The first Women In Tech Careers event, a panel discussion entitled “Make A Living, Have A Life”, was held at the Toppel Career Center on Tuesday, September 14, 2015, 6:00-9:00 PM. Hosted by IDSC, the event brought awareness to the lack of diversity in the industry, and intentionally shined a light on the challenges facing women in tech careers today.
The evening began with a welcome and introductions by event moderator Sawsan Khuri, PhD (Director of Engagement at IDSC).
Attendees participated in a creative icebreaker game by Lien Tran, Lecturer on Interactive Media at UM’s School of Communication. The game, called “If U Stand Out”, was designed to showcase how everyone in the room is unique, regardless of shared interests. The binary game had audience participants choose between Coke and Pepsi, Snapchat and Instagram, biking and running, Temple Run and Super Mario Brothers, Apple and Android, Disney and Nickelodeon until only one person was left standing.
“If you really enjoy coding, you enjoy science, you enjoy math, just run with it. It can really be beautiful,” Dr. Khuri told the audience as she introduced the panel. The discussion served as a forum where leaders from academia and the local tech community offered insights on how women can learn, achieve, and evolve in the industry. The distinguished panelists were:
- Rebekah Monson, Co-Founder and Vice President of Product for The New Tropic
- Christine Lisetti, Associate Professor of Computer Science | FIU School of Computing and Information Sciences
- Lynn Cherny, Visiting Knight Chair for the Center for Communication, Culture and Change | University of Miami School of Communication
- Claire Marrero, Chief Executive Officer of The Talent Source, and President of IT Women
- Brian Reece, Associate Director, Assessment & Communication | UM Toppel Career Center
- Benoit “Ben” Wirz, Director of Venture Investments | The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Questions for the Panelists stimulated lively discussion:
- Women played a vital role at the start of the computer revolution and continued deep involvement until very recently. Male or female didn’t matter, there were brilliant computer scientists and engineers in every segment of the population, and throughout the timeline of this field. Within that wide scope, who do you see as someone who inspired you to get into this field?
- At the eMerge conference this year, a young girl in a pink dress came up to the mic and asked Adriana Cisneros, CEO of the Cisneros Group, for advice on how to achieve her dreams. The girl started by stating that she was a 14-year old Hispanic girl living in Miami . . . Adriana Cisneros told her to “loose her labels and kick ass”, in these words. Given that stereotypes abound, and people expect you to fit into a box that they think they understand, have you been placed in a box, and what have you done to break those boundaries?
- Given that a team has to have a set of skill sets, technical organizational, interpersonal, etc, what characteristics do you look for when you are recruiting someone to join your professional team?
- Michelle Miller writes about the fact that women are discriminated against if they are not attractive enough, and if they are deemed too attractive. Should this not be applicable to men as well? Physical appearance distracts your coworkers, regardless of gender, right? What are your feelings on having to score 7 out of 10 on the attractiveness scale in order to be seen as successful?
- It is now well documented that more and more young girls are doing well in math and science but they don’t see this as a career track for them. They find that they are the only girls at university or even high school taking physics or computer science. How do we attract more young women into these fields?
For nearly two hours, the six panelists shared their diverse paths to success and encouraged the mostly female audience to embrace opportunities for girls and young women interested in careers in the technological industry. “It’s wonderful when universities and institutions provide this eye-opening experience and an opportunity to connect with the community,” said Yolanda Valencia, chair of science and engineering at Gulliver Academy Middle School. “It really builds the students’ confidence to see and hear from women in the field who are successful.” (Valencia attended the discussion with nine students from her all-female engineering class.)
There has been a decline in enrollment of women in computer science programs in recent years, which panelists agreed speaks to the fact that there is a real problem in how courses are taught. One high school student in the audience stood up to share that she is one of only two girls enrolled in a computer science class at Coral Gables Senior High School. She hopes to create a mentorship program between her high school and elementary school students that will encourage future generations of female computer scientists to pursue their interests.
Some insights from the panelists:
“I hope that as young people, or people starting in technology, you’ll learn that there is great capacity in this industry for you to skyrocket to exactly where you want to go. The great thing about this field is that anyone can be a technologist. Whatever role you choose in that, it’s wide open to you.”
“We need people who will be themselves to set the mold for what it means to be a woman in technology. I’m looking at the next generation to really do that.” –Lynn Cherny, Visiting Knight Chair for the Center for Communication, Culture and Change | University of Miami School of Communication
“You create your own reality. Just get out there and show them what you can do. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re standing out in a negative way. The world is truly your oyster when it comes to technology. Surround yourself with really smart people.” –Claire Marrero, Chief Executive Officer of The Talent Source, and President of IT Women
“I’m not a technology person; I invest in technology. But what I’ve found is that finding problems that you’re passionate about, that are really personal to you, and combining that with people who are equally as passionate, is a great path for success.
-Benoit Wirz, Director of Venture Investments, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
“Interdisciplinary research—or work—is very interesting to women. In the long-term, I think this will become more obvious throughout a career in computer science—the sense of doing something that is very useful to society directly.”
“We make decisions based on affective components, and then we go back and assign labels to that decision, so it fits into the box that’s expected of us. But what I’ve learned is just to embrace who I am right now. Get to know yourself. Continue to learn who you are as you grow, so that over time you know what you want to do, and how that fits in with who you are.”
ARTICLE/PHOTO SOURCE: University Communications
The Women In Tech Careers event was co-sponsored by: The University of Miami Institute for Data Science and Computing, College of Arts & Sciences Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Department of Computer Science, and Toppel Career Center.