Engaging Girls and Empowering Women in Tech: An Interview with Jessi Chartier

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Credit: App Camp for Girls

While things have come a long way for women in tech, there is still quite a long way to go before gender equality in the space is really achieved. For instance, according to a report from the National Center for Women & Technology, only 25 percent of computing jobs are held by women and the turnover rate is more than twice as high for women that it is for men for jobs in the tech space.

I had the pleasure of interviewing creative problem solver and champion for women in tech, Jessi Chartier. Jessi has worked with non-profit organization App Camp For Girls, where girls, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in designing and buildings apps.

Lydia: So, tell us a bit more about App Camp For Girls and its mission.

Jessi: Founded in Portland, Oregon, App Camp For Girls works to inspire an interest in coding and software development and offers the opportunity for middle-school-aged girls and those who identify as female to work through the process of app development. Research shows that there is a declining interest in STEM careers for girls around the sixth grade due to societal pressures and expectations stemming from stereotypes around gender roles.

This one-week, full-day program allows this demographic to explore their enthusiasm for technology and put their creative powers to work in a supportive environment. We have expanded into multiple cities and are always looking for ways to extend our reach.

Lydia: What do you think are the major barriers to the retention and advancement of women and marginalized genders/identities in the software industry?

Jessi: I think there are certain stigmas that are still deeply entrenched in society. For example, female role models in tech are all considered pioneers who are going against the norm, whereas men are more expected to be in those roles. It’s hard not to think about tech in terms of “what the boys are doing.” That’s an intimidating framing when you are looking for inspiration as a young girl, or any underrepresented group.

Lydia: So, being aware of these obstacles, what do you think we should be doing more of to encourage more women and young girls to consider a career in tech?

Jessi: There is still a lot of work to do here in regards to helping the overall perception of women in tech, even amongst women themselves. They can sometimes see themselves as marginalized already even if they are complete comfortable in the space in which they are working.

So, it starts with the industry and with the organization operating within the industry. It has to be more than just a “diversity initiative.” An initiative suggests there is a set start and end date, and the change needs to permeate everything within an organization. There need to be strategies in place to combat conscious (as well as unconscious) gender biases that extend far beyond just a committee or a singular project.

Lydia: What challenges have you yourself faced in the course of your career, particularly within in male-dominated spaces?

Jessi: Well, I moved into tech from education which is a more female-dominated industry and the opportunities I’ve received since moving to tech have been very forward-thinking, so I actually haven’t felt as though I have faced some of the discriminatory challenges I know so many others have. I have always felt comfortable exercising my voice when it comes to addressing professional crossroads or issues. If I didn’t feel that I could speak my mind somewhere, then I wouldn’t be a part of that organization.

I do recognize that there is a privilege in my ability to do that, which is why I am cognizant to use my platform to help others in support of their endeavors to advance their careers.

Lydia: That’s awesome you were able to be a strong self-advocate in your career. What advice would you have for those who may not feel like they can advocate for themselves, for varying circumstances?

Jessi: It’s important to find a community that you can lean on whether it’s for emotional support or for specific career advice from those who have been there or who are going through the same thing. And if they might want something a little more one-on-one, I suggest finding a mentor to help guide them in their personal and career growth.

Lydia: Speaking of communities, how have your experiences with App Camp for Girls impacted you?

Jessi: I think that first and foremost it validated my perception of the needs of young girls interested in tech. And, it isn’t necessarily just about those who identify as female. It’s also helped me show the problems of toxic masculinity. It’s reinforced for me the importance of seeing capability in everyone.

Lydia: How could someone who wanted to help get involved?

Jessi: I encourage people to check out the website. They are always looking for donations to support the expansion of their programming and reach. Companies can become corporate sponsors to help make our program more accessible to more young techies. They can also make themselves available to give tours to schools so students can experience a tech company’s workplace.

Thanks so much to Jessi for a great interview and her insights into working for gender equality in the tech industry.

Are you a member of an underrepresented group in the software industry? Find local meetups or visit 8th Light’s community page for a list of software groups with which our offices are affiliated.

Lydia Lindenberg, Marketing Manager

Lydia Lindenberg is a former 8th Light employee.

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