On Wednesday, I had an opportunity to participate in a design thinking workshop as part of International Girls in ICT Day. It was held at my (soon to be) alma mater, New York University and was led by the amazing Lee Kim, co-founder + community designer at Identity Lab.
It was so much fun and it gave me a chance to interact with girls and young women interested in tech careers. In this post, I want to share a bit more detail about International Girls in ICT, the basics of design thinking, and why we need more days like this to cultivate diverse tech talent.
International Girls in ICT Day is celebrated globally on the fourth Thursday in April (the event ay NYU took place on Wednesday). Overall, the goal is to inspire girls and young women to get interested in tech careers. This is part of a larger conversation on the Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations, including ending poverty, inclusive and equitable education, achieving gender equality, and more.
I am a big believer in technology serving as a strategy to address some of these challenges. That’s not to say that there are moments when technology can fall off track. One of the key oversights the tech industry continues to make is looking over people that fall outside of a “normative” space. When it comes to women in tech spaces, the argument is often that women lack the tech skills necessary to get and retain key jobs. We have several coalitions dedicated to connecting women who are already skilled with jobs that desperately need to be filled.
At the same time, we need to continue to support the dreams of women and girls who want to emerge into tech spaces. That is why days like International Girls in ICT Day are so important.
Enter Design Thinking
Design thinking is best thought of as an agile process to create products and services. Design thinking goes beyond how a product looks. Instead, it focuses on how a product works. As CIO defines it, the idea is to best serve the customer in a quick, efficient way. Because people are at the center of the process, design thinking can (hopefully) lead to products that better serve diverse audiences and create more inclusive spaces.
While we are supposed to engage the needs of the customer with design thinking, it’s still possible to fall back on our own biases and experiences. Therefore, having diverse teams that utilize design thinking is crucial. A diverse team can identify when a design thinking exercise is going off-course or if a blind spot has developed.
I personally love design thinking because it is a way to engage my clients daily. Whether is someone is new to Microsoft or an existing partner. I want to emphasize the conversation on that person’s needs. That will then allow me to become an advocate for the client in working with programming and network teams.
Why Tech Days Are Awesome
As I wrote in Women of Color in Tech, women of color are being funneled out of tech careers, and the process starts at an early age. The girls and young women who express interest in tech in early childhood are discouraged from engaging deeply in those subjects. If parents do not share the enthusiasm of their daughters for tech, they can—consciously and unconsciously—discourage their daughters from following their passions.
The issue is compounded further in societies where girls are expected to engage in gender-normative roles. I believe that it is crucial for girls and young women to understand that their identity belongs in tech spaces. Full stop. Regardless of how you choose to express yourself or whether you fit into normative definitions of femininity, your presence belongs in tech.
Engaging in events like this one reminds me of my interests in tech as a kid. I did not follow a “regular” path into the tech industry. And the beautiful part? There is no regular path. Technology provides opportunities to engage people wherever they are, regardless of who they are. But we need to ensure those opportunities are truly realized for everyone. And I hope that programs like International Girls in ICT Day do exactly that.