I am a steadfast believer in the future of women in tech. As a user experience designer here at Vena, I have seen first-hand the value of a truly diverse work setting, as well as the opportunities lost when diversity is overlooked. When our People Coordinator Extraordinaire, Cathy, mentioned a possible mentorship opportunity with ElleHacks, I was eager to see how I could volunteer my time to such a worthy cause.
It is a known issue that women and non-binary folks are underrepresented in the tech industry, especially so in competition-based atmospheres like hackathons. If you’ve ever attended a hackathon, you know how intense these 52-hour weekends can be.
From Friday evening to Sunday afternoon of a cold February weekend in Toronto, high school and university students gathered at the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University to identify some of the world’s wicked problems — then ideate, develop, design and finally present their solutions.
The special energy that comes from a lack of sleep, intense crash course-style peer learning, and in many cases the empowerment of writing one’s very first line of code, is unmatched in any other setting. The energy is undoubtedly magnified by a room full of capable, intelligent and motivated young women and non-binary coders — new and experienced. This amazing energy, in its very essence, is ElleHacks.
My Hackathon History
Having participated in several hackathons myself over the years, I immediately recognized the importance of providing a hackathon atmosphere in a safe space for women and their non-binary peers. The tech industry is certainly male-dominated, and hackathons are a perfect way to display the importance and excitement that a career in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) fields can offer the oft-overlooked side of the gender spectrum.
From Friday to Sunday, I could not wipe the look of amazement off my face. As I did my best to mentor each of the teams in user experience design on their chosen projects, I was impressed again and again by the participants’ bravery and willingness to tackle some large-scale issues, as well as try their hand at development, design, product management and more.
Particularly inspiring was a group of three girls in high school who planned, designed and built a website to help new university students find clubs and teams that could provide them with a sense of community through a period of transition. The idea was awesome and the fact that none of them had written a line of code before was particularly mind-blowing to me!
Celebrating the successful pitch!
Women & Tech
Not only did we cover applied STEM methodologies in the tech industry, but I was equally impressed that topics of promotion, self-worth and confidence came up often throughout the weekend. Women face many, many barriers in understanding and promoting their skills and talents, and are rarely given the benefit of the doubt beyond predetermined stereotypes and expectations. This plays a big factor in keeping women out of technically-demanding fields, ones that have historically been reserved for men.
As a mentor in design and a woman in tech, I showed participants that it’s okay, even worthy of celebration, to self-promote, promote each other, and generally believe in one’s skills to beat the odds and topple the status-quo.
Mitch, Cathy, Sheri and I hanging out with the participants on Friday night.
On a final note, I want to give a big shoutout to Vena for seizing the opportunity to take part in such a worthy cause. Along with my coworkers Cathy, Sheri, Mitch, Camilla, Ehsan and Mustafa, I really think we made a difference in showing these young people how they might visualize themselves as part of the tech industry in their not-so-distant future.
Events like ElleHacks are crucial to the success of Toronto’s tech industry and the leadership role Vena can play in it. They offer us an opportunity to give back to the community, and to complement the mandate of Vena’s own Network For Women (N4W) initiative.
Vena’s N4W holds quarterly public events that are open to everyone, no matter how you self-identify. We welcome you to join us in our ongoing quest to promote, celebrate and increase the level of diversity in the tech industry in Toronto, and all over the world.
Chloe Silver is a User Experience and Interface (UX/UI) Designer at Vena Solutions, and an active member of the company’s N4W initiative. When she’s not improving the company’s software experience, Chloe enjoys working on data visualizations, interactive Arduino projects and her personal blog about design and other topics. Vena’s partnership with ElleHacks could not have been made possible without its chair, Simran Kanda, and our external contact, Shruti Patel.
For more on Vena’s community involvement and leadership insights on the world of finance, visit our main company blog, The CFO Playbook.