The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Feb 26, 2013

Over eggs and pancakes, an introduction to careers in tech

Posted by Marie Gilot

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Over eggs and pancakes Saturday, 16 girls in New York City met one-on-one with leading women in digital journalism from companies like Foursquare and Thomson Reuters. Their goal: Give girls from underserved neighborhoods the networks and knowledge to build careers around technology and media.

For some, the Tech Breakfast sponsored by Knight Foundation immediately planted a seed.

Cristal Rodriguez, a 17-year-old high-school junior, said she was “iffy” about participating because as a blogger she concentrated on fashion, not technology.

“Now I’m into fashion and technology,” she said after the event.

Cristal’s mentor was Jo Piazza, Senior Digital Editor at Current TV.

“It was important to me coming up in journalism to have strong women as role models and mentors. As the field is changing, we need to continue that,” she said. “I am hoping to pass along a strong journalism work ethic that I feel may have gotten lost among bloggers.”

The Tech Breakfast, organized in collaboration with the Lower Eastside Girls Club,
was the first in a mentoring series meant to give access to career opportunities in technology and media to young people who would normally not have access to them. Each mentor at the first breakfast committed to a six-months relationship with the girls, including:
·         Email, Skype or in-person check-ins once a week;
·         A work shadow day;
·         Helping with college selection, major and minor selection and course selection;
·         Helping with college essays;
·         Writing recommendation letters;
·         Scouting or creating paid internship opportunities for the summer;
·         Sharing sector salary information and advising on skills to acquire outside of school.

“For the mentors, it’s a  pay-it-forward situation,” said Lyn Pentecost, executive director of the Lower Eastside Girls Club. For the mentees, “It’s a who-you-know world and you need a door opener.”

Mentor Rachel Webber, head of development for North America at Angry Birds/Rovio, shared with the girls the years of networking that allowed her to go from a modest internship at New York Magazine, to Tumblr and then Angry Birds, the wildly popular video game.

Girls and women are still severely underrepresented in both STEM jobs and in executive roles. Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies and just 8% of tech startups are led by women. Even in journalism, the gap is wide. A recent study by the Women’s Media Center found that male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines 3-to-1 during the 2012 presidential campaign. Any career tip from women in leadership positions is extremely valuable.

Yangzom Bolma, an 18-year-old high school junior, had this takeaway from her breakfast with Whitney Joiner, senior editor at Marie Claire: “To get to where she is, she went through a lot of school,” she said.

Nova Bajamonti, an 18-year-old college freshman with a blog and a YouTube channel called “OMG It’s Nova,” simply wanted to know “what it’s like to work in there.”

Statistics show that in middle school, 74 of 100 girls express interest in STEM areas, but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% will select computer science.

Mentor Lauren Ellsworth, associate software engineer at the local news site, had an early passion for math.  She taught herself programing through an educational game. But Ellsworth was also frank about struggling in college, even failing some computer science classes. Ellsworth now loves her job because she gets to “build things” and solve puzzles.

The next Tech Breakfasts will take place in New York City in March (focusing on web and mobile entrepreneurs) and April (focusing on civic technologists). If you would like to be a mentor to one of the girls, please apply here.

By Marie Gilot,  Media Innovation Associate at Knight Foundation and Elana Berkowitz 

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