Sheryl Sandberg Launches ‘Lean In’ Mentor Network To Get More Women Into Tech

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Facebook COO and author and creator of the ‘Lean In‘ book and subsequent movement, Sheryl Sandberg, is on a mighty quest: to get more women in the technology field to even out the score.

She has launched a new Lean In “CS&E Chapter” to encourage women to take up careers in the computer science and engineering fields. The idea, by having it as part of the Lean In network is to create a community of mentorship by encouraging women to either create their own circles or join an existing one.

Lean In partnered with Linkedin, Facebook and the Anita Borg Institute to promote this exciting new initiative aimed at the younger generation of girls. They want to start influencing them early before they choose their college majors, in the hope they will be attracted to these STEM careers.

Just 18% of female students major in computer science, down from 35% in 1985, according to Mashable.

“The thing about stereotypes — and it hits leadership, it hits technical fields — is they’re completely self-reinforcing,” she said. “The reason there aren’t more women in leadership is because there aren’t more women in leadership. Therefore, we don’t think of women as leaders. Draw a leader, you draw a man.

Sheryl believes the way to fix this vicious cycle is by creating peer support so women don’t feel afraid to branch out.

There are currently over 330 circles already running across a number of college campuses and organizations, and the campaign will also be offering live streams on top of the mentorship.

A look at some of the diversity reports being released from some of Silicon Valleys biggest names in tech show a glaring disparity between male and female staff members. While it’s not necessarily just down to discrimination, there is research which suggests (and which the Lean In CS&E campaign is no doubt springboarding off) there are less women interested in applying for these tech jobs and studying computer science at college.

It has to be a grassroots attack, which means changing the culture of tech from an early age. Organizations like Girls Who Code are offering summer programs for school girls to teach them the basics of coding. Black Girls Code is another org which focuses specifically on African-American girls who are largely absent from the tech field. In the UK, a group called The Stemettes are showing the world that the younger generation of girls are interested in science, and are offering them resources to know more about STEM careers.

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Google’s Made With Code program which offers free coding to girls is creating a community that will hopefully be part of the next generation of future employees at the world’s most popular search engine.

In Silicon valley the Women’s Startup Lab is an accelerator program that helps female-created tech businesses to get to a level where they can present their ideas to investors in the hope that they can become the next Mark Zuckerberg.

These female CEOs are going into an area that is still largely male-dominated an need that extra support because of the additional gender barrier they must overcome.

“They need to be focusing on important things, like developing the product, raising funds, and promotion, as opposed to figuring out how to find someone to pay attention to their work,” said hardware expert and mentor Kevin Tompkins to Biz Journals.

Northern Illinois University are waking up to the STEM situation and have created somewhat of an incubator program of their own called Stem Divas. Started by associate professor Pettee Guerrero, Stem Divas is a series of classes aimed at girls 7-11 arming them with the skills and knowledge of how powerful STEM careers are.

“I have the knowledge, power and resources so I feel it’s my duty to share that with girls. I saw a need for more females in this field,” Pettee told the Daily Chronicle.

“During middle school, girls often lose interest in science. Our program is before they’re in middle school to keep them interested in science. It’s a stereotype [that] boys are engineers or scientists and girls are sent toward nursing or teaching. We want to break those stereotypes and show them that girls can be engineers and scientists.”

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““We need more women in these fields,” said Jeremy Benson, STEM outreach associate at NIU in the same article. “It’s been male-dominated for no good reason and there aren’t too many role models for women in science. Women should be just as involved in designing things. We need their perspective to solve problems.”

Elizabeth Gaillard, a chemistry professor at NIU believes the media is partly to blame for the lack of women in the STEM fields.

“In the past, it wasn’t ‘cool’ for a woman to be a scientist, but now it’s becoming more ‘cool,’” she said. “They’re being portrayed in the media in a more positive way, which I think makes a difference.”

The presence of Natalie Portman as an astrophysicist in ‘Thor’ and Pauley Perette playing a forensic scientist in ‘NCIS’ are just two examples of young, cool women breaking down those barriers.

The premise of the Stem Divas is to pair up the girls in the class with a mentor, which seems to be a key ingredient in tackling this gender divide. It’s programs like these, and the new Lean In CS&E initiative and many others springing up which will eventually have a major impact on the STEM culture for young women.

Here’s to the next generation of Sheryl Sandbergs who are growing up with the tools enabling them to Lean In and create ideas that will change the world.

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