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Techmakers: Changing the Face of Tech

A study released on Friday suggested that women won’t publish computer science research at the same rates as men for 100 years…Whether pipeline issues, bias or otherwise, STEM fields have a gender problem. DTech and the Kenan Institute for Ethics teamed up this summer to try and knock a few years off that projection.

Building on the Institute’s work in women’s leadership, women’s rights, and purpose, KIE partnered with DTech to foster a stronger community at Duke and beyond for women embarking on careers in the tech sector where women have been structurally disadvantaged both in terms of representation, leadership opportunity, and pay. DTech places students in paid internships in top tech companies and burgeoning start-ups, provides mentors and places them in shared housing. Throughout June, over 100 women DTech Scholars in RTP, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Silicon Valley came together to build a community with each other, alums and industry mentors through a series of Techmaker retreats hosted all over the country.

Ada Gregory, Associate Director for the Kenan Institute for Ethics, worked with the DTech to design a series of sessions that challenged, inspired and pushed students to question how they can create the kind of community that might just transform the world of tech and end the longstanding disparity of women’s representation in the tech field. Gregory commented, “Despite the push to have more women in tech, the numbers haven’t budged fast enough. Explicit efforts to think about the gendered barriers that prevent equity and to create a community of women prepared for facing and disrupting those challenges is essential to making real change.”

Monica Jenkins, Director of DTech, explained how this community-building is really the “secret sauce,” of DTech. “We believe that building community for these women when they are minorities in the field of tech really makes a difference in their experience.”  The weekend retreats launched students for their summer by providing an opportunity for authentic connection, skill-building and discussion on the systemic challenges of creating a diverse workforce in tech. Jenkins explained, “This magical addition to the DTech experience this early in the summer has been an incredible way for the students to bond and build community and trust quickly.  While this kind of community usually happened by the end of the summer, having this very special time together with Ada’s gifted leadership and facilitation skills made it possible for even more bonding and support to happen for the DTech Scholars from the start.”

The retreats also allowed students to explore their sense of purpose in this work and think deeply about how to support themselves and each other in environments that can sometimes feel isolating or chilly. Brooke, from the DTech RTP cohort, explained how that helped her feel more confident, “I was worried that I would feel alienated by others who had one expectation or another about me. However, I was met with equal enthusiasm and genuine kindness, not only from my peers but also Ada, Manda, and Kelly. Their warmth, openness, and ability to listen created an environment that made me feel uninhibited by the self-consciousness that sometimes holds me back.”

Tess, one of the DTech Bay Area scholars, shared, “Over the course of just two days, we had the opportunity to learn about one another and bond with each other in a way that left all of us feeling closer. We left a tighter and stronger community than we arrived!” The partnership between DTech and KIE is just the start of creating a cohort of “techmakers” bound to hasten that 100 year stretch to parity in tech.

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