As part of our Women in Technology (WIT) group at Yahoo!, ascariasis we invited a group of sixth graders last winter to our Burbank campus to learn about technology and the different roles that women have here. Our goal was to expose them to technology and hope they would leave unafraid of entering a male-dominated field.
These girls, most of them with very little exposure to computers in their day-to-day lives, were daring, brave, and eager to try new things. Programming did not daunt them at all and confidence wasn’t an issue.
The WIT group holds leadership and career discussions among ourselves in order to provide support and networking opportunities. Self-doubt is a theme that frequently comes up in these discussions. I have heard so many women say, “I could never do what you do”, “I want to learn, but I am scared to try programming”. I, too, have similar feelings when trying new things.
What causes these insecurities? How did they come about? Are we really incapable of doing what I could teach eleven and twelve year olds to do in an hour? Is it a generational difference? I think most of us feel men and women are equally adept at executing their tasks at work. So if these doubts are truly only in our heads, what put them there? Passing comments by our mothers, fathers, and brothers? The tendency for computer games to be boy focused? Is it cultural, where we were inundated with a stereotype of what a cool girl is and not exposed to technology at an early age?
Do men have the same issues in significant numbers or are they shielded from this internal torment by social constructs?
I hope the sixth graders we taught that day remember the excitement they felt when writing a piece of code and visually seeing its effects on their browsers. I hope at least some of them decide to come into technology and that they don’t have to experience the self-doubts and fears that some of us face today.