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Why Girls and Women in STEM Need Role Models

Image: HP

This article was written by Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer, HP, and was originally published here.


A good role model can be hard to find. Especially, for women in the technology industry.

But for companies, role modeling is part of a well-rounded strategy for leveling the playing field. It is also one of the trickiest to execute well for some companies. But as we’re learning at HP, it doesn’t have to be such a challenge.   

At its core, good role modeling revolves around trust. Not only does it require trust between individuals, it also requires an organization that fosters frank conversations, openness, and the ability to meet people where they are.

That’s evident when your company actively seeks out ways to become a “speak up” culture, as we are working to do at HP. It’s about enabling women to have courageous conversations, especially about the unique challenges they face in the tech workforce, and talk about the barriers to their success.

Still there are obstacles that arise years before women even think about entering the workforce, as young students entering higher education flee from hard sciences. The recent groundswell of interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning, as well as tech-ed focused organizations and nonprofits, shows that there’s still a critical need to build the pipeline of girls and women with technical talent.

Read More: The Gender Gap in STEM Classes is Finally Closing, Study Finds

One of the things we’re very passionate about as a company is to be able to partner with STEM and educational programs, such as Black Girls Code, that are impacting the lives of underrepresented youth. It’s one of the reasons HP awarded Kimberly Bryant, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Black Girls Code, our inaugural Diversity Champion Award.

Role Models_HP Image2.pngImage: CEO and Founder of Black Girls Code, Kimberly Bryant

Her organization, which has scaled up from the Bay Area in California to have satellites all over the US, aims to provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the US by 2020.

More black women in technical positions holds space for girls looking to succeed in the industry, just by making sure that there are people who look like them to emulate. Bryant’s done a phenomenal job of inspiring and engaging girls to learn computer programming skills and as she puts it, “become builders of their own futures.” There’s something incredibly powerful about internalizing the message: “She looks like me, and she’s succeeding.”

Read More: How Coding and Legos Are Making STEM Fun For Kids

While HP and others in the tech industry are actively working to knock down some of the barriers to inclusion and diversity, there is a lot more work that needs to be done to cultivate role models for women at their respective companies.

Here are some of our best practices:

1. Build networks of trust where women can get to know each other. Networks of trust enable role models to share and be open. Building out women’s power circles and affinity groups enables real sharing of their hopes, dreams about the future, and passions. It helps role models become authentic cheerleaders by enabling them to sponsor, mentor, and coach others.

2. It is not only a woman's responsibility to be a role model. If every employee brought someone else in who is from an underrepresented group, we would speed up the trajectory of change. The model we have at HP is an “everybody in” culture—it is everyone’s responsibility to coach, to mentor, and to lead. We celebrate leaders at all levels. That’s especially important for our male allies to understand.

3. Company leadership must walk the walk. None of these efforts matter unless there is demand for change at the top. Our diversity and inclusion efforts at HP are backed up and amplified by leaders such as Chief Legal Officer Kim Rivera and Chief Marketing Officer Antonio Lucio, who are using their voices and influence to make change in their industries by demanding that outside vendors, partners, and agencies working with HP meet certain standards for diversity.