Good ideas tend to spread like wildfire. That’s what happened to Girl Develop It, a nationwide effort to make tech more inclusive. GDI started in a solitary classroom in New York City in 2010. Fast forward six years and there are almost 70,000 members in 53 chapters, complete with annual meetings.
The GDI Leadership Summit 2016 attracted talent from across the country, including Megan Beck and Shannon Wiedman who head up GDI’s Fargo chapter. “I wish I would have done it sooner,” says Wiedman about getting involved in tech. Women have been conspicuously absent from the field, which leaves role models to be desired. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” says Wiedman. There’s also getting over the stereotypes. Form a mental picture of a coder and programmer. Got it? Take that idea and imagine the opposite and you’re likely to get Wiedman and Beck. Wiedman is vivacious and outdoorsy. Beck obsesses over the Minnesota Vikings.
Getting past two barriers of entry help Wiedman and Beck in their work, but there’s plenty more to learn. A major takeaway from last weekend’s summit in Austin, TX was learning how to write job descriptions to attract more people. Even if they’re similarly qualified, women often don’t apply for the same job a man might because women “want to meet 100% of the skills listed. Men are more likely to say they can achieve the skills,” says Wiedman. She suggests if it’s easily teachable leave it off the job description. “That’s a nugget of advice.”
Employers can trap themselves by trying too hard to create a work culture. “I want to interact and get along. I may be thinking, I could get a beer with them…What does that have to do with their skills?” Wiedman says the summit is helping her push past that.
They also went through unconscious bias training. The classic example is looking resumes where all the skills are the same, but the names are different. Employers can be influenced if the name sounds male or female, or caucasian or African American. “The first step is being aware. [Biases] exist. How do we overcome?”
Wiedman and Beck plan to take the same principles and apply them to Girl Develop It Fargo, in hopes of attracting a more diverse set of students. “Our demographics are typical of the area. Mostly white females.” They’re getting a lot of 20 somethings, but one stand out student is a lady in her mid 70s.
“She’s a grandma. She said, ‘I shouldn’t be here,’ but we said, ‘no, you’re fine.’ She made a website about her grandkids. To see someone do that [felt] awesome.” For Wiedman, it didn’t matter if that woman was never going to take those skills to the workforce. “We’re here to serve women, not the industry.”