How one university is motivating women who hesitate with tech—and how your school can, too
A common discussion question at VU Women in Tech events is this: What does it mean and what is your role when you find yourself as the only woman in the room? “Your role is not to be quiet or listen or take notes. It’s your responsibility to speak up and bring different views to that table,” says Alicia Strandberg, co-founder of the Villanova University program, which gives women the opportunity to imagine a technology-based career, increase their participation in technology, discuss successes and failures, and network.
One speaker at a VU Women In Tech conference, an annual event since 2016, discussed the assumption that she would be the note taker in a room full of men. So at her next meeting, she intentionally left her pen and paper and laptop in her office and told the group she couldn’t take notes because she forgot. “That was the last time they ever asked her to take notes,” says Strandberg, adding that there are various ways to address the issue. “Everyone has to find a way in which they’re comfortable dealing with these situations.”
Strandberg, also an assistant professor of management and operations at Villanova, will be one of four presenters at the Women in Technology pre-conference on June 10 at UB Tech® 2019 in Orlando. Attendees of her session, “Women in Technology Platform to Support Women & Motivate Those Who Hesitate,” will learn how the platform brings together students, alumni and industry leaders from all academic disciplines and fields to share experiences and highlight opportunities.
The power of young alumni
Each year at VU’s conference, a young alumnae panel inspires student attendees to have more confidence in their tech knowledge. Panelists represent various fields, including ones with less obvious tech connections. For example, a woman who had gone into nursing shared how she wound up becoming interested in the data side of her profession and took a role as director of analytics at her hospital.
“All industries are gathering data and using technology in some form. We want women to not be afraid of this change,” says Strandberg. “Our events are very friendly, and we hope that women leave a little more open minded. We encourage them to leap out of their comfort zone.”
Bringing together women-focused groups
At Villanova and elsewhere, Strandberg knows there are various campus groups specific to women and typically geared toward those in a particular academic area.
In her experience, the tone of the meetings is typically very positive. “Students are focused on widening their skills, and being aware of what’s out there and what they don’t know,” she says. Discussion will also turn to unconscious bias and various ways women can respond.
In bringing together UB Tech attendees to hear about efforts at Villanova, Strandberg hopes to offer small- and large-scale ideas that can be replicated at other institutions. “We found it’s a very easy message to share, and most people are willing if they have the means to support it.” At Villanova her efforts have been widely supported by her dean and provost. In addition, alumni and people at companies who recruit Villanova students have been very open to participating as speakers.
Women in Tech has brought together various groups—which helps students have abroader perspective of technology careers and the options available to them.