By Tara Chklovski, Founder and CEO of Iridescent
Imagine a little girl and a little boy ready to play. Imagine saying to them both “Come. See this machine here.”
What do you think the little girl will do?
I was that little girl once, and I was lucky. Lucky to have a mentor who believed I would be interested in machines — despite being a girl. Lucky to have those machines become my toys, and to learn from them and become curious to learn more. Lucky to have two incredible women as role models showing me what women can do.
I had my grandmother, who started her own business at age 60, never having worked before. She cut down a tree from her garden, made two chairs and two tables and opened a school. It’s still running today.
And I had my mother, who joined the Indian Army as a doctor at age 44.
I was lucky. I had two indomitable women mentors. They taught me that veering from ‘normal’ takes courage, and that strength comes from persevering through failure, rather than easy success. They stood behind me, supported me, told me they had my back, that they had fought similar battles and knew them well. They taught me the power of mentors.
I grew up to become an aerospace engineer. But I didn’t see other women engineers around me. I came to America — and still saw no women. This was odd. This was a bigger battle to fight. So I started Iridescent, a global non-profit organization. I wanted little girls all over the world to veer from ‘normal’ and develop a strength they might not know they had … to become the innovators their countries never imagined they would be.
I wanted to connect girls all over the world with mentors who would support and encourage them. Powerful women who would lend their strength and time to these young women and help them develop their curiosity and courage, and inspire them to solve the problems they wanted to solve.
In 2009, I paired up with Anuranjita Tewary to develop Technovation, a global technology entrepreneurship program for girls. Technovation asks middle school and high school girls to identify a problem in their community and develop a tech-based solution to the problem, and build a business plan to bring that solution to market. Technovation is built to connect girls with a network of women to support them — coaches and mentors and ambassadors who all help the girls develop new skills and tap into their own imagination and ingenuity.
What began six years ago with 45 girls in San Francisco has spread to 10,000 girls in 78 countries.
Girls all over the world are standing up to solve big problems.
But they need you too.
Only 7% of startup founders are women (Kauffman Foundation), and that’s not because only 7% of women have ideas for their own businesses.
Ten years of working with families all over the United States and girls and women all over the world has shown me again and again how curious and determined young people are– girls as young as 10 create mobile apps that address serious issues — from a lack of clean water (like ApaPura, from a team of girls in Moldova) to inadequate sex education in schools (like AskAda from a team of girls in Texas), to women’s safety while commuting (Women Fight Back, India).
But these young women need more than a great idea, they need a global network of women to support and encourage them.
So foundational to helping girls and women all over the world succeed is building a sense of self-efficacy—a belief in oneself to accomplish a difficult thing, learning from failures along the way.
Self-efficacy isn’t developed in a vacuum. Young women need role models and mentors. Not just for technical skills or entrepreneurial savvy, but to know that an adult who isn’t related to them believes in them, and values them enough to share her time. Someone to say “you can do it” when they feel like throwing in the towel.
In a field that remains plagued with a culture that excludes and reduces the power of women and people of color – in a field like tech – this is particularly important.
What it means to be a mentor
Technovation mentor Myra Nawabi says it best in this video.
…the role of a Technovation mentor isn’t to write code or even help write code for young women, it’s to be a cheerleader, a supporter, a door into a world they may not know much about. Being a mentor can include:
- Introducing girls to your network to help them grow their own
- Inviting girls to your office for a tour and introducing them to your colleagues
- Telling your mentees about how you’ve struggled – and how you’ve succeeded – as a professional
- Asking them about their work and projects, offering useful feedback and encouragement to continue building
Be someone who stands up for young women around the world and supports them to solve big problems.
Learn more or get involved as a mentor with Iridescent here: http://iridescentlearning.org/