Innovation, Equality, and Women in STEM: An Interview with Adriana Gascoigne
I first met Adriana Gascoigne, the CEO of global nonprofit Girls in Tech — an organization that focuses on the engagement, education and empowerment of women and girls pursuing careers in STEM fields — in July. She was in San Francisco in between trips to New Zealand and London – just two of the many countries she travels to each year to spread the word about the importance of getting girls into STEM fields. And her hard work is clearly paying off: Since it was founded in 2007, Girls in Tech now has over 50,000 members in 60 chapters on seven continents.
Adriana’s passion and commitment to increasing the presence of women in technology and entrepreneurship inspires me to do better by the girls who haven’t had access to the same opportunities that I have been so fortunate to come by as a young female founder myself. Whether through mentorship, funding opportunities, or educational workshops, strengthening the support systems available for girls and women in STEM fields is crucial to not only getting them careers in the first place, but keeping them in those fields long-term. Adriana has truly taken the responsibility to work on increasing diversity and equality in the workplace to heart, and was kind enough to discuss her experiences with me.
The FBomb: Why did you start Girls in Tech? How did the organization grow to become what it is today?
Gascoigne: I was working at a startup where I was the only female in the office, and it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Time and time again, I was the only woman in the office. And while I absolutely loved the startup culture and the vision of the companies I worked for, I knew it wasn’t right. I saw with my own eyes that Silicon Valley is dramatically slanted in favor of men. At the same time, I knew other women who were in similar positions. Girls in Tech started with a social media page and one event in San Francisco. It grew incredibly quickly, which I feel is a testament to how much it was, and is, needed. While I was excited about its growth in the early years, I worked on it in my spare time while I held a variety of other positions at startups. Girls in Tech has been self-funded for nearly 10 years. I became its full time CEO and quit my day job in 2015.
What kinds of initiatives and projects are you working on right now at Girls in Tech?
One of the things I love best about this job is that there is always something new happening, and that couldn’t be more true now! Girls in Tech has many kinds of programs: boot camps, where women interested in tech careers and entrepreneurship can learn some valuable skills to get started; internship programs; conferences; online workshops, and more. Now that I’ve been focusing on Girls in Tech full time, we’re rolling out and testing additional new programs. For example, we’re about to test a mentorship platform that will have both an in-person and “eMentorship” component, so that women in tech have even more support as they explore and advance their careers.
Following that, what do you love most about your job?
I’m lucky that this job grants me the opportunity to work with amazing women from all around the world. Women’s passion for technology careers and their determination to push forward is universal. Girls in Tech gives me the opportunity to see that every single day. We all have so much more in common with women in all corners of the globe than we may initially realize.
That’s awesome — I think it’s amazing how global the Girls in Tech movement has become since you founded the organization. Conversely, though, what are some of the challenges of running your own organization?
The challenges of running Girls in Tech are similar to the challenges any startup faces: lack of time and lack of resources. It’s a very challenging balance—how do I grow Girls in Tech while still adhering to a budget and nurturing our existing programs and community? I’m learning as I go, and I’m so grateful for our amazing volunteer managing directors and incredible Board of Directors.
Silicon Valley particularly has a reputation of being an “all-boys” club, so it’s fitting that Girls in Tech is based here in San Francisco. Since founding the organization in 2007, where have you seen women make advances in Silicon Valley and in the technology sector as a whole?
Adriana: There’s been a few big wins in recent years for women in tech. For one, women such as Sheryl Sandberg [COO of Facebook], Ursula Burns, [CEO of Xerox], Ruth Porat [CFO of Alphabet] and others are taking a seat at the executive table of major, global corporations. This kind of leadership and visibility for women in tech is phenomenal! I think we will see more of this in the near future as women continue to make gains at high tech companies.
Additionally, high tech corporations are working with organizations like Girls in Tech to further their involvement and support of women in tech. Many of these companies have their own internal women in tech programs. For example, Intel invests in education programs for girls and women, and Cisco has its own women’s network. It’s a big win to see such giant brands take an interest in supporting and elevating women in technical careers.
Where do you still see room for improvement?
One thing that comes to mind is unconscious bias. We all need to be aware of that, male or female. We need to be more aware about how we’re thinking about roles, women, situations. We need to be aware of the image we’re pressing on our co-workers, our friends, our daughters. We need to retrain ourselves to think about technology careers differently and to be a lot more supportive and accepting of women in STEM careers.
And for anyone who’s not convinced yet—why is it important for women to have a presence in tech? Why should we care?
Problems are solved more efficiently when both women and men sit at the table. Companies perform better. Women and men—together—drive greater innovation. Let’s stop for a moment and think about this in a different way, and ask a different question. For example, why is it important for men to be involved with their children? Or, why is it important for men to volunteer at their children’s schools? These questions may seem silly, but the point is that everyone wins and everyone performs better when we have all-inclusive, supportive, non-biased environments. And that goes for women in tech as well as many other scenarios.
At this point, Girls in Tech has over 50,000 members around the world and chapters in all seven continents. What’s your ultimate goal for Girls in Tech? Do you think there’ll ever be a moment where you think, “this is it, we’ve done it”?
I always knew Girls in Tech would go far beyond the borders of San Francisco. I’m very proud at how quickly it’s grown and how far it has reached. My ultimate goal is to eradicate gender inequalities in technology fields. In other words: we’ll have succeeded when organizations like ours aren’t necessary.
The path to becoming an activist and an advocate is different for everybody, but if a girl is passionate about an issue—like the representation of women in tech and entrepreneurship— and wants to do something about it, where would you tell her to start?
I would tell her to start small, but dream big. You can do a lot with very little money and in small steps. In other words, keep the big picture in mind but keep taking small steps forward, and gather supporters and helpers along the way.
Finally, if you could leave young women passionate about pursuing careers in business and in tech with one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell these young women two things: First, work hard. I still believe in hard work. Nothing will be handed to you. Don’t go into your career with an attitude of entitlement. Rather, hard work will open more doors for you than you’d ever imagine.
And two, create a support ecosystem. This could mean a mentor. It could mean regular weeknight get-togethers with girlfriends. It could mean Girls in Tech! But proactively carve out a support system for yourself so that you have it in place when you need it.
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