Take a journey back in time to think about your 15-year-old self. At that age most of us were starting to wrestle with what we wanted to be when we grew up, often looking to our parents, relatives, and teachers for role models. Careers or industries that we had no exposure to and knew nothing about would likely never be considered for our future.

I distinctly remember, when I was 15, randomly discovering a small pamphlet that opened my eyes to a potential future career as a business economist. This is the career path I pursued until my college calculus professor suggested I take his programming class. At the time, I was not really sure what programming was or what kind of job it could lead to, but given he was a great professor, I took him up on the suggestion. I instantly fell in love with the creative and analytical approach to using code to solve problems. I went on to learn many different programming languages and ultimately landed a job as a software developer for Accenture after graduation.

Today, after several years on the business side, I have returned to my technical roots as CIO here at New Relic. As a female executive, I believe that luck played as much of a role in my career path as hard work and planning did. Unfortunately, when you look at the statistics, it appears I might have been luckier than most. Recent studies show that fewer than 14% of CIOs are women. The broader statistics for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related job roles are equally discouraging.

Why is that? I believe one factor is the absence of role models for young girls. In fact, a study funded by the Girl Scouts in 2014 found that, on average, less than 60% percent of girls know a woman with a STEM-related career. The study quotes one of the girls surveyed who pointed out: “If you think about teachers, everyone knows about teachers as a career, but not everyone our age really thinks about engineering. They don’t know all that much about it.”

ChickTech seeks to make a difference

ChickTech logoChickTech is a nonprofit organization focused on changing these statistics. The group’s mission is to increase the number of girls and young women interested in pursuing technology-based careers. ChickTech envisions a safe, inclusive, and innovative future that includes equal pay, participation, and treatment of women in the technology industry. To accomplish these goals, it offers a number of programs designed to help young women gain hands-on opportunities with technology as well as give them opportunities to meet mentors and role models in the STEM space.

This past weekend it was New Relic’s honor to host the ChickTech Bay Area kickoff at our San Francisco headquarters. More than 50 girls attended the event, participating in eight different workshops, including robotics, programming with Python, Web design, mobile app development, data science, and networking.

I was invited to give a keynote speech to the visiting ChickTech students, and I decided to share three important things I wish someone had shared with me when I was their age: 

yvonne wassenaar

  1. Perception does not always equal reality. It is important not to fall victim to the assumptions you (or others!) might have about who will thrive in a STEM career. With passion and hard work, anyone can succeed in a STEM-based career.
  2. Be open to experimentation in life. Even if you don’t think you will like a certain class or subject, it is worth giving it a try. Sometimes other people will see things in you that you cannot see in yourself, and you might be surprised by what you end up enjoying and excelling at.
  3. Be aware of the women who came before you. It is important to learn about the long history of women in science and technology, a history full of significant achievements but which are often overlooked or unrecognized. There are many amazing stories about women in STEM, although one of the most powerful for me personally is the story of the “Women of ENIAC.”

Dream big, dream STEM!

I believe that the more young women who learn at an early age about the possibilities open to them, the more women engineers, scientists, and technologists we’ll see tomorrow. This past weekend ChickTech helped a number of young Bay Area women get a taste of those possibilities. Hopefully, they gained some new role models to emulate and brighter dreams to start chasing.

 

Check out additional photos from the event below:

ChickTech students got to check out the beautiful views of the Bay Bridge from the New Relic offices.

new relic view

Students produced affirmation boards sharing their thoughts about the importance of ChickTech and other organizations dedicated to promoting diversity in technology.

affirmation board

The students got to hear talks from a number of guest speakers.

chicktech crowd

Maria Stopak, marketing data analyst at New Relic and our official ChickTech liaison, led a workshop on robotics.

maria robot

The students got to participate in a number of hands-on technology workshops.

animation

 

students

Attendees were able to take home a lot of great swag, including ChickTech t-shirts.

chicktech swag

 

All photos © Chris Clauss 2015, reprinted with permission. Open door image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

Yvonne is recognized as a thought leader in how to maintain business relevance in a rapidly changing world. Her personal passions are the advancement of women in leadership/STEM along with driving forward the concept of “shared value” with corporations. As New Relic’s Chief Information Officer, Yvonne divides her focus between the company’s growth strategy and development of the supporting unified technology and data platform. Yvonne is also New Relic’s executive sponsor for their nonprofit program and diversity efforts. View posts by .

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