Science and Technology

Focus on Women In Tech Careers

A panel hosted by UM’s Center for Computational Science brought awareness to the lack of diversity in the industry.
Focus on Women In Tech Careers

On Tuesday night, the University of Miami’s Center for Computational Science hosted a panel discussion that intentionally shined a light on the challenges facing women in tech careers today.

Sawsan Khuri, director of engagement for UM’s Center for Computational Science and moderator of the event, said the Women in Tech Careers discussion served as a forum where leaders from academia and the local tech community offered insights on how women can “learn, achieve, and evolve” in the industry.

“If you really enjoy coding, you enjoy science, you enjoy math, just run with it. It can really be beautiful,” Khuri told the audience as she introduced the panel.

For nearly two hours, the six panelists shared their diverse paths to success and encouraged the mostly female audience to embrace opportunities for girls and young women interested in careers in the technological industry.

“It’s wonderful when universities and institutions provide this eye-opening experience and an opportunity to connect with the community,” said Yolanda Valencia, chair of science and engineering at Gulliver Academy Middle School. “It really builds the students’ confidence to see and hear from women in the field who are successful.”

Valencia attended the discussion with nine students from her all-female engineering class.

There has been a decline in enrollment of women in computer science programs in recent years, which panelists agreed speaks to the fact that there is a real problem in how courses are taught. One high school student in the audience stood up to share that she is one of only two girls enrolled in a computer science class at Coral Gables Senior High School. She hopes to create a mentorship program between her high school and elementary school students that will encourage future generations of female computer scientists to pursue their interests.

Some insights from the panelists:

- “I hope that as young people, or people starting in technology, you’ll learn that there is great capacity in this industry for you to skyrocket to exactly where you want to go. The great thing about this field is that anyone can be a technologist. Whatever role you choose in that, it’s wide open to you,” Rebekah Monson, co-founder and vice president of product for The New Tropic.  

- “We need people who will be themselves to set the mold for what it means to be a woman in technology. I’m looking at the next generation to really do that,” Lynn Cherny, Visiting Knight Chair for the Center for Communication, Culture and Change, University of Miami School of Communication.

- “You create your own reality. Just get out there and show them what you can do. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re standing out in a negative way. The world is truly your oyster when it comes to technology. Surround yourself with really smart people,” Claire Marrero, chief executive officer of The Talent Source, and president of ITWomen.

- “I’m not a technology person; I invest in technology. But what I’ve found is that finding problems that you’re passionate about, that are really personal to you, and combining that with people who are equally as passionate, is a great path for success,” Benoit Wirzdirector of venture investments at the Knight Foundation.

- “Interdisciplinary research – or work – is very interesting to women. In the long-term, I think this will become more obvious throughout a career in computer science—the sense of doing something that is very useful to society directly, “ Christine Lisetti, associate professor of computer science, School of Computing and Information Sciences at Florida International University.

- “We make decisions based on affective components, and then we go back and assign labels to that decision, so it fits into the box that’s expected of us. But what I’ve learned is just to embrace who I am right now. Get to know yourself. Continue to learn who you are as you grow, so that over time you know what you want to do, and how that fits in with who you are,” Brian Reece, associate director for assessment and communication, UM’s Toppel Career Center.

Lien Tran, assistant professor of interactive media at UM’s School of Communication, developed an icebreaker game called “If U Stand Out” to begin the evening. The game was designed to showcase how everyone in the room is unique, regardless of shared interests. The binary game had audience participants choose between Coke and Pepsi, Snapchat and Instagram, biking and running, Temple Run and Super Mario Brothers, Apple and Android, Disney and Nickelodeon until only one person was left standing.

The Women In Tech Careers event was co-sponsored by UM’s Center for Computational Science; the UM College of Arts & Sciences Women’s and Gender Studies Program and Department of Computer Science; and the Toppel Career Center