International Day of Women and Girls in Science: How TechGirlz is encouraging girls to join STEM courses
On 11 February every year, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated. The Day focuses on bridging the gender gap in STEM. It is vital to achieving internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We had a conversation with Amy Cliett, the Director of TechGirlz. It is a nonprofit that inspires middle school girls to explore the possibilities of technology. The goal is to empower their future careers.
What was the inspiration behind joining TechGirlz? How has your journey with STEM been?
Amy – I grew up in a big family. We were six kids; four girls two boys. But we had a bias in our family. My dad had the boys do all things considered ‘masculine’ around the house. On the other hand, the girls were the cleaners and the cooks. I got to do all my sister’s hair at home. Because that’s what my dad thought I was good at.
It wasn’t a situation where we were told that we were less than our brothers or couldn’t do anything else. But we were never really told that we could. So as you would expect, my brothers grew up and have great careers in engineering.
When I got into the tech industry, I realized I was not alone. This is a situation almost everywhere. So I sought out other women in tech. I found beautiful groups of women in technology who support and help each other grow.
And, of course, I wanted to give back. I believed other girls shouldn’t have to go through a difficult path to explore their love for technology as I had to. I wouldn’t change my journey, of course. But I don’t want other girls to take the route I had to take. I want to make it better for other girls around me.
And so, I found TechGirlz. I met the founder, Tracy Welson-Rossmann, and joined as a volunteer. I later joined as an employee. Once I got started and saw their mission, I fell in love with the organization.
Our mission is to inspire girls to explore technology, which I would have loved at that age. We encourage them to tinker and play around to find out what technology would be helpful for them in the future and their career choices potentially.
What is it like to work in an all-women-led nonprofit?
Amy – It’s an exciting situation because we didn’t seek to have just women working for us. But there was a time until less than a year ago; we were 100% women on the staff team.
Many of us come from a similar background. We were presented with a situation, and we wanted to change. Whether that be, for some of our team members, they had middle school girls when they found us.
They started volunteering and started giving back, and then they wanted to jump in and do more there. Many folks in our team found us because of their passion, not because they were looking for a job. Often, we offer a job based on their work as a volunteer. So it’s been an exciting and incredible journey working to help girls trying to pursue a career in STEM.
For example, in this past year, when we were looking for a new curriculum manager, we found ourselves falling in love with this one candidate who happened to be a man through the interview process.
And we had to reverse ourselves and say you can’t discriminate against them because he is a man. And he’s been a great addition to the team. Having a lot of women on the team is undoubtedly lovely to be in a safe bubble; I’ll say that there’s a nice safe space where we’re able to dig into the problems speak what’s on our mind, and that hasn’t changed even after we’ve had a man on the team.
What are the different programs run under TechGirlz?
Amy – We have lots of programs. I’ll start with the programs we have after school. Our curriculum is built and designed so anybody anywhere can run a TechShop. We offer a 2-3 hours workshop to provide all the instructions and slides.
You plug and play most of our curriculum. It does not cost anything to use. None of our curriculum costs to use, and even the materials are typically free.
We like to have a lot of open sources and free software, so that way, there’s no cost at all. This means we can deliver it to the students for free.
But within that curriculum, you have lots of different options of what you can do with it.
We work with companies, individuals, volunteers, and teachers who use our curriculum in schools and after-school programs. For instance, we have a fantastic new program that we started during the pandemic called TechPodz. Instead of taking up sessions on a particular topic in this program, the girls can come in and tell what they want.
It’s almost like a club, where the identical girls are in the same group for some time. We identified that we were getting girls from all over the world during the pandemic, which was fantastic to have.
Do parents play a role in reinforcing STEM education among girls?
Amy – Some girls come into our program interested in technology. Some girls pick up a tablet or something like that and never put it down.
And that interest just kind of continues to grow, which is excellent. But, many parents will tell this; “my child did not want to come.” They are usually very resistant.
We’re trying to address it from a couple of different angles. There is no silver bullet with any of this stuff. So we have to pay attention to what our parents are telling us is out there. And we do a lot of surveys and interviews of parents because they are the closest to our students. So we must be getting their feedback, but that’s what we’re hearing.
How can volunteers assist TechGirlz in bridging the gender gap in STEM?
Amy – We love our volunteers. There are so many ways that you can give back.
First and foremost, you can run a workshop. It sounds like it’s a big thing, but it’s super easy. I have run many workshops, and the first one that I ran alone, I didn’t think I could pull it off alone. But I was able to knock it out of the park.
The materials for the workshop are laid out in a way that you can easily follow and execute. So I highly recommend it. You could look at our website, click on our topics, and check them out. There is some excellent stuff there.
Another brilliant way to give back would be to help spread the word. You can do that by putting fliers out if you’re a tangible kind of person. There are also digital ways to do that. You can share about us on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn all help. Wherever you can find us, share, retweet, and repost us to let people know what we do. If there are tech girls or potential tech girls in your life, let them know that we exist.
I think the easiest way is just to spread the word. And we’re not trying to swallow the ocean; I don’t want you to try to eradicate the sea, do what you can, and start small.
Any last message for our viewers who might be interested in TechGirlz?
Amy – If you would like to empower the future generation of women in tech, come on over to TechGirlz and check us out. You can find us at TechGirlz.org. And you can find us online on most social media platforms at TechGirlz. Org.
I promise you; you will not regret it. We have a fantastic community of volunteers all over the world. And we love to connect on this critical topic. Again, you do not have to swallow the ocean; you can do as little or as much as you want to do.
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We hope that this interview helped you understand the importance of gender equality in STEM education. Get in touch with our team and share your Impact Story on our platform.