VentureBeat: As far as the pipeline goes, how do you try to convince kids, young women, that this is a great place for them to go?
Gascoigne: Girls In Tech, we have different workshops for K-12. We expose the awesomeness in the tech industry and the STEM fields. We do app-building workshops for iOS and Android. From concept to wireframing, to actually getting it built, to marketing it, we teach [girls] how to deploy their apps. Once they see something on the App Store, they’re very excited. That’s one workshop. We can expose them and get them inspired to build and design on their own.
We do business-plan-building courses as well. If they have an idea within the tech industry, a business that they want to create, we help them through that process. We have a workshop that does that. We focus on shadowing, to get them exposed to what it’s like for a woman to work in a tech company. We do more simple things, like how to use Microsoft Office, so they can be experts with different programs once they move into high school or college.
We try to make things very engaging, interactive, and interesting at a very young age. We want girls to not only learn skills, but also feel empowered and excited and curious about doing more, about venturing toward studying in college within the tech sector.
VentureBeat: Do you see this working?
Gascoigne: It’s pretty amazing, the response we get. We have five-year-olds coming to some of our workshops. But the second piece of the puzzle is bringing together the role models, the women executives, the women entrepreneurs, and other women within the field coming to mentor young girls – to talk to them, teach them, and show them you can be a well-rounded individual and still be an engineer or designer in the tech industry.
It’s very early, but it exposes them to different job paths, too. Instead of just automatically being a computer science major, you can also work in tech as a product marketer or an IP lawyer, to give some examples. There are different paths you can take and still be working within the tech industry. With workshops and mentors, we enable girls to get more intrigued and excited about the industry.
VentureBeat: Another group of people needs convincing as well – big-company CEOs, men in management jobs, men who do hiring. What works when talking to that kind of person?
Gascoigne: We ran a campaign to raise awareness in response to Microsoft’s CEO making a comment onstage about how women shouldn’t negotiate to get a raise – that they should just sit back and let things happen naturally. That’s definitely not what we believe at Girls In Tech. We think you should take the bull by the horns, learn negotiation tactics and skills, and ask for what you want when you want to.
Similarly, holding corporations and executives accountable for integrating these policies and programs—It’s going to be very important, not only for women in tech, but for women in general. Workplace diversity is a very hot topic right now. It’s very important that we address it from a recruitment standpoint. As I mentioned before, we had very few women in the company I was working for. It changed the culture and it changed the product itself. The lack of diversity was very limiting to integrating different perspectives and skills and experiences and backgrounds within product development.
VentureBeat: I interviewed the chief diversity officer at Intel last week, Roz Hudnell. She had an interesting quote she brought up from William Wulf, an engineering professor. He talked about how engineering requires creativity, just as much as any other discipline. To do it right, you have to test an idea from a lot of different perspectives. You have to have these perspectives from different people in the room as you’re doing the engineering. You might find, with a certain group of people, an engineering solution. But without enough perspectives, he said you won’t find the most elegant solution.
Gascoigne: I honestly feel that diversity equates to creativity and innovation. When you look at the scope of teams in tech corporations or little startups, if you have people who speak different languages, have lived in different countries, have different backgrounds and skill sets—It does provide that level of covering your bases, essentially. Not only do you create the optimal product, but you create a comprehensive product.
I’ve seen that at every startup I’ve worked at, and I’ve worked at many. I’ve seen it in different tech ecosystems. As I travel around the world and speak at different conferences – Asia, Europe, Africa – that’s one of the main drivers. The main question they ask is, how do we create the ecosystem Silicon Valley has created? How do we plug and play that and make it into something exactly the same out here?
VentureBeat: Hopefully the answer is not, “Start with an old boys’ club.”
Gascoigne: That’s definitely not the answer. The answer is diversity, creating an environment where it becomes natural for people to do what they’re passionate about and bring a variety of different thoughts and experiences to the table. That’s when innovation is at its best.
People in different places might find that challenging, depending on their resources, but we’re trying to provide more exposure to women all around the world. We’re a diverse organization spanning six different continents. We’re trying to build ways to collaborate from one country and one continent to another. Workplace diversity is important from a product perspective, but also from a cultural perspective — making all people feel very comfortable in an environment where they’re building new technology
VentureBeat: I always felt like Silicon Valley’s big plus was that it had engineering talent from around the world working in one place all together. More women would strengthen the Valley.
Gascoigne: I’m seeing more people from India, more Latin Americans, more Brazilians. That’s great. Being able to open up the doors and provide more work visas is obviously a very important step. But again, they’re almost all men. We need more women applying for those jobs.
We just partnered with a company called SVIP, Silicon Valley Internship Program. We’re working with a bunch of different startups to matchmake them with recent graduates from all over the world and facilitate visas so they can come and work in Silicon Valley for a year and potentially get jobs here. Or potentially go back to their home countries and build technology there.
VentureBeat: You have 25,000 people in your organization. It seems like you’ve made progress insofar as there’s a larger group of women in technology joining you. Does that make you feel better about where things could go?
Gascoigne: I’m glad we’ve grown the organization, but we have a long way to go. We have a lot of people in the network who are engaged and curious and motivated by our mission. There are a lot of volunteers helping us produce and expand our organization. Right now we’re refining our curriculum and programming. We do our boot camps and our Catalyst conference and Lady Pitch Night.
But how do we perfect this and deploy it all around the world, so as many women and girls can have access to our curriculum as possible? How do we track that? What are the metrics of success? We’re defining and redefining that, so we can see the impact we’re making on a global scale.
It’s neat to see how much Girls In Tech is in demand. Women want to feel the support. They want to know that an organization in Silicon Valley has their back and that they’re bridging the technological divide. Whatever we’re learning and building here – curriculum, programming, speakers, initiatives, campaigns – we’re able to distribute it, and they’ll be the first ones representing Girls In Tech in their city or country.