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High school girl organizes symposium to address gender gap in technology fields

High school girl organizes symposium to address gender gap in technology fields Published Date : 19 May 2017
Alexandra Jabbarpour, 16, didn’t ask for permission when she started planning a symposium for technology-inclined girls who, like herself, will probably find themselves in male-dominated industries sometime soon.

Before finding a venue or consulting adults at school, she began reaching out to women who had already built distinguished careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine — or STEM-MD.

She didn’t ask for them to tackle the gender gap issue or deliver an inspiring speech. Jabbarpour just wanted a group of women who could share their stories, brag about research and hopefully show a crowd of local middle and high school girls what they’re capable of accomplishing.

“There are so many [strong women in STEM-MD], but all of their voices none of us would have heard otherwise,” Jabbarpour said. “I think it’s just a matter of giving them the microphone and letting them speak.”

Pretty soon, her symposium was headlined by a big-data expert, a NASA scientist and a medical school dean.

That’s when Roanoke’s Community High School academic director, Josh Chapman, said he first heard about the event Jabbarpour was already putting together. He tried to help spread the word among his teacher friends, only to learn many of them had already reserved tickets.

More than 100 local middle and high school students attended Tuesday’s event inside the Jefferson Center.

“We often have a tendency to tell our stories and miss the tough stuff. These ladies didn’t miss the tough stuff,” Cynda Johnson, founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, said. “They’ve shown resilience but there are not a lot of us who have gotten through these tough careers without hits along the way.”

Most of the women who spoke at the symposium said they struggled as a minority in their industry at some point during their careers, but building support networks of female mentors and colleagues was a powerful tool.

“I would hazard a guess that’s why we’re all up here. We want to encourage you to seek people out,” Stephanie DeLuca, a developmental psychologist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, told the crowd. “I think not only are they helpful in guiding your career, but they’ll help you navigate some of those covert instances [of sexism]. Because it is still there.”

The technology industry’s gender gap has been well documented for decades. It begins in elementary school clubs, follows girls into high school, through college and into the professional world.

At Microsoft, for instance, women were outnumbered four to one in technology jobs in 2016, despite deliberate efforts to attract and retain more female workers.

“It’s discouraging on a level because I, personally, can’t change those statistics,” Jabbarpour said. “However, part of who I am, if someone tells me I can’t do something, it almost forces me more to go into those fields and change that. I want to be part of that change.”



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Calender 2017