Q: Please tell us about yourself, educational background and the path that led you to Girls in Tech.
Gascoigne: I am Adriana Gascoigne, founder and CEO of Girls in Tech. I am also a partner at Founders Den and serve as an advisor for a variety of technology start-ups. Prior to making Girls in Tech my full-time job, I served in executive roles at RxMatch and QwikCart, Ogilvy & Mather and SecondMarket. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Economics from the University of California at Davis and received a certification from El Tecnologico de Monterrey in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
When I first joined the tech industry, I was the only woman at the start-up. I soon learned that this was the norm but it still felt very isolating. Those collective conversations with other women in technology regarding the common obstacles we faced resulted in the founding of Girls in Tech. We strive to empower, engage and educate women in the field of technology who need a place to cultivate ideas around their careers and business concepts.
Q: Tell us about Girls in Tech: What is Girls in Tech and why Girls in Tech? And who created it? What programs and services do you offer and who do you serve?
Gascoigne: Girls in Tech (GIT) is a global non-profit focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of girls and women who are passionate about technology. Our aim is to accelerate the growth of innovative women who are entering into the high-tech industry and building successful startups.
Created in February 2007, Girls in Tech was born out of the need to provide a platform for women to cultivate ideas, learn new skills and advance their careers in STEM fields. The organization is headquartered in San Francisco, California and currently has 52 chapters around the world.
Girls in Tech offers a variety of resources and curriculum for members to further their educational and professional aspirations. These programs include Lady Pitch Night, Catalyst Conference, Coding and Design Bootcamps, Hackathons, XChange, Global Classroom, GIT WORK, and others.
Q: Can you please expand specifically on 3 Girls in Tech’s initiatives: (1) Girls in Tech BootCamp; (2) Girls in Tech Xchange; and (3) Girls in Tech WORK?
Gascoigne: Girls in Tech Bootcamps are practical workshops on a chosen topic pertaining to technology, entrepreneurship, coding and design, and professional skills. Led by a subject matter expert, Bootcamps offer attendees the chance to learn something new or finesse existing skills while mingling with peers, forming new relationships and networking with professionals from the region. Modules include entrepreneurship, leadership, confidence building, coding, design and product development.
Girls in Tech XChange is a cultural tech exchange program that allows a select group of women in the technology and entrepreneurship spaces to learn about new start-up ecosystems in various locations around the world. The program includes a variety of events – including seminars, workshops, speaker slots and on-site tours – and participants will have further opportunities to meet with entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to learn about growth opportunities and trends within other global markets. This is a unique opportunity to travel and engage with like-minded women from other parts of the world, make lasting relationships and create ideas that could have lasting global impact on the industry.
Girls in Tech WORK is a program consisting of practical workshops on a chosen topic pertaining to business skills within the technology and entrepreneurial space. These topics are: Digital Resume Building, How to Land a Startup Job, and Negotiation skills. Led by a subject matter expert, it offers attendees the chance to learn something new or finesse existing skills while mingling with peers, forming new relationships and networking with professionals from the region. These workshops include digital resume building, how to land a start-up job and negotiations.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top 3 reasons for the low STEM participation of girls and women nationally?
Gascoigne: One of the biggest hurdles we face as women wanted to enter STEM schools or careers is the lack of example leading us down this path. A decade ago, 37% of women attending university were majoring in computer science or engineering. Sadly that has dropped to 18%. This needs to change course! How are we supposed to know that this is an acceptable path if there weren’t others before us? We need mentors, sponsors and role models.
Another issue is around financial support and trust. A recent study from Babson College showed that only 15% of VC-backed companies have women on their executive teams, up 5% from 15 years prior. Even more shocking is that only 2.7% of VC-funded companies have a women CEO. How are women encouraged to pursue these careers when they aren’t going to receive funding or have balanced leadership teams?
A third concerns is about the environment. Unfortunately, many tech-specific companies and departments still hold on to that macho “programmer” culture. This leads to isolation and ostracization for women who choose to go into the field anyway. It’s difficult for anyone to successfully deal with for a long period of time. It’s just not sustainable so they choose to move on in a different direction and the culture remains.
Q: How can we increase the number of girls and women in STEM nationally?
Gascoigne: While it is going to take time to change the overall mindset, there are several smaller things we can do as a society to help support girls and women pursuing education or careers in STEM.
With as much time spent talking about STEM education, which is great from a general education curriculum standpoint, we shouldn’t be relying solely on the classroom to inspire females to pursue tech in their careers. We need a 360-degree approach to bring these statistics back up, not only to where they were 10 years ago, but to the level of our male counterparts. This includes corporate-sponsored programs and benefits, like offering flexible work schedules, establishing leadership training programs and closing the gender pay gap.