Sometimes it takes a good role model to inspire someone to pursue an unlikely career path, but oftentimes girls don’t feel like they have role models from fields that have traditionally not been welcoming to women. Thus, certain fields like technology lose out on tons of brilliant girls and women, because at young ages many of those girls feel alienated from them.
This is where SheHeroes steps in. A nonprofit started in 2009 by pediatrician Sophia Yen, along with her MIT sorority sisters Sue Nagle and Cynthia Closkey, it encourages girls from 8 to 14 to pursue their career desires, especially in fields where women are underrepresented. To give them a push, the website offers video interviews with everyone from African-American Emmy Award–winning journalist Carol Jenkins to Polly Baca, the first Latina to serve in the Colorado House and Senate.
Now SheHeroes is taking on women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and wants your help. It has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $30,000 for a biographical web series highlighting career women. The plan is to produce up to 6 video interviews; already confirmed are astronaut Yvonne Cagle and computer science pioneer Radia Perlman, who invented the algorithm behind the spanning tree protocol (STP), an innovation that helped make today’s Internet possible. Says Pia Guerrero, executive director of SheHeroes,
We’re really aware of the inequities happening in Silicon Valley and in STEM, as well as the decline of women in computer science in great numbers. …We believe these videos will help [girls] see that those fields are for them as well.
Guerrero believes that while workshops that encourage girls in STEM are highly important, the element she found missing was the identification of role models. By focusing on stories of actual women, SheHeroes can hopefully counter both negative, stereotypical attitudes toward women in STEM and botched attempts to encourage girls in the field, as in the Computer Engineer Barbie fiasco. Guerrero said,
Around 8 to 10, girls are really bombarded with highly gendered messages—you know, pink culture. That’s also the age when they start thinking about what they want to do when they grow up. That’s why we start [SheHeroes] at that age. And because our content has information not just for little girls, it’s applicable to girls up to 14.
Both Guerrero and SheHeroes board member Dina Yuen, who is also the CEO and founder of Asian Fusion, will conduct the interviews, and they’ll be joined by 8-year-old Raven Walker, who works with SheHeroes as a youth diplomat and is an actor who has appeared in GoldieBlox videos.
Girls 8 to 14 aren’t the only ones who love SheHeroes’ videos: so do younger and older girls, and boys as well. “The goal is not to segment girls,” Guerrero said, “but to discuss [the issue] with girls and boys”—who need to understand that careers of all types can be undertaken successfully by any sex. After all, Guerrero noted, “How can we expect women to walk into certain fields and be welcome if the men don’t believe that [the women] can be anything they want?”
Beyond the STEM web series, SheHeroes is creating an online archive of women in diverse careers, shedding light on their struggles and triumphs. Guerrero wants SheHeroes to be a resource that will show up when you Google every sort of profession, bringing forth images of women and not just men.
The response to the SheHeroes Indiegogo campaign has already been overwhelmingly positive. There’s clearly a hunger for women role models in STEM, and SheHeroes plans to deliver.
Photo courtesy of SheHeroes.