by Julia Hermann, Machine Learning Engineer
We believe in the importance of closing the gender gap in tech. Therefore, we joined a student mentoring program aimed at supporting young females studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to have a career in the field. Read more to find out why supporting mentoring programs is so crucial and to learn about the participants’ experience firsthand.
The future of tech is female, but only if we make it so
At Runtastic, we strive to make our workplace more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, which is why we defined our own Desired State of Inclusion (DSI). The DSI is an official company goal. On top of that, we set up Inclusion Agents, who are colleagues that advocate for and lead DEI initiatives, so that we achieve the DSI as a team.
One pillar of our DSI goal for 2022 is to increase the number of females in the company. As a tech company, we face the same challenge as many: finding and hiring talented female engineers and developers.
According to Women in Digital Scoreboard 2021, there has not been significant progress in bringing women to ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in recent years. In 2021, only 19% of ICT specialists and about one-third of STEM graduates were female within the European Union.
Researchers from Microsoft and KRC Research interviewed 6,000 girls and women from ages 10 to 30 in the United States and found that we need to work harder on increasing female interest and employment in STEM and computer science, especially in Technology and Engineering. They also highlight potential reasons why girls lose interest in STEM: peer pressure, lack of role models, and misperception of STEM careers. The results also suggest that girls’ confidence in coding and programming drops as they grow older.
On the bright side, there are a few ways we can improve the situation right now. According to Microsoft’s latest research, these are the most effective interventions to close the gender gap in STEM:
- Provide role models: girls and young women need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models, and career planning.
- Generate excitement: girls’ perception of the creativity and positive impact of STEM careers can more than double after learning about real-world STEM jobs.
- Provide hands-on experience: girls who participate in STEM activities are 42% more likely to say they understand the career they could pursue in STEM.
- Provide encouragement: encouragement from parents and teachers significantly impacts whether or not girls will choose and stay in a STEM field.
- Encourage a growth mindset: hard work and exploration, such as asking questions, should be valued in schools over always knowing the right answers.
Providing role models with mentorship
Girls who know a woman working in STEM are substantially more likely to feel empowered to do STEM activities than those who don’t. Microsoft researchers describe this as a snowball effect: the more women are interested and working in STEM, the more they can serve as role models for the younger generation.
We at Runtastic want to contribute to closing the gender gap. That’s why we joined the Upper Austrian HTL Mentoring program, which aims to encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM by providing perspective and support. The mentees receive coaching to build a good CV, learn how to prepare for an interview and what it’s like to work in the STEM field.
The HTL Mentoring program connects girls studying STEM in their final year of high school with female professionals working on real-life challenges in the field. During the three semesters of the program, the mentors and the mentees meet at least five times, and the mentee has the opportunity to do a summer internship at the mentor’s company.
The program is designed to help motivated girls achieve their professional aspirations and encourage them to choose a career path in STEM.
What do participants of the mentoring program say?
We asked Lilli Ölsinger (mentee, Electronics and Technical IT student at HTL Leonding) and Julia Hermann (mentor, Machine Learning Engineer at Runtastic) about their experience with the student mentoring program.
Q: Why did you decide to join the mentoring program?
Lilli (mentee): My drive was my overall ambitious dream to work in a high position one day. Thus, I wanted to learn about more aspects of a career at a tech company.
Julia (mentor): When I heard about the opportunity, I immediately knew I wanted to participate as a mentor. I realized what a big difference it could have made for me to have a mentor at that age. In middle and high school, I was really good at mathematics but was not at all interested in computers or science. No one told me that I could be an Engineer and work for a tech company one day, which is why I ended up studying Finance and Economics first and then shifting to Computer Science and Engineering later. I also have a younger sister whom I supported and encouraged to pursue a career in STEM, so I thought it would be cool to do this again in a different setting.
Q: What was your experience with the summer internship at Runtastic like?
Lilli (mentee): It was definitely different from the internship I had before Runtastic. Everybody I worked or talked with was very friendly and welcoming, always trying to help me out as best as they could whenever I needed it. Besides that, I got a lot of new impressions of the world of app designers, developers, product owners, and so on. One of the things I enjoyed most was socializing with the team: having lunch with my coworkers turned out to be the time to talk about hobbies and learning a lot of new things as well. I don’t know what to say other than “It was amazing.”
“A lot of new impressions of the world of app designers, developers, product owners, and so on.”
Julia (mentor): I felt proud of how much she has learned in only one month: she skilled up in a new programming language and contributed to an API for our Maps Library that can be used in both our Running & Training apps. The internship project was led by Paul Weichhart within the Community Interaction Squad, so a big thanks to him for the technical guidance, support, and warm welcome for Lilli.
Q: In what ways do you think you benefited from mentoring?
Lilli (mentee): Overall, I already noticed an improvement in my stance while talking to people, which results in me not seeming closed up, impatient, or annoyed.
Julia (mentor): The ambitions and curiosity of my mentee inspired me. I learned to be a better listener and to convey my knowledge in simple and understandable terms. I also felt a sense of purpose and gratitude for being able to contribute to closing the gender gap in tech, even if this was just a small step in the right direction.
“I felt a sense of purpose and gratitude for being able to contribute to closing the gender gap in tech.”
Q: What are your plans for the future?
Lilli (mentee): I plan on getting a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Game Development. Furthermore, I’d like to start my own company with a team of good developer friends.
Julia (mentor): I would definitely like to work more for a future where tech is indeed female. In October, I will participate as a mentor in the Women and Girls in STEM Forum, which focuses on Empowering Girls in Science and Technology and is organized by Girls Go Circular.
Q: Why do you think the next generation of girls should join a mentorship program?
Lilli (mentee): In my eyes, every girl will most likely benefit from such a program, learning lots of new things and finding out where they could improve or what to avoid.
Julia (mentor): I think this program would be most useful for girls interested in pursuing a career in Technology but are at the risk of changing majors. In my opinion, it could provide them with hands-on experience, a network of peers, and some motivation to choose to stay in STEM for their higher-level education and, later on, their careers.
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According to Lilli, the mentoring program gives many girls her age the opportunity to improve their professional skills.