Women in Tech: a Crisis of ConfidenceFeatured
The Current State of ConfidenceOne of the bigger issues at hand in the tech industry is far more subtle than expected at first sight: women in tech tend to simply have less confidence in their own abilities than their male counterparts. According to a 2014 HBR survey, women are more likely than men to deem themselves unqualified for a given job. They tend to demand that they meet every requirement defined by the job description before being comfortable enough to apply. Of course, confidence isn’t just a quirk of the X chromosome. Women’s lack of faith in themselves stems from generations of oppression and disillusionment. Can such an ingrained opinion be fixed relatively quickly, though? Jessie Arora @JessieA, Executive Director of Wogrammer, is certainly giving it a shot along with the rest of her team. I had the chance to speak with Jessie about her background, her work at Wogrammer, and how she plans to use it to effect change for women in tech. Her answer: storytelling.Stories Have PowerBack in 2015, two female engineers at Facebook, Erin Summers and Zainab Ghadiyali, made some sobering observations about the narrative around women in tech in the press. They realized that current events and their coverage about women tended to craft a very negative image of what it was like to be a woman in the tech industry. Jessie details that they feared that women and girls around the world were reading these stories that would likely discourage them from entering the tech industry themselves. “We believe stories have the power to create a positive narrative, and to inspire more women and girls to pursue STEM careers by showcasing the diverse and interesting women that are building the future of tech right now. And so Wogrammer was born.”Creating such a positive narrative requires many instances of high quality storytelling, and Wogrammer provides a platform to do just that. At the beginning, Erin and Zainab maintained a simple side project on Instagram where they reached out to interesting women they knew to ask them what they were proud of building and showcasing their personal stories as successful role models of women in STEM. The format resonated with their audience and they soon had millions of people reading their inspiring stories worldwide.This is where Jessie came in to take things to the next level. She helped develop Wogrammer’s fellowship program and develop a storytelling workshop. The goal is to, “give women the confidence to communicate their competency and get the recognition they deserve. We strive to amplify the contributions that women are making to the tech industry right now,” says Jessie. With all the positive feedback the team received from women all over the world, they quickly realized they were right to think stories have immense power to boost representation, and subsequently, confidence in one’s career goals. “What we say at Wogrammer and in our workshops is, that confidence matters just as much as competence.”Plugging the leaky STEM pipelineAs Jessie discovered, the narrative around women tends to be about deficits. There aren’t enough women in tech, and there is a leaky pipeline of those who choose STEM careers with women dropping off their chosen paths as they hear more about the negatives: women in tech are harrassed, suffer pay inequity, and are always the only woman in the room. There is no doubt that these things are true, but there are also positives in STEM that need to be properly communicated to help plug the leak. “There's so much talk around diversity and inclusion, but what does it actually mean to create and foster a sense of belonging in the tech industry? We think through these stories, people read about a Native American aerospace engineer or a woman in Nigeria who is working on her own startup, and they feel like they can see themselves in those narratives, in those career paths, in those role models, and that's really powerful,” Jessie says.These are the kinds of stories that Wogrammer amplifies, particularly for university-aged women and girls. This is a major point of the leaky STEM pipeline that must be addressed. “The women who read our stories are largely 18 to 35 years old. So we are thinking about how we can create programs that better serve them so they feel more connected.” Measuring success is still a bump Jessie is working on tackling, but she plans to use surveys and other data collection tools to help Wogrammer understand its impact and effectiveness in improving confidence for women everywhere.Comfort in DiscomfortWhen asked for a piece of advice for women in STEM, Jessie said to remember that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. There are certain expectations set for us concerning the kind of education and career path we should be following - Jessie’s recommendation is to use education and skills as a tool on the path to success, not a mandate, even if the mandate provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. Building the confidence to step out of that comfort zone is one of the most important things a woman in a STEM career can do.This is an issue that Jessie ran into herself, but pulled herself ahead of time and time again. After beginning her career at Google followed by a master’s degree in education policy from Stanford, she took some time to learn as much as she could in the nonprofit space. From there, she took on the always uncomfortable mantle of entrepreneur and started Embark Labs, which is a program for students to learn creative problem-solving and algorithmic thinking. From Embark, she went on to Wogrammer, where the heft of her demanding job requires the discomfort of finding balance with the rest of her life. This willingness to experience discomfort is what has helped to propel Jessie forward throughout her career.Finishing up by talking about the kind of legacy she hopes to leave, Jessie says, “I think if Wogrammer could help move the needle on how women are portrayed not only in the tech press, but how women in STEM are portrayed in the media in general, that would be a fantastic legacy for us to leave.”Using stories as the perfect tool to boost confidence, this legacy doesn’t seem too far off for the groundbreaking company. Share your own story as a woman in STEM below!- Swati is a writer, digital strategist, and brand enthusiast. She is currently a tech startup Brand Story Consultant with Plotline and is also passionate about gender equity in tech, abolishing the phrase, “marketing bullshit,” and making startup growth strategies accessible to all entrepreneurs. She consults pro-bono for small businesses and nonprofits and writes about things that matter (and things that don’t) in her free time.Want to be featured in an Elpha Editorial? Tweet or DM us with your details!