She++ Advancing Women In Technology

Sometimes just hearing another woman's experience can plant the seed of possibility.

That's what Marcia McIntosh, a second-year student, found last year when she attended a screening and discussion of the documentary She++. The event, organized by the iSchool's AWIT (Advancing Women in Technology) committee, revealed some troubling statistics. In 2009, the film reports, women earned 52 percent of the math and science degree in the U.S. but only 18 percent of technology-related degrees.

The documentary, made by two female Stanford University graduates, reveals how women too often don't see themselves in field like computer science or don't believe they're capable of programming. -- a grim reality that struck a chord with McIntosh.

"I hadn't really considered technology as an avenue for myself," said McIntosh who is specializing in digital libraries and repositories and metadata.

When she attended the first She++ screening, she was leaning more toward design rather than the engineering side of repositories.

But inspired by the stories shared on the film and discussion panel from women who braved the male-dominated sphere of computer science and thrived, McIntosh had to ask herself: Could I learn to code?

The answer was clear. "Yes, this is possible," she remembers thinking. "And it takes some practice, and it's not just for boys."

Hoping other women would have such an a-ha moment, McIntosh helped to coordinate another She++ event in February.

The year's event drew an even larger crowd than the first -- 68 people -- and featured a screening of the documentary and a panel discussion with women -- most of them iSchool alumnae -- with successful technical careers.

Raising awareness is key, said Career Development Director Tara Iagulli, who helped promote the event to other departments at The University of Texas. Undergraduates from Engineering and Liberal Arts and other programs showed up and peppered panelists with questions.

Women need to hear these success stories, Iagulli said, because they too often set up their own barriers. They don't view their own skills sets as highly as they should. They hold themselves to higher academic standards than men do, which can undermine their confidence and convince them they don't belong in a technical field.

Breaking down those barriers and highlighting the need for women in technology was a whole school effort, McIntosh said, noting that Career Development got funding from AT&T and catering from Whole Foods for the event.

And that a-ha moment McIntosh hoped to recreate for another student?

It happened for Grace Atkins.

The first-year student knew a career in librarianship would require her to be tech savvy, but she sometimes felt overwhelmed by what she had yet to learn.

"That's why hearing from that inspiring panel of successful women in various stages of their tech-related careers was such a great motivation," Atkins said. "It was encouraging to see that even though we all start at different levels that doesn't limit how far we can go."

Atkins said she continues to attend AWIT events -- and will bring friends.