S.T.E.M. resources, support, role models for girls in one central location and offers a "Why S.T.E.M. is Cool" contest to encourage girls interested in these fields to share their own experiences.