How GirlCon Fuels Students’ Interests in Tech

Turning passions into a future career

Key Takeaways

  • GirlCon is an international four-day conference for female and nonbinary high school students looking to pursue their passions in tech.
  • The conference helps students realize that a future career in tech can be a reality for them, no matter what the current gender gap says. 
  • Students aren’t discouraged by the lack of women in tech and instead are working towards breaking down barriers.
Smiling female student sitting at table in high school classroom with classmates using remote control to operate robot

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

High school is hard enough, but when you’re a girl interested in tech and are one of the only girls in your STEM class, students say it can be disheartening. 

After high school, the women who go on to work in the tech industry are unfortunately a small number compared to other fields: women hold only 26% of computing jobs, and only 12% of engineers at Silicon Valley tech startups are women. The four-day international tech conference, known as GirlCon, is hoping to change this narrative and help girls’ interest in tech eventually blossom into a successful career. 

"GirlCon was sort of what fueled my passion for technology," Vidya Bharadwaj, co-director of GirlCon and incoming high school senior, told Lifewire over the phone. "It allowed me to be connected to this whole community of young people who were interested in technology."

A Different Kind of Tech Conference 

GirlCon started four years ago when a couple of high school students noticed the lack of women in their STEM classes and wanted to change that. 

"GirlCon was founded as part of the global effort to close the gender gap in STEM career fields," said co-founder Kyla Guru in a written statement. "Four years later, that mission is as relevant as ever, and GirlCon is one way we are helping young women to not only recognize their potential, but provide the resources to achieve it." 

Four students attending GirlCon

GirlCon / Sophie Centazzo

Bharadwaj said GirlCon even helps those who identify as female or nonbinary figure out what they want to do in a tech career, and the many possibilities of working in STEM. 

"[GirlCon] gives them a chance to see how technology is embedded in every single field," she said. "We have a variety of breakout sessions like 'Tech + Fashion,' 'Tech + Animation,' and 'Tech + Healthcare,' so that regardless of what you're interested in, we show how technology is used." 

GirlCon’s four-day conference also includes professional development sessions so students can improve their interview or resume skills. Professionals from well-known tech companies also come to talk about their journey and what they do in their jobs. This year's conference features industry leaders from IBM, NASA, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

"We had 700 participants from 32 countries [last year], and this year, we hope to increase participation even further, inspiring the next generation of women in STEM," Bharadwaj added. 

And even though this year is still virtual, Bharadwaj said the key takeaways are still the same.

"The biggest thing is making those connections, especially mentorship connections, and making sure that you talk to them even post-conference," she said. 

The Future of Girls in Tech

Even as a high school student, Bharadwaj is keenly aware of the disparities in the tech industry when it comes to female representation. She said she currently sees it in her classes whenever she advances to a higher level. Each time, there are fewer and fewer female classmates. 

"Schools and the education system can definitely do a lot in making sure that from a young age [women] students are promoted," she said. "I [also] feel like there's a misconception of if you're a computer programmer, it's usually like some guy in a hoodie in basement coding, but that’s not the case." 

"GirlCon is one way we are helping young women to not only recognize their potential, but provide the resources to achieve it."

Bharadwaj said breaking down the stereotypes and barriers needs to happen at a younger age, so more girls feel empowered to pursue their passions as they get older, rather than feeling discouraged to do so.

According to TechCrunch, 74% of girls express a desire for a career in the STEM field, so events like GirlCon can show them their interests in tech can become a reality and that it’s possible to break through the "boys club" mentality of the industry.

Still, Bharadwaj said there’s more to do before she and her peers enter the career field. 

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done in actively promoting women and making sure that they have the proper support in the company environment to feel like they can speak their thoughts, and they can have the confidence," she said.

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