AN INTERVIEW with the founders of SHE++ Ayna Agarwal and Ellora Israni.
They entered Stanford University dreaming to become a veterinarian and a psychologist. Roughly one year later Ayna and Ellora, two American girls, have dedicated their foreseeable future to computer sciences. “Learning how to code teaches you much more than computer programming. You learn about your persistence, your creativity and so much about how our world works today,” says Ayna in a video presentation on the SHE++ website.
The two friends from Stanford are the founders of SHE++, a one-day conference to inspire girls to get into computer programming. Ellora and Ayna say that one of the reasons they had never considered becoming technical engineers was, because there were hardly any female role models. At SHE++ they wanted to change that, and make role models of the trade, such as Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Irene AU (Google) or Jocelyn Goldfein (Facebook), accessible to other girls and women, so they would get “inspired to empower computer sciences.” When asked what they exactly mean with that slogan they say that: “It’s about demographics. Women need to be represented in the world of computer programming because they are at the receiving end of technology as much as, if not more, than men.” Ayna goes on to say that women are also needed in computer science as human capital. “The future of the world lies in tech and we need more people than we’re training today to work in the industry.”
Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer had propagated a similar argument recently, demanding a more liberal immigration policy, to allow more “highly skilled immigrants” to the US. Whether there is a skilled labor shortage for the tech industry or not is disputed, but the founders of SHE++ have touched a nerve. The aim to inspire women to enter male dominated industries has been given a boost only recently with Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, and both SHE++ conferences were supported by important personalities from the field ranging from Marissa Mayer to Marc Andreessen and Ruchi Sanghvi.
Ayna’s and Ellora’s next steps are to spread their message globally with a short SHE++ documentary; twelve minutes of talking heads from the tech industry, sharing their personal experience as women and men in the field, almost urging young women to take on the challenge of computer science. But to the question: “Are you feminists?” the founders of SHE++ respond with a surprised silence and then a clear affirmation from Ellora: “Well - if feminism means to bring women to the table where they are equal to men and where their potential can be harnessed - Yes.” Ayna adds: “I think this is not a feminist issue though, it’s a tech issue. We believe that the industry needs the best human capital available and women can’t be excluded from that.”
This year’s DLDwomen conference will take a fresh look at the implications of digitization on female consumer strategies, the world of work, health and education, because women are shaping technological developments as users already. DLDw13 hopes to hear more from Ayna and Ellora on how to bring more women to the programming and creating side of technology.