Women in Tech: The Younger Set Shaking Up the World of Tech
“When you increase the number of girls in tech, you also see a shift in the problems that are being addressed and the solutions. And I’m excited to be a part of that.”
~ Damilola Awofisayo, WWDC21 Swift Student Challenge winner
When we started this second series of articles back in October, the goal was to dig a little deeper into the world of tech as seen through the eyes of women and girls. Piggy-backing off of Debra Christmas and Kelley Irwin’s fantastic book, Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive, we looked at how technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives (and how that impacts women in the job market), and mapped out why it’s so important for companies to strive for diversity and gender equity when hiring.
We also broke down just how antiquated some IT hiring practices are – and the impact that has on whether companies can attract and/or hire women for important technology roles. And we shared some sobering statistics about the barriers and missed opportunities that girls face, barriers that hinder their interest in STEM as early as kindergarten .
But we also brought the receipts – proof that showed that women have always been surviving and thriving in the world of technology – even when up against what even today feels like insurmountable odds. Women who were driven to find more, explore more, question and contribute more. These women – the grandmothers (dare we say great-grandmothers!) of tech helped change the world, while also juggling the socially expected “roles” of womanhood – managing a household, having children, keeping a spouse happy and comfortable, and being a pillar of the community.
Women like Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, Edith Clarke, and so many others paved the road for all of us women who work in technology today.
The Kids Are Alright
We decided to end this series on a note just as high as the one we began on, by profiling some of the next generation – the up and comers, the current crop of girls and young women who are shaking up the world of technology. These fiery innovators see barriers and obstacles not as impediments, but as things to jump over. And once they’re on the other side, they just keep on going. They are truly inspirational. Here they are.
Erin Robinson Swink The video game industry is awash with anti-women sentiment (sadly) – who can forget Gamergate – but female gamers are determined to be changemakers. “Before Erin Robinson Swink began developing video games professionally, she thought her love for making games was lame. Robinson Swink, now a senior quest designer at Guerrilla Games, started making video games in her college dorm room…while studying psychology. ‘I was doing this as a hobby, and I didn’t really tell my friends because I thought it was dorky,’ she says.” She acknowledges the struggles of feeling underrepresented – when she began the numbers of female professionals in the gaming industry was shockingly low. “I just felt like, ‘How did I end up here?’ . . . when, you know, so few people who look like me are here at all?’ However, the 34-year-old thinks her perspective as a female developer makes her better at her job. ‘I try to push genres a little bit and make things that are interesting to me,’ she says.“ ***Excerpts from the Washington Post
Jihan Abass founded Kenya’s first digital-only car insurance company and built the technological platform behind it. As CEO of Griffin Insurance App, and Founder/CEO of Lami Insurance Technology, Abass raised half a million in a seed round with the goal of digitising the entire insurance process, allowing users to create and distribute digital insurance products in record time. Her vision? To democratise financial products and services, helping improve the lives of millions. One of only a handful of African women in the tech business, when she was meeting with CEOs and possible investors in the heavily male dominated industry, they were surprised to see a woman walk into the room, ‘You don’t really see faces like mine – or younger people [in general] or women particularly, so that’s something that we need to change,’ she says. Abass was picked to represent Africa at InsureTech Connect 2020, and named an African Innovator by Quartz in 2021.
Damilola Awofisayo is 17 and loves hackathons — but after applying to a bunch and never getting in, she took matters into her own hands and decided to start her own!
“The result was TecHacks, a non-profit that describes its mission as ‘creating a supportive environment for girls everywhere to create, problem-solve, and showcase their talents alongside like-minded females to compete and work with.’ Open to women and nonbinary individuals, the organization’s first hackathon, in August 2020, virtually brought together more than 800 participants from over 60 countries. The international outreach was especially important to Awofisayo, who was born in the US but spent part of her childhood in Nigeria. ‘I’ve also been able to get other Nigerian girls on our TecHacks team,’ she said, ‘and it’s important to me that we keep on inspiring people from not only Nigeria but other countries that may not have had the same opportunities as we have here.’ As for life after high school, Awofisayo hopes to major in both computer science and political science to help bring about change where those disciplines meet.” ***Excerpts from the apple.com newsroom
Aayesha Goyal lives in Ahmedabad, India, and at only 11 years old she knew she and her girlfriends needed a better way to learn about and track their menstruation cycles. So, she built it. “Goyal created an app called ‘Free Flo’ to help girls know key information about menstruation and also provides them with the option of tracking their cycle. The idea came to her after seeing her friends struggling to understand why their body is going through certain changes. ‘Young girls often find it very difficult to talk to adults about menstruation. The taboo surrounding the topic means that they have limited opportunities to ask a trusted adult all the queries they may have about the menstrual cycle,’ explains Ayesha. While there are several apps focusing on menstruation, most are geared towards adult women and not towards young girls, she says. “That’s where I got the idea of creating an app that would function as a repository of information regarding menstrual health. Along with that, I added more features, such as tracking period dates and a chatbot to answer queries related to issues associated with menstruation such as backache, acne, and cramps.” Oh girl. We feel that.
Zaynah Bhanji is a member of our very own Tech Tribe. A five-year veteran of the tech industry, Bhanji started in a SciTech program in middle school and eventually joined the school’s robotics team. Bhanji initially became interested in a career in technology through family influence as both her parents are in the technology profession, and she was encouraged to explore and experiment. She joined The Knowledge Society (TKS) in Grade 9 which triggered her interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and futuristic technologies. Today she’s a machine learning developer, VR/AR creator, digital technology intern, keynote & TEDx speaker, and was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women 2020. And she is still using her voice for change – generous with her time and thoughts when she speaks to audiences, and with advice and kindness when she is asked to share her story. She is unquestionably encouraging young women to leverage their own unique skills and experience and, most of all, to not be silent.
Code To Inspire And finally, we couldn’t wrap without mentioning Code to Inspire (Afghanistan’s first all-female coding academy).These women and young girls literally take their life in their hands to honour their love of technology. They continued learning – even after the Taliban took control of the country in August. “Her school shut down after the Taliban took control of the country in August. But that did not stop Zainab Muhammadi from learning. ‘I have not lost hope or my aspirations. I am determined to continue studying,’ the 25-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on a video call. She is one of an estimated hundreds of Afghan girls and women who are continuing to learn – some online and others in hidden makeshift classrooms – despite the Taliban’s closure of their schools. Fereshteh Forough, the CEO and founder of Code to Inspire created encrypted virtual classrooms, uploaded course content online, and gave laptops and internet packages to about 100 of her students. ‘You can be locked at home (and) explore the virtual world without any hesitation, without worrying about geographical boundaries,’ Forough said, ‘That’s the beauty of technology.'” ***Excerpts from Al Jazeera
“You can be locked at home (and) explore the virtual world without any hesitation, without worrying about geographical boundaries – that’s the beauty of technology.”
This quote sums up what drove Debra Christmas and Kelley Irwin to write Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive. Technology opens up a world of limitless opportunity. If you haven’t already, grab a copy – it’s chock full of advice and personal stories from women of every age and every career level.
Our big ask, with the festive season upon us and 2022 right around the corner, is to please continue to help us as we change the face of tech, one step – one person – at a time.
Happy Holidays – and be sure to watch this space for more exciting news in the coming year.