When Parsons Design and Technology graduate Lauren Slowik worked at the Apple Store, she came face-to-face with the gender bias that pervades the tech industry.
“I literally had people come up to me and say, ‘I will not work with a woman. I would like to speak to that man over there,’” explains Slowik. “And I would say, ‘I trained that man. He’s been here two weeks.’”
In an effort to challenge these sexist attitudes, Slowik, who currently serves on the faculty in the School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons, has helped lead a partnership between The New School and Girls Write Now (GWN). The mentoring organization ordinarily focuses on helping young women develop their writing talent but now teaches technology as well.
GWN’s digital focus at The New School responds to the need for more female voices in the tech industry. According to statistics gathered by Women Who Tech—a nonprofit organization of women working in technology and committed to social change—women make up barely a quarter of the technology workforce. Slowik’s experience at the Apple Store is certainly not unusual; she uses the term “brogrammer” to suggest the field’s chummy, boys-only attitude.
For the program at The New School, GWN recruits female students from underserved New York City public schools. The girls work with a mentor—both one-on-one and in groups—to reach a specific tech-related goal. This semester, the mentees are using an array of recording and editing software and hardware to make a short audio piece.
GWN isn’t trying to turn all its young participants into computer programmers and software engineers; the organization simply wants to help students develop the technology skills they will need to succeed in life.
“At this point, it’s almost ridiculous to say that anyone works ‘in technology,’” says Slowik. “If you work in health care, if you work in PR, it doesn’t matter—you’re using all of the same tools. Digital literacy is just as important as actual literal literacy.”
After receiving a grant earlier this year from the New York Community Trust/Hive Digital Media Learning Fund, the partnership between GWN and The New School is set to continue well into the future.
“I want the girls in this program to think, ‘I know how to do this,’” Slowik says. “I think it’s important that we claim technology and make it ours.”