As president of the Americas at Google, running Google’s business in the United States, Canada and Latin America, Margo Georgiadis knows that future technology will be much better if women comprise 50 percent of the talent developing it. Half of tech users are female, so their sensibilities need to be embedded in its creation and design. Even more importantly, women reimagine, collaborate and innovate particularly well — on average better than men.
An extroverted leader, Georgiadis also enthusiastically champions an important fact: “Young people have the ability to not see boundaries and to see potential.”
For these reasons, Georgiadis does all she can personally and professionally to increase the pipeline of girls and young women into our future computer programming workforce.
Computer science careers command high salaries and promise work on the leading edge of change, so encouraging girls and young women to pursue this educational and career path should be an easier task than it is. Unfortunately, the number of female programming students has fallen dramatically in recent years. According to Google, the proportion of women earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science has dropped from 37 percent in 1984 to only 18 percent in 2014.
Georgiadis’ own life and work experiences have taught her that the best ways to foster girls’ interests are to tap into their imaginations, empower them to embrace and enjoy STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and show them intriguing work in the field.
Georgiadis was raised on the North Shore of Chicago by wonderfully supportive parents who empowered her to embrace and pursue math, science and communications. She and her husband have similarly encouraged their three children.
She describes her life now as “midcoastal.” Although her family’s primary residence is still in Kenilworth, she works out of Google’s Mountain View headquarters and maintains a home in Silicon Valley.
“Kenilworth will always be our real home though,” she says.
Previous roles as a McKinsey consultant and in the financial and retail fields reinforced Georgiadis’ expertise in using data to grow better businesses. Nonetheless, when she joined Google in 2009, she faced — and overcame — steep learning curves in technology and programming.
Georgiadis champions nonprofits that empower girls to pursue STEM education opportunities — like Girls 4 Science in Chicago, which recently featured Georgiadis as the keynote speaker at the organization’s annual fundraiser. She also works on behalf of Made with Code.
From this wealth of experience, Georgiadis enthusiastically shares the following tips for parents, educators and others who have the opportunity to nurture girls and young women to become the next generation of technology developers.
1. Cultivate a childhood love of science and math through exploration, creation and problem solving.
“Chicago has some of the best assets on the planet,” she says. “I slipped in visits to these as much as possible with my children, in between travel hockey games and their other activities.”
2. Hold up female role models.
Women have historically been major contributors to computer science’s breakthrough innovations. For example, COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages, was invented by Grace Brewster Murray Hopper, who also became a United States Navy Rear Admiral.
Georgiadis also cites Brittany Wenger, who was a teen when her mother developed breast cancer. At the time, early detection screenings were prohibitively expensive. To counter this, Wegner imagined neuro network models that would lead to a more affordable solution. She then talked others into giving her the mountain of data that helped her develop a breakthrough technology. Brittany is also a Made with Code mentor and Google Science Fair award winner.
3. Expose girls and teens to playful uses of technology and coding to which they will easily relate.
Georgiadis wants every girl to see the Made with Code Anthem video (below). Google’s Made with Code movement launched in June 2014 with the goal of inspiring millions of girls to learn to code, and to help them see coding as a means to pursue their dream careers.
Coding and technology increasingly inform fashion and other types of design, as well as games many girls love to play. As an example, Google recently launched Tilt Brush, which allows users to “paint” in 3D space with virtual reality. CS First is another example of Google’s free program that increases student access and exposure to computer science education through after-school, in-school and summer programs.
4. Promote teaching computer science to every grade school and college student.
According to Code.org and many other successful U.S. businesses and individuals, there are 566,308 computer science job openings nationwide. Unfortunately, last year saw only 42,969 college graduates in that field. Worse yet, most K12 public schools still marginalize computer science, with only 1 out of every 4 high schools offering computer science programming classes.
In a 2014 Chicago Tribune Op-Ed, Georgiadis shared her belief that every K12 school district needs to teach computer programing to all students. Furthermore, she believes colleges should do more to expose all students — male and female — to programming. “Shouldn’t every college student be required to take a computer science class, just like English?” she asks.
Georgiadis encourages everyone to join the Code.org movement promoting computer science education in schools today.
5. Major in people, take risks and grab opportunities.
Georgiadis thanks her parents for encouraging her to search out great teachers and opportunities, which she calls “majoring in people, taking risks and putting myself in the path of opportunity.” She encourages all parents to do the same with their daughters.
“We need to really encourage girls to ask ‘why not’ and other reimaging questions, like Brittany,” Georgiadis says. “They become women uniquely positioned to see opportunities and the human side of problems.”
She continues, “Innovation comes when people put out a crazy goal and go for it.”
6. Read “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future” by Steve Case
In Steve Case’s New York Times best-selling book, “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future,” he argues that we’re entering an era in which entrepreneurs will vastly transform sectors like health, education, transportation, energy and food. It’s called the “Third Wave” because it will be the third iteration of how our society leverages the internet.
“Read this book to understand and get excited about how professions — even the ones not typically associated with technology — will be reimagined,” Georgiadis encourages.
When asked about her hopes and dreams for a decade from now — when our society is well into the “Third Wave” — Georgiadis quickly declares, “My hope and dream is that women comprise 50 percent of the technical workforce. Our technology and our world will be better if this happens.”
If parents, teachers and peers surround girls and young women with an environment of support and encouragement, this dream can be achieved.
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