5. Finding women role models

When I was in high school, I tinkered a lot with engineering. I had kits, played around with robotics, and tried to write my own computer programs. But I never knew too much about computer science as a career. And to be honest, it scared me. I scoured the web looking for female role models who I could relate to. It was hard to find them since there weren’t many. The few I found were very famous and it was hard to even relate to them as a 16 year old girl. The biggest question I had was:

Where do I start?

It’s not just tech

The truth is, the gender gap doesn’t just exist in tech. Lady Gaga stated that the music industry is still a “boy’s club”. There are very few women in politics compared to men. Women physicians are fewer in number and the pay gap is widening. How can we combat stereotypes and empower more young women to take up careers in fields dominated by men?

Lack of role models?

Like the problem I ran into, a lot of people attribute the gender gap to the fact that there aren’t enough female role models, and this is a vicious cycle.

“The reason there aren’t more women computer scientists is because there aren’t more women computer scientists.” — Jocelyn Goldfein

I believe that there are female role models. They are everywhere, in every field, dominating. It’s just a matter of making their stories known.

The female role models in my life

A lot of my role models are my close female friends whose struggles I have seen first hand. They inspire me every day.

Throughout my time at Stanford and beyond, I created a list of role models who inspire me to be more like them. They share their stories and talk about the exciting things they are creating. They are startup founders, engineers, designers, and fantastic writers. They give me the courage to get up every morning and chase my dreams.

Here are a few of them:

Jessica Semaan: Her writing is vulnerable and speaks to my heart. Not just that, but she believes strongly in building the life you want. She also worked on growth at Airbnb and is a pretty fantastic woman.

Julie Zhuo: The way she approaches design has helped me grow as a designer. Her passion is shown through her writing. She is an incredible leader and a true inspiration to me and who I want to one day become.

Tracy Chou: She’s not afraid of speaking her mind and talking about the gender gap in tech. She faces the problem head on and is awesome.

Ruchi Sanghvi: She’s built amazing products, and talks about inherent biases people have in tech. I’ve seen the legacy she’s created and she’s empowered me to try to do the same.

Debbie Sterling: She’s badass, awesome, and built a company to empower more girls to be engineers. She’s taking down the pink aisle and challenges all gender stereotypes.

Danielle Morrill: She’s excited about tech, a passionate entrepreneur, extremely intelligent, and hungry to learn.

Maria Molfino: I love her writing. She’s a change-seeker and talks about stuff that are not always easy to talk about. She’s not afraid of the challenge, and she’s passionate about helping women grow and be more confident, something that I struggle with daily.

How do we help women find these role models?

For me, my list is primarily women in tech. However, what about girls and women who want to find female role models in other fields as well? How do we help them?

I’ve seen a few groups such as Women of Silicon Valley and wogrammer in the tech sphere and legendarywomen, which is a collection of stories about positive women role models. But how can we combine all of this together so that the young girls who wants to learn more about medicine and tech can find role models?

Let’s start with the principles

Like every week, here are the principles driving my design:

  1. Be the place to find women role models and read their stories.
  2. Explore women role models in multiple different fields.
  3. Be focused on women role models who are relatable.

For this week of 52 Weeks of Design for Women, I created Women In, a website that has a collection of female role models in multiple different fields.

1. Be the place to find women role models and read their stories

On Women In, you can find several women role models. You can browse stories of women in your field of interest, categorized by subfields (for example, subfields of tech would be design, engineering, growth etc.)

2. Explore women role models in multiple different fields

You can also find women role models in fields other than tech including politics, law, media, medicine, humanities, and sports. By switching categories, you can find articles about multiple women leaders.

3. Be focused on women role models who are relatable

The collection comprises women who are growing in their fields and/or have leadership positions and have gone through struggles. Women In focuses on women who are relatable to young girls and who demystify success.

Ruchi Sanghvi on tech’s gender gap and inherent biases against women
Mobile app version of Women In

A place to find a community

As a woman, I want to find a community of other women who I can look up to and learn from. I wish I had this as a young girl, when I didn’t know where to find role models in my life.

I finally learned that there are female role models, after attending Grace Hopper community events. This inspired me and showed me that I am not alone in my struggles.

Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, talks about demystifying success. She says:

“In most places, particularly in industry, the path to success can be unclear. But if you are a member of the dominant group, which in the tech industry is largely white and Asian males, you are part of a network. You may not be aware that you have access to information that others outside that dominant group don’t have.”

I believe that finding a network of female role models helps demystify success and show girls and women that they can thrive in a male dominated field. And it won’t be male dominated for long. Building confidence and a strong community is one step in this direction.

My biggest influences are strong, creative women who chart their own path, lead their own lives, and drive the course of history. — Rachel Roy

This is part 6 of a year long series on design that hopes to improve the lives of women. Follow 52 Weeks of Design for Women to stay updated.