Balancing the Gender Ratio in I.T. – Interview with Jenine Beekhuyzen

If you’ve worked in a technological field, you’ve probably noticed the dearth of females in that area. Though their numbers are growing, females are still vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about how to get more females interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

jenine-0214-030-editDr Jenine Beekhuyzen first started encouraging girls to get into IT with a book called “Tech Girls are Chic (not just Geek)”, which told the stories of women in the IT industry and showed off their more feminine side as well. Last year, she started the Tech Girls Movement, a non-profit organisation whose goal is to support the development of a more diverse IT force.

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Leaders in Heels had a chat with Jenine about what this movement was about, and where it’s going in the future!

Where did the idea of the Tech Girls Movement originate?

It is no secret that the Information Technology industry lacks women. Most agree the industry lacks diversity and the unique female perspective that can bring new creative ideas to technology development teams. Thus as an industry, we need to get creative in finding innovative ways to attract females to technology careers.

After distributing 20,000 “Tech Girls are Chic!” books free to school girls across Australia since 2008, we now have direct feedback that girls are doing IT at university after reading the ‘pink’ book [Ed note: The other name the book is known by] in high school. So it was time to expand the Tech Girls are Chic! concept, and that’s how the Tech Girls Movement started.

The movement is based around the idea of Tech Girl Superheroes. Why is that?

The thinking was, kids love to dress up, so why not get them to dress up as Tech Girl Superheroes? The superhero concept is powerful, because it is not about being brilliant at everything. It is about having that one special skill or power that we can use when a challenging situation arises.

And stories are a strong medium to portray a message. Hearing Kelly-Sue DeConnick talk at the 2013 Brisbane Writers Festival convinced me. Her female superhero creations for Marvel comics inspire many. Some readers have even created their own magic cap from her superhero characters to get them through tough times, even surgery. This, then, seemed like the logical way to transmit positive technology messages to girls.

What’s going on with the Tech Girls Movement at the moment?

Currently, we bring together a bunch of activities in the STEM space, particularly focused on school girls. However, we are also getting more involved in training pre-service and in-service teachers in 2015.

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What do you hope will come from the movement?

I hope that the Tech Girls Movement creates an opportunity for all girls to be aware of how awesome a career in STEM can be. Not all girls will want this career, but they should at least be given the choice to decide if it is something they want to pursue.

What can our readers do to help out?

Help us spread the good word of great careers, inspiring women, free books [Ed note: This is the “Tech Girls are Superheroes” book, free to school girls across Australia] and an exciting competition!

Now to find out more about you! Was there any particular moment that made you realise IT needed more diversity?

I’m not sure there was a particular moment, but the imbalance was clear in my undergraduate IT degree. There were literally five of us girls who all stuck together and beat the boys! It is now obvious to me that without diversity of all kinds, we will keep creating inferior technology than what we could be creating.

Besides getting more girls into IT, what’s your favourite part of the job?

Every day is different. One day I will be working in my pjs and the next I’ll be in a board room, at a conference, or on a plane going somewhere fun. Also, I regularly work with a cat on my lap when working from home (about a quarter of the time). His purr is soothing, but he can be challenging when he decides to bath in front of the screen when I’m running a virtual workshop (yes this happens!). This is what keeps it interesting. I’m not a 9-5 commuter.

And in the end, I find my work challenging as I get to solve tough problems, and I learn new things every day.

What’s your personal philosophy that gets you through whatever comes your way?

I’m a big fan of what I call the 80% rule. As a Virgo, I’m a perfectionist, but this is not realistic in my job. So if I want to get everything done, I have to compromise. I figure if I can get things 80% done well, then that is mostly good enough. Most people don’t notice the 20% that may not be 100% correct and it is mostly my perfectionism anyway.

Finally, what is one piece of technology you can’t live without?

My laptop without a doubt. It is my virtual office and it tells me where I need to be and where, else I would be stuck! I admit it doesn’t sync well with my phone at the moment which is driving me mad, but who has the time to go to the store? I can live with that, but don’t forget to have backups of important files, photos etc. Never be in a position that you lose digital files, be prepared! :)


Thanks again to Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen for the interview! If you want to find out more, check out the Tech Girls Movement website. And if you know of any girls who might be interested, spread the word!