Cool Girls CODE: Sparking Change in STEM

Technology-- You can’t live without it and you can’t fully live with it.  Millennials and their tech-savvy ways (for better or for worse) have been the focus of so many Facebook articles on my feed that it seems the words don’t even have much meaning anymore.  Tech is rapidly growing, and it doesn’t even present like new news anymore.

Technology can only be revolutionized through consistent innovation that meets at the junction of great minds and diverse perspectives. But what happens when perspectives are silenced, and what if they aren’t even encouraged from the beginning?

I had the opportunity to sit down with our design intern, Mattaniah Aytenfsu ‘19 an APU Computer Science Major, about what it’s like to be a woman of color in the male-dominated field of technology.

Meet Mattaniah

From a young age this creative woman has always loved the innovation and excitement of math and technology.  One of her favorite shows to watch was “How it’s Made”. She loved learning the “magic” behind the scenes and how it actually works. As a teen, she realized how huge the market of technology was expanding and on the cusp of the major boom. Mattaniah: “It has and will continue to revolutionize our world. I want to be a part of building the technologies that revolutionize our future.“

Mattaniah shares how important it is to have minorities and women in STEM fields because of the unique and valuable perspective they bring into the process of revolutionizing our world.

Mattaniah: “It’s important to get minorities in the STEM field because, in our current climate, it’s so important to be socially conscious of the work they do; because what you do now can really alter positively and negatively the future.”

Bethany: Personally, as a Liberal Arts major whose classes contain 75% or more women in them (which I’d like to credit the APU ratio) it begs the question of why women aren’t pursuing as many careers in the STEM fields.

Who Runs the World?

Beyoncé says that girls run the world, but I wanted to know how. I dug a little deeper into the statistics of the tech’s lack of gender diversity and minority representation that is begging for a bridge to open more opportunities for diverse perspectives and innovation.

"In 2015, women held 57% of all professional occupations, yet they held only 25% of all computing occupations. And the numbers are even lower when considering women of color; for example, Latinas and Black women hold only 1% and 3% of these jobs, respectively. Furthermore, even fewer women are found in software development, technology leadership, or other key roles that have a significant influence on future innovation. Consider that 88% of all information technology patents (from 1980–2010) are invented by male-only invention teams while only 2% are invented by female-only invention teams.” -- Source

I know I’m not the only one stunned by these statistics.

Bethany: What is the effect of these low numbers of representation within a creative and technical field?

Mattaniah: When you’re a girl and minority who codes, you approach things differently. You notice a certain perspective that may not be readily apparent to others. When you see different research methods you notice that it’s not very inclusive especially with AI. In one of my classes we were analyzing a study about the possibility of using AI to tell if someone’s straight or gay depending on one’s facial structure, a controversial idea to begin with. As we were looking over the research methods I realized that although the data was inconclusive, the subjects used were only white males and females.”

Mattaniah brought up great points about how we strive to include race, gender and sexuality into society well, yet it’s not represented well in the tech fields that revolutionize the very way we communicate and operate as a society. This is definitely something that we need to continue to address.  

She stands by the fact that we need to promote technology in a way that can be more inclusive and more available to people who don’t have access to it.

Education as a Platform for Change

As an active part of this growing movement and community, Mattaniah worked as an instructor at a summer program called Alexa Café (created by the co-founder of iD Tech) where girls could have the opportunity to learn more about technology and entrepreneurship with a focus on positive social impact.

Female empowerment and entrepreneurship were main topics of conversation with her classes for 5th-9th grade girls. Alexa Café shows that it’s never too early to give girls the opportunity and confidence to follow their dreams while creating a community that they can rely on to cheer them on as they meet the challenges of a male-dominated field and the experience of innovation.

Affluent communities seem to be making great strides in this area of inclusiveness, however not everyone has access to these programs. That’s where Black Girls CODE comes in.

Black Girls CODE is a great program. Specifically targeting black girls is really impactful because women in technology in tech is around 15%. Black women are about less than 1% within the Tech fields.  Since black women are at the intersection of not only being black but also being a woman gives such valuable experience and propels the potential of them developing technology that benefits those who are marginalized in society. They promote technology in a way that can be more inclusive and more available to people who don’t have access to it.” - Mattaniah

                            Graphic Source

                          Graphic Source

Making Strides

Technology is integrated into virtually every part of our lives. If the digital sphere caters to everyone, it needs to be created by people like the users. The only way to get into someone’s head in that way is to have people that understand and have lived it, and that’s where diversity comes into play.

Bethany: What can we do better?

Mattaniah: “It starts with respect and recognizing that there’s a gap of valuable information and perspectives missing. When you respect the opinions and backgrounds that people have and are going through opportunities present themselves to create the change that we need in order to continually grow and thrive within this technological facet of society.”

Mattanniah’s advice for women and minorities who want to pursue/are currently pursuing a place in this field:

Mattaniah: “Be proactive about making the intentional effort to respect opinions, backgrounds and personal experiences because when someone speaks out in technology as a woman or person of color it’s not always taken seriously and sometimes this is to the detriment of a missed opportunity to revolutionize.  

Be open and empathetic of people’s perspectives on how things should be done instead of defaulting to how they’ve ‘always been done’. I want to encourage you not to fall victim to the mindset that you’re not capable enough — everyone in tech fakes it ‘til you make it.

You are not an impostor in the field. Your perspective and knowledge is valuable and you belong. Being a minority means that you’re bringing more value to the team.”

Be the Change

Mattaniah: “Zuventurez is really pushing the idea that you can be really innovative and take your personal experiences to dream up something and make it into something real and viable. By having a mindset of valuing your ideas and making the world a better place, you build confidence; and it’s more potential to empower people that usually aren’t empowered to make a difference in the present and future.”

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