Supporting Women in Technology through “Girls Who Can” Community

To address the issue of gender gap in the tech industry, IBM UK created the Girls who Can community to give young women in IBM a helping hand through networking opportunities, technical education, community outreach, and social programmes.

By Sharlene Ghandi

The tech industry is still struggling to close the gender gap. Reshma Saujani, who founded the Girls Who Code initiative in 2012, has emphasized that despite all the media attention paid to the lack of diversity in tech, the tangible impact is still not being felt. Perhaps we need to encourage girls earlier, she suggests – in middle school, high school, and following up throughout university to encourage young women to consider working in a field that may seem homogeneous from the outside.

There is yet another step along the way where we can keep encouraging women to work in the tech field– in the workplace itself. Workplace learning and networking opportunities within the tech industry can facilitate an environment in which women feel comfortable developing their skills, making a tangible contribution to the company, and working on their own self-efficacy beliefs.

In order to do so, companies must not only foster diverse workforce, but also celebrate the workforce. At IBM, we pride ourselves on being front-runners in the diversity game. A Harvard Business Review article outlines our continuous commitment to not only hiring minorities, but to celebrating diversity of opinion by allowing for career progression, and putting qualified minorities in executive, C-Suite positions. We celebrate diversity by knowing our people, and knowing what they need by paying attention to what makes us all different.

The Girls Who Can community at IBM is one such group that celebrates having women in technology, and simultaneously recognises and attempts to bridge the gaps that women in tech may face. Girls Who Can is a UK-based community for young professional women in the IBM Foundation scheme, our early professional programme hiring interns, apprentices, graduates and gap-year students. With 42% of our young professional scheme being filled with young women, the Girls Who Can community gives young women in IBM a helping hand through networking opportunities, technical education, community outreach and social programmes.

The annual Raise the Roof event serves the purpose of allowing our young professional women to meet each other, meet those who have progressed off the Foundation scheme, and meet female executives further up within the company to hear about the diversity of stories and wealth of opinions that exists within the organisation. This year’s event featured a wide range of speakers, all providing varied perspectives on the hot topic of women in tech. Not only did we have a presence of different business disciplines, such as Cognitive, Systems, and HR, but we also had the pleasure of hearing from Sophie Montagne, from Project Ice Maiden, a team of women aiming to cross the Antarctic coast-to-coast.

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The event functioned not only as an educational and networking opportunity, but also as a safe space in which we could discuss our role as women in one of the biggest tech firms in the world. We were able to openly suggest tangible solutions, take advice from one another and go for a cheeky celebratory drink at the end – after all, diversity is something to be celebrated indeed!

Here are my three key takeaways from this year’s Raise the Roof event:

  1. Make sure you shout about what you do – it is not enough to do it without celebrating your achievements.
  2. Believe in your ability to make a tangible difference – get rid of the Imposter Syndrome.
  3. Don’t be afraid to push buttons that have not previously been pushed.

If you are interested in finding out more about technical opportunities at IBM, then follow our campaign #IBMTechTalent and if you want to learn more about how IBM promotes women empowerment, read the stories about #WomenAtIBM.

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