Google celebrated International Women's Day 2014 with a vibrant Google Doodle featuring women from all over the world and a peppy soundtrack by Zap Mama. Women in the technology industry have reason to celebrate as well: the past year has produced some major accomplishments by women in tech.
International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements and power of women around the world. Usually, the tech world has more negative headlines about discrimination, difficulty, and low participation, than positive headlines when it comes to women.
But the past year has had a different tone. Women are making more strides than ever before, through new organizations, more female technology leaders, and companies pushing back against old stereotypes and paving the way for the female coders, engineers, and business leaders of the future.
Here’s a look at a company, organization, business leader, and group of entrepreneurs that have been on the front lines of change this past year.
If you’re on the Internet, it’s likely you saw Goldieblox’s viral ad last fall. The ad showed an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine created by several girls, ending with the tagline “Toys for future engineers.” Since then, the toy company hasn’t slowed down its efforts to revolutionize the type of toys marketed to girls. Originally started as a Kickstarter project, the toy company now sells interactive book and building blocks based on solving problems set up in the stories. (For example, as kids read “GoldieBlox and the Dunk Tank,” they build a dunk tank to get the main character's water-reluctant dog clean.) The company's mission? “By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers,” the company says on its website.
Organization: Girls Who Code
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to christen the last 12 months “The Year of Getting Kids to Code.” From after-school programs such as Code Club and Creative Coding 4 Kids to the early December effort “Hour of Code” that encouraged kids to try out coding, tech and civic leaders are realizing that kids need to start learning to code from an early age in order to create the innovations of tomorrow. One organization has taken an extra step to encourage girls to be the coders of tomorrow: Girls Who Code.
The organization was launched in 2012 by Reshma Saujani, the first South-Asian woman to run for Congress and former Deputy Public Advocate for New York City. "If you give girls technology, how can they change the world?" she says to Oprah Magazine. Turns out she wasn’t the only one asking that question. Girls Who Code is now backed by Google and Twitter and in the summer of 2013 held summer programs for young female programmers in New York City, San Francisco, and Detroit, among other cities.
Business leader: Marissa Mayer
Yahoo had a headline-making year. The tech company acquired popular blogging platform Tumblr for $1.1 billion in May, bought news aggregation app Summly for $30 million, and completed an overhaul of its photo-sharing website Flickr. Who was the leader at the helm of this technology power ship? Marissa Mayer, the company’s first female CEO. Though she has incited controversy since she was brought on in 2012, such as ending a policy that allowed employees to work from home, she has also created more buzz for the 20-year-old company than it has seen in years. She rounded off the past few months with a keynote address in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, announcing an update to Yahoo News.
What’s next? We’ll see. But with Ms. Mayer at the helm, keep your eye on Yahoo.
Entrepreneurs: Arab women in start-ups
Though the Arab world often isn’t synonymous with women’s rights, one group of Middle Eastern women has found surprising success: tech entrepreneurs. The past few years have ushered in a flourishing start-up culture in the Middle East, most notably in Israel and Jordan. Christopher Schroeder, a technology advocate and author of “Start Up Rising,” found that a third of start-ups in the Middle East are run by women – more than in Silicon Valley. He has found that technology has actually been an equalizing factor as women have more flexibility where they work and offers lower costs. Female entrepreneurs also tend to offer start-ups that solve problems, from Mumzworld, a baby retailer owned by a Saudi woman, to a microfinance program in Yemen run by Maali Alasousi, a Kuwaiti woman. More examples can be found in an e-book released last week called “Arab Women Rising.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t barriers to entry – women still have low levels of inclusion in the workforce and face archaic gender laws. But for some, the challenge is just part of the process.
“As a woman, you have to fight for everything here – which is a great preparation for being an entrepreneur,” says Sarah Abu Alia, the founder of ArtMedium, a concert organizer and video channel for alternative Arabic music, to the Economist.