The tech industry innovates at alarming speeds (see: driverless cars and AI processors). Yet it remains frustratingly archaic in one area: Our devices—and essentially our future—are still predominantly built by men.
We've had enough of that.
With our new series TechMAKERS, produced in association with Melinda Gates, MAKERS aims to empower the next generation of innovators to pursue STEM-related careers by highlighting five extraordinary women in aerospace engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics and more.
"When [girls] look at the who's who in tech, they see a parade of mostly guys who don't look like them," Gates tells MAKERS. "The idea behind TechMAKERS is that more young women will go into tech—and stay there—if they can see all the remarkable women who are thriving in this industry and changing it for the better."
The TechMAKERS series spotlights:
Aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo, an immigrant from Colombia who rose to become a mission lead for the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Adafruit Industries founder Limor Fried, who is leading the DIY electronics movement to empower people of all ages to become engineers.
Roboticist Ayanna Howard, who uses interactive bots to help children with disabilities.
Inventor Mary Lou Jepsen, who designs consumer wearables that will revolutionize healthcare and communications.
Chief Technologist of Google Cloud Fei-Fei Li, a leading voice and visionary in artificial intelligence.
"I want young women who dream of a career in tech—or who already have one—to internalize these stories and gain new confidence that they deserve a place in this industry," says the Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who launched the series at SXSW with a private dinner co-hosted by MAKERS founder Dyllan McGee and featuring Ayanna Howard.
Gates is not alone in her fight to close the gender gap in tech. Reshma Saujauni, Kimberly Bryant and Karlie Kloss regularly arm girls with the HTML code for kicking ass through computer science education. And we can't forget the OGs such as Katherine Johnson and Millie Dresselhaus who calculated their way around gender and racial stereotypes to make history in the fields of math and physics.
Here, Gates tells MAKERS why the stories of trailblazing women in STEM—both past and present—matter now more than ever.
What was the inspiration for bringing TechMAKERS to life?
Melinda Gates: Young women and girls get a lot of messages from society that the world of tech is not open to them. When they look at the who's who in tech, they see a parade of mostly guys who don't look like them. Because of that, some won't pursue coding at all. Some will try it out, but when it gets hard—like it does for everyone—they'll wrongly assume it's because they're not cut out for it. And others will start a career in tech, feel like they don't fit in, and want to leave. That's what happened to me when I first started.
The idea behind TechMAKERS is that more young women will go into tech—and stay there—if they can see all the remarkable women who are thriving in this industry and changing it for the better.
Why was it important to highlight these five incredible women?
MG: By highlighting women in tech who are shattering stereotypes and pushing boundaries, TechMAKERS is not only celebrating their contributions—but also introducing them to a generation that will benefit from their examples. These stories deserve to be told. Any young women or girls still wondering whether they have a place in the future of tech should look to them as a resounding answer.
What would you like to see change for women in tech this year?
MG: First, I want young women who dream of a career in tech—or who already have one—to internalize these stories and gain new confidence that they deserve a place in this industry.
Second, I want society at large to start treating them that way. It's time that more tech and business leaders recognize just how vital women's contributions are to their continued success. With skyrocketing demand for talent—and growing evidence that diverse teams perform better—they can no longer afford to disregard so much of our society's brainpower.
What do we need to see more of to break the Silicon Ceiling—and every ceiling?
MG: In Silicon Valley and around the world, we need to see real action towards breaking down the barriers women face to realize their full potential. In tech specifically, that means making sure every talented young woman can find her pathway into this industry and feel confident following it. It means getting the bias out of hiring. It means creating company cultures that support women's success. And it ultimately means making sure women have access to the capital, networks, and resources they need to create and fund tomorrow's breakthrough tech companies.
The bottom line is that it's not enough to declare that women deserve equal opportunity in tech and cross our fingers that it happens. The people in power need to invest the money and effort to create that change.