“You can’t be what you don’t see.”
– Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders, the first African American (and second woman) appointed as Surgeon General of the United States
When it comes to women’s leadership, there’s a notable gap across almost every major industry. From the boardroom to the C-suite, equity simply doesn’t exist. And when it comes to the industry that has a strong hand in designing what the future looks like, technology, that gap widens even further. Even though women are graduating at higher rates than men from college, they only hold 28% of computer science degrees and 25% of computing jobs, which has been steadily declining after peaking in 1991.
I’ve been lucky in my career to have worked around technology from basically the beginning. The first CTO I ever worked with was a rockstar woman. A large majority of my friends work in tech. These women matter, both technical and non, because as our future gets shaped by the innovations created today, we want those advancements to equally represent the half of us that have historically been so underrepresented.
And if there’s one thing I know can change the gap in women’s leadership, in technology, and beyond… it’s powerful examples of women doing just that.
Which is why women like Jenny Choudhry, a senior software engineer for Capital One’s commercial digital innovation – matter. And matter big time. I had the chance to catch up with Jenny after Capital One’s Women In Tech Demo Day in New York City (#WITDemoDay) to hear about her day, one that was designed with a clear focus to create technology that battles unconscious gender bias.
Jenny, who was integral in the successful event as a volunteer and lightning panel speaker, emphasized the need for a community of women with whom you can see yourself in. “Women were meeting other women and building connections. It’s what’s so great about the WIT Demo Days – people can do what they’re passionate about, meet other people like them, and find mentors who can foster and nurture them.”
That mentorship is indeed crucial, because women at every level need to be able to see what’s possible. From sharing challenges, to helping navigate next steps, to being honest with the realities they’re facing, the coming together of diverse women at different levels of their career is both encouraging and supportive to other women looking to both stay and enter the pipeline.
What makes the #WITDemoDay such a successful example of this, according to Jenny, is the safe space created throughout the day amongst the community of women and male allies in attendance. “Psychological safety is so important to foster for any team and individual. [At #WITDemoDay] we created a space that’s safe and comfortable so that everyone could put something out there that they maybe wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in a different setting,” she said.
That type of culture and powerful example is built by team members like Jenny. As someone who spends her time inside the office building Capital One’s tech products and outside the office volunteering for their Women in Tech NYC chapter and other local women in tech organizations, she is exactly the type of role model that will encourage young women to believe that they too can have a career in technology. Such encouragement is exactly why Jenny does what she does.
“I want people to change the way they view the tech industry, especially young high school girls who are asked what they want to be when they grow up…I’m passionate about changing the way these industries are viewed because it will have such a great effect on what we build. I want to show, especially the younger generation of girls, that you can be an engineer. You can find something you really love and succeed in it.”
Examples like Jenny in technology matter, because they become the model of a possibility that young women everywhere so badly need to see.
Women In Tech Demo Days event is coming to Washington, D.C. on July 21st and 22nd. I’ve partnered with Capital One on this post because I’m a fierce supporter of their commitment to elevating women in technology.