Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT

Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT

This is a very insight filled piece, written by a 13 yr old girl.

Even she is exceptional, in that she attended a tech workshop and cares enough to write a piece like this, but isn’t interested in a hands-on tech career and she confirms many of the factors we’ve suspected keep girls from going into tech.

I think there’s a lot we can do with her insights to change both the optics and the realities that keep girls like Lottie from pursuing tech.

Engineering Toys for Girls!

One of the common themes I’ve noticed in discussions about getting more girls to choose tech as a career is that boys more often like to tinker with tech for its own sake, while girls like to solve problems. A female engineer from Stanford has invented a toy that addresses this, along with her own observation that little girls like to read.

Take a look at her pitch video for GoldieBlox engineering  toys for girls:

This is the kind of toy that would have appealed to me even more than the puzzles and block sets that I played with while the other girls were pretending to be princesses or dressing up their Barbies. I enjoyed “boys toys” but wish I’d had stuff like this to play with too. Maybe I’d have come to my tech career through a more direct path if I’d had GoldieBlox. And maybe some of my friends who didn’t end up in tech might have been my colleagues if they’d played with GoldieBlox.

What do you think of this approach?

P.S. I love, love, love this promo video featuring some little girls letting their inner geek come out to play.

Technology-enabled marketing talk at Girl Geeks Toronto

This is a cross-post of  a guest blog I wrote for Girl Geeks Toronto. You can find the original here. Girl Geeks Toronto runs monthly tech talks in a friendly social environment. Their talks are accessible to both techs and non-techs, and men are welcome.

Recap: Technology and Marketing: From Mind to Map

This month’s event brought together two topics that showed how technology is enabling marketers to be more relevant to our audiences.  Asif Khan from the Location Based Marketing Association talked about how marketers are using Location Based Marketing (LBM) and Diana Lucaci and Katerina Juskey from True Impact Marketing introduced us to neuromarketing, which measures brain responses to really understand how users are truly responding to marketing messages. Through these two lenses we can begin to see the depth and breadth of marketing tools technology has enabled.

Location Based Marketing – Asif Khan

One of Asif’s core messages was that “location” doesn’t mean “mobile” and LBM isn’t just about checking in on Foursquare. Asif described it as “the intersection of people, places and media.” Wherever we are, and whatever device or app we choose, that’s a location.

Asif showed us a lot of intriguing examples. Some showed marketers offering services where the customer is, such as digital walls in airports where travellers returning home can order the groceries they’ll need to restock their fridges, and pizza ordering stations in transit shelters so riders could order dinner while they wait for the bus and have it arrive soon after they get home.

Others showed we can push offers to individuals based on where they are,  like a coupon to a customer when they are standing in front of the display deciding between brands. Starhub in Singapore chose fitting room music based on what clothes customers were trying on and pushed targeted download offers to their phones on the spot. (See how they did it here.)

Asif Khan speaking at a Girl Geeks Toronto event

Asif also shared examples of marketers increasing relevance based on real-time LBM data, like digital signage on a NYC bus allowing ads to be selected for each intersection based who has checked in to services like Foursquare instead of a static ad based on the bus route’s demographics.

Some examples used onsite-only offers to draw customers to the advertiser’s location. For instance, few users pay for advanced Angry Birds levels, but many choose to shop or eat at advertiser locations (e.g. McDonalds in China) where they can unlock new levels for free.

Asif’s many examples all result in making the content hyper-relevant to the user.  He reminded us that if we’re going to use LBM we need to first understand who we are targeting so we can choose tools that will reach them, and I think his overall message could be summed up with one of his comments:

Content is king but context is the advisor

Neuromarketing – Diana Lucaci and Katerina Juskey

If LBM is about getting the right message to the right people at the right time and place, neuromarketing (NM) is about determining what the right message IS.

Diana Lucaci from True Impact brings science into the boardroom, using tools that measure brain response to show marketers how users respond to their content. She was quick to remind us that neuromarketing is not about manipulating the subject’s brain, just reading its response, and introduced us to three NM technologies:

  1. EEG – Electroencephalography records electrical impulses produced by the brain’s activity to see whether a subject is engaged or not, or has positive or negative emotional engagement
  2. fMRI – Functional MRI machines measure the blood-flow to areas of the brain that are responsible for decision making and gives even more insight into how the subject is reacting to content
  3. Eye Tracking – helps correlate the emotional, attention or memory activity with the visual focus on the advertisement

Diana Lucaci presents on Neuromarketing

One of the big ideas behind these tools is that what people say they think and feel doesn’t always match what they really do, so focus groups and surveys can’t always give an accurate insight. Diana also pointed out that what questions we ask, how we ask them, and who else is in the room can affect subjects’ responses in traditional market research but by measuring the brain’s response neuromarketing can cut through some of that and tell us what people are really responding to. Used in conjunction with traditional research, NM can fine tune our understanding of the results.

Diana also showed us how we make decisions, with the part of our brains that handles emotions causing us to respond – mentally and even physically – before we even begin to think about a decision, and urged us to keep that in mind when we’re making decisions. Even when we don’t think we’re being affected, we are, and the fMRI can measure that.

One of Diana’s intriguing use cases involved three stop-smoking ads being shown to a focus group, which chose ad “B” as the most effective, while fMRI scans showed people really preferred ad “C” and in the real world, ad “C” drove 3 times as many calls as the others. Ads “A” and “B” were both based on rational arguments against smoking, the reasons we all want to believe we make decisions, while ad “C” tugged the heartstrings, addressing how hard it is to quit and how smoking affects our families. The fMRI was able to show that despite what the focus group respondents told marketers (and themselves!) the emotional appeal is the one that really worked.

Katerina Juskey presents at Girl Geeks

While the fMRI gives the deepest insights, EEG is a very effective tool because it provides immediate readings and it’s more portable and easy to use. Katerina told us about EEG’s and how they can show negative and positive responses and whether the subject is really engaged or tuned out. They also showed us a great example of how eye tracking can help us improve campaigns. Eye tracking on an ad showed most time spent looking at the headline, a little at the model, and almost none at the product. By changing the ad so that the model was looking at the bottle, viewers’ behaviour was changed and they spent more time looking at the product. Eye tracking identified what was happening, cueing marketers to make changes, and then measured the result to show that the change worked.

Diana acknowledged that neuromarketing is quite new and there is controversy around its effectiveness, but she likened selling it to selling some of the earliest websites. Many of us can remember when businesses were skeptical about whether a website would really drive business, but now there’s no question about it. Similarly, Diana expects neuromarketing to become more mainstream as marketers gain more experience using it.

Relevance, relevance, relevance!

So we covered a lot of territory in a single session, but it all comes back to one of our core challenges as marketers – how to be as relevant as possible to our audience. Location Based Marketing and neuromarketing are two great examples of how technology gives use new and exciting ways to make our content relevant.

Did you attend the Technology and Marketing: From Mind to Map event? What was your biggest takeaway?

How do you deal with the sexism?


Underground is pretty much “a man’s world”
– except when I’m there.

A colleague recently asked me how I deal with sexism in mining.

As I thought about my answer, I realized I hadn’t been conscious of sexism in mining but had of course been dealing with it. Mining is far more male-dominated than tech and a moment’s reflection was enough for me to recognize that I’ve observed some sexism there. I just hadn’t paid attention to it because it wasn’t a problem for me, any more than it has been in tech, banking or public safety. Like many other potential obstacles, I’ve worked around it and carried on. But the question caused me to reflect a bit on how I do that. I don’t know if my approach would work for anyone else, and I know that a lot of the circumstances where women experience it don’t apply to me, but I thought I’d share my approach in case it’s useful to others.

1)      I show what I can do

One of the things I’ve loved about tech from the beginning is that when I know something and can do something, people respect that. They care less about what I can’t do, what I haven’t done, or who I am than what I actually show I can do.

When I started out in tech as a second career at 31, I was worried about being 10-15 years older than my peers and much less experienced in tech than the teens who had hacking since childhood. I was hired by an ISP for my Cisco routing and switching knowledge but initially spent some time in tech support learning the business before moving to network operations. The fellow who showed me the ropes was 15 and I got the distinct sense at first that he and his peers were quietly rolling their eyes at the “senior citizen” who’d never managed a Unix system or even written a Perl script. In retrospect they were probably also underestimating me because I was female, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about my age and inexperience.

Before long, I had a chance to show what I could do. The network was down and the only person with passwords to the core routers was not answering his pager. I mentioned to my boss that if I could get physical access to the equipment, I could bypass the password. Management took me up on my offer and within a few minutes I’d identified the problem, corrected it, and restored service to our customers. Word travelled fast that, “poD_ can hack Cisco routers!” That was a major turning point.

In calling me by my IRC nickname, my peers were admitting me into the club. I was recognized as a “real tech”. While I wasn’t really “hacking”, the fact that I could bypass the password on the mysterious Cisco router and fix a big network problem gave me cred. From then on, I traded Cisco expertise for Unix expertise and never worried about my age or background again.

2)      By avoiding other negatives, I avoid a lot of sexism

People who make business decisions based on gender, or ignore good advice because of who it comes from, tend to display poor judgement generally.

I suspect I’ve avoided a lot of sexism by avoiding places that weren’t the right fit for other reasons. Sexism and other “isms” tend not to occur on their own.

Back in the 90’s I went for a network ops job interview at a big telco. I’d heard nothing but bad things about them as a workplace, all of it from men since there weren’t yet many tech women to hear from. Their reputation shouted “you’ll hate working here!” but they were a big name for the resume and had a big network I could learn from working with so I interviewed anyway. During that interview, I observed a lot of negatives about their approach and culture. I also experienced the only direct sexism I can recall encountering in my career when one of the interviewers said there are people in the department who don’t think women should work on networks. In the moment I was startled, but afterward I realized that was just one more nail in their coffin. They probably wouldn’t have offered me the job because I’m female, but I didn’t pursue it because the interview showed me it was just as messed up a place as I’d heard, maybe worse. Sexism was just a symptom of a much bigger problem.

3)      I focus on the variables I can change

In 2003, I had a chance to hear Dr. Veena Rawat speak when she won the Canadian Women in Communications (CWC) Woman of the Year Award. In 1972, Dr. Rawat was the first woman to graduate with a PhD in electrical engineering from Queen’s University. She was also an immigrant, having moved to Canada from India only 5 years before. As a female engineer and an immigrant in 1973, Dr. Rawat experienced discrimination far greater than anything I’ve encountered.

One of her comments in that talk has stuck with me since that day and I apply it often. When asked how she dealt with sexism in her career, she said something like this:

“I approach it like an engineering problem. There are always constants and variables, and some of the variables are out of your control. So I focus on the variables I can change and not the constants or the variables I can’t change.”

Words to live by. Even though I push back against sexism in society and industries, I’m rarely able to eliminate sexism and other irrational biases in specific people and situations. So I treat them as constants and get the job done anyway. From a practical standpoint, it rarely matters whether I’m being underestimated because of my gender, because I currently report to marketing instead of engineering, because I’m new to a company, or because someone thinks redheads are temperamental. What matters is that I’m being underestimated. So I deal with that, and work around people who are present barriers to my success.

I have friends and colleagues whose approaches are very different from mine, and I would never suggest that my approach is better for everyone. But for what it’s worth, it’s worked well for me.

Guest Blogging @ Girl Geeks Toronto

girlgeeksto-logoI’m jazzed to be guest blogging this Monday’s Girl Geeks Toronto event!

The team has lined up three really interesting speakers to discuss Technology and Marketing: From the Mind to the Map.

Here is the summary from their site:

Imagine you could read your customer’s thoughts on an emotional level or reach them with just the right deal, in just the right location to get them to buy. Technology, and the science behind it, has brought a new level of sophistication to many industries, and marketing is no exception.

Join other girl geeks (and boys!) for an evening of exploration around topics in marketing that leverage new technologies to reach and understand consumers on a more personal level than ever before.

Diana Lucaci, founder and CEO of True Impact Marketing, will be providing an introduction to Neuromarketing. She will explain why one would use brain measurements for insights, what can be accurately measured, and how to get started.

Katerina Juskey, a Neurofeedback Specialist from True Impact Marketing, will be joining Diana to provide insights on the technology behind neuromarketing.

Asif Khan, consultant and founder of the Location Based Marketing Association, will provide a perspective on the state of location based marketing – the techniques and technology, and how they are being applied.

By the end of the night you’ll have a deeper understanding on how technology is helping companies better understand and attract you as a consumer.

I hope to see you there, but if you can’t attend watch for my blog next week.

When we all win, we all win – Karen Schulman Dupuis @ MaRS on women in tech

A tweet by @NrthmbrlandCFDC (via @GITdot) brought me back to this great post by my friend Karen Schulman Dupuis who manages Digital Communications for@MaRSDD:

When we win, we all win   ksd

When I first read it back in the spring, I was transported back to the day more than a decade ago when those girls came to the office where Karen worked in sales and I worked in Network Operations. Along with other female colleagues, we talked to them about being a woman in tech. We had high hopes that seeing our passion and hearing how much we loved what we were doing would excite the girls and be a turning point for many of them to choose tech careers. We gave it our all. I even threw in a data point that I thought might be more persuasive than our career talk – I confided that some of us had discovered that quite a few men find technical women very attractive. (It’s true! I swear my hotness rating went up a few points the day I first taught the boys in tech support how to troubleshoot a Cisco router.) But whether on sizzle or steak, we hoped we’d piqued the girls’ interest and would find ourselves working with them some day.

Well, according to Karen, we touched at least one. She took a summer job in our Engineering department. But what about the other 29?

We don’t know what happened to them, but even if they’re an exception from the statistical norms, it’s unlikely that many of them pursued tech careers, which is too bad. Karen’t post touches on some of the challenges of getting more women into tech but true to form, she also highlights some of the good news.

With so many grassroots groups working to encourage girls into tech careers and provide support networks for those of us who chose tech, I think the future looks very bright and with MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht named one of Canada’s most powerful women,  things are looking  bright. I’m hoping that by the end of 2013 we’ll see another column from Karen with even more good news from her perspective working with entrepreneurs at MaRS.

What do you think? Should we keep working to get more women into tech?

How mentoring others helps me

This is a cross-post of a piece I wrote for the CanWIT e-Mentoring program’s blog. I mentor three women through the program, and the program’s Community Manager, Colleen Fraser, asked me to write about what I get out of  being a mentor. Here is my response.

Doing What I Know: What mentoring does for me

Long before I realized that I was a geek who loves technology, I was a French Horn player. Throughout high school and my music degree, I studied with a teacher who influenced me in more ways than just my ability to produce beautiful music from a coiled brass cone. My horn teacher was a major influence on me, and to this day his words often come to mind in my business life.

Among the things he often told me was this:

“It’s not that you don’t know what to do. You just don’t do what you know.”

Only now, those words have even more meaning because as a mentor I find myself giving advice that I need to remind myself of as well.

Mentoring others benefits me in many ways, but as I reflect on some recent experiences I’m struck by how much mentoring others is a reminder to “do what I know”.

Case in point. One of the women I mentor through CanWIT’s e-mentoring program was struggling with how to package herself to get noticed and valued by potential employers. She was dealing with a dilemma I often have as well. Her skills are both broad and deep, and there are many roles she could love and excel in. If she describes herself too generally, though, she won’t resonate with employers seeking a particular subset of her skills. But if she targets too narrowly, she won’t be noticed by those wanting skills she hasn’t highlighted. So what to do?

It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with as well. I excel as a product development leader, but also in business development and marketing. I’ve achieved great things leading teams in large bureaucracies, but also as a maverick individual contributor aligning others only through influence. Which Sandi should I promote?

It’s easy when there is a known, posted opening because we can tailor to the position. But most jobs aren’t posted so what about more general communications? When networking, people say, “What do you do? What role are you looking for?” Telling them, “It depends” doesn’t get us very far.

As I talked with my mentee, I found myself relaying a marketing class experience where the goal was to select a target segment and position the product for them. Most in my workgroup struggled with concern that we would miss most of the mass market by choosing a target segment, but it was clear to me that we would miss ALL of the mass market if we didn’t target anyone. By explaining what our product could do for one segment, we inspired the others. Now they could see the product’s value and come up with their own use case for it.

I’d seen that many times over, presenting potential uses for technical products to businesses and watching the magic as the customers began to chat amongst themselves about how it could work in their business. I felt cocky because my classmates were learning something I’d known for ages.

I didn’t feel so cocky when telling the story to my mentee, though.

I couldn’t, because the story was reinforcing what I’d been doing wrong in looking for a job or projects for my company. I wasn’t giving my target markets much of a clue what I could do for them. I was hoping they’d see a list of “Sandi product features” and figure out how they could use me.

Why? Because I was afraid that by defining my value to any of them, I’d miss out on the rest.

It’s not that I didn’t know what to do. I just didn’t do what I know…

By teaching what I know to someone else, I reminded myself what I know about product marketing and realized I wasn’t doing that for “product Sandi”.

I think this is one of the most valuable things about mentoring, and another recent experience reinforced it as well.

I had the opportunity to get advice from a very senior executive – a successful CEO and board member who was generous enough to give me some of her time. After she’d given me a bunch of really valuable insights, she asked for my feedback on HER resume. Yikes! I was nervous. What do I know about a CEO/Board Member resume, I thought? How could I possibly add value? But it was the least I could do in return so I said I’d be happy to.

She sent me her resume, and as I stared at it (marvelling at how effectively she had summarized decades of experience on only 2 pages), something stood out to me as missing, one of the basics of resume writing. I wasn’t sure it would apply to a CEO, and I was nervous that she might see my feedback as evidence that I’m not at her level, but I bit the bullet and sent her a note telling her what seemed to be missing, Her response?

“You’re right… don’t know how many times I’ve told others that”


It’s not that she didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t done what she knows. Just like I sometimes don’t. Like we all sometimes don’t.

And so it goes. Even the best of us don’t always do what we know.

Mentoring young colleagues, and even advising someone senior to me, gives me a chance to look at myself through a different lens and to hear myself offering the advice to others that I myself need most.

Mentoring reminds me to “do what I know”. I’m grateful to those who accept my mentorship for those reminders. I can only hope that they get as much from our interactions as I do.

What’s up with women in tech?

As I was pondering where to start this new blog, I attended an interesting discussion that revealed Unconventional Wisdom coming from a group of young women in tech. I hadn’t attended Girl Geeks Toronto for a while, but decided to check out their panel on being a woman in tech and while it started out sounding like the same discussions we’d had when I was their age, I was intrigued by where it went.

The fact that the event took place underlines what hasn’t changed – women are still a small minority in technical roles.

When I first jumped into tech, as a router jockey in the 90’s Internet explosion, I was “the girl” on every team I joined. Customers didn’t need to ask my name because if they called back they could just say it was “the girl” who deployed their network or fixed their problem. That didn’t change much as I progressed through operations and engineering roles or even technical management. Until I made the leap over to marketing, I was “the girl”. Back then, I thought for sure the picture would be different by now, but both the stats and the other night’s anecdotes told a different story. Women in tech might now be a few among many, instead of the only one, but it’s still largely a man’s game.

Then as now, conventional wisdom said this is the result of things like sexism in hiring, lack of encouraging girls to study tech, and negative pressure from male peers. But that’s not what I heard from the Girl Geeks the other night.

Here’s a sampling of what the panel and audience had to say:

  • “Companies want more women but not many women apply.”
  • “Kids decide by middle school [whether to go into tech]”
  • “Girls enter tech programs but then most of them shift over to business.”
  • “Women are afraid we’ll break things”
  • “Boys have hacked their hardware to win video games. Girls usually haven’t.”
  • “More boys code as a hobby.”
  • “Women in tech courses are more goal oriented; men keep playing just to understand how the tech works.”
  • “Women often choose HR and Marketing to have more impact than production has.”
  • “When we ask for submissions from women techs, we don’t get many.  Some are afraid to fail or be judged.”
  • “We have lots of women’s tech organizations now”

(From my own notes and Sacha Chua’s nifty Sketchnotes of the event.)

Whether these views are right or wrong, they all have something in common.

They show the panel and audience focusing on why girls and women CHOOSE not to pursue tech jobs, instead of who might be preventing them.

So much for the conventional wisdom of external roadblocks keeping the numbers of women in tech small. So what can we do about it? What should we do? Is it even a problem?

Those are questions we couldn’t tackle when the focus was on external barriers. By looking past those assumptions to discover that girls and women are keeping their own numbers low, we can start to address these new questions.

I’m not saying that initiatives to hire more women and make sure girls aren’t discouraged from studying tech haven’t been worthwhile or should be stopped. They just aren’t the whole answer.

Sacha Chua’s Sketchnotes of the
Girl Geeks Toronto “Vexed In The City” Event