Meet Adriana Gascoigne, the nonprofit startup founder with an entrepreneurial vision for eliminating the tech world’s gender imbalance (and one of the inspirations behind Intersect’s UPLIFT! drone light show).
Early in her career, Adriana Gascoigne found herself working at a startup with a staff of just 50. She was the only woman.
“It was a tough situation,” she recalls. “There were things that happened that made me less than comfortable, and not very productive.”
In the tech world at the time, it was unremarkable for a startup to have such a skewed gender makeup, and it was easy to feel that the type of harassment Gascoigne experienced in the workplace was something baked into Silicon Valley culture. “Part of me was saying, okay Adriana, you just have to put up with it, this is part of working at a startup,” she recounts. “And part of me,” she adds, “was like, no, I don’t have to put up with this.”
So many studies have shown that EQ is just as important, or more important, as IQ.
In 2007, inspired to help other women in the tech world who were facing similar difficulties, Gascoigne launched Girls in Tech, a nonprofit dedicated to using education and community building to battle the kind of gender inequality that she’d experienced. For the next eight years she spent her evenings building the program while simultaneously building a successful career as a tech executive. (She eventually began working on Girls in Tech full time in 2015.)
In many ways Gascoigne is more like an entrepreneur than an activist, and she approached building Girls in Tech like she would a startup, with a startup founder’s eye on creative problem solving. There are a lot of nonprofits doing important work solving the tech industry’s gender imbalance by giving young girls the skills and inspiration to pursue an education and career in the STEM fields. Girls in Tech is focused on women who’ve already chosen that path, from college age through mid-career. And it’s not only for female engineers, but for every type of job that you can find in Silicon Valley, from data science and design to sales and HR.
“Right now we have 13 different programs,” Gascoigne says, “ranging from our big Catalyst Conference to coding bootcamps, design thinking bootcamps, and product development. We have Startup Breakthroughs, which is entrepreneurial training. We have a hackathon series called Hacking for Humanity. We have an e-learning platform called Global Classroom. We have a mentorship program.”
A lot of Girls in Tech’s work involves solidly pragmatic solutions like job training and connecting women with potential employers, but Gascoigne takes a holistic view towards improving the tech industry. “So many studies have shown that EQ is just as important, or more important, as IQ,” she says. “I’m definitely a strong believer.” Girls in Tech’s programs will not only give women the skills to be an entrepreneur, but also show them what to expect from the experience on a personal level. The Catalyst Conference invites successful women to “get deep and vulnerable,” Gascoigne says, “and get into the nitty gritty of how they moved up the ladder. We don’t want a PowerPoint or anything official or formal. It has to be real. It has to come from the heart.”
Part of my was like, no, I don't have to put up with this.
The tech industry’s grown immensely in the 13 years since Girls in Tech was launched, and the need for programs like it has grown as well. Girls in Tech currently boasts over a hundred thousand members, with 47 chapters around the globe. New ones are being added all the time–they plan on having 70 by the end of 2020. “It’s a real palpable impact that we’re making, through the eyes and ears of women on the ground,” Gascoigne says.
Intersect and Intel will pay tribute to women’s contributions to technology with a performance by Kacey Musgraves and the Intel Drone Light Show entitled UPLIFT. During her headlining performance on opening night, a female-led team from Intel will fly a fleet of 500 drones carrying advanced LED lights in a stunning choreographed routine set to Kacey’s music and inspired by women like Gascoigne who are revolutionizing the tech world.
“We think it’s an immensely cool event,” Gascoigne says. “It seems really fun and memorable, since it’s all about empowerment. We’re really grateful that they’ve selected Girls in Tech as their partner.”
Going along with the theme of empowerment, AWS will back up the show with a donation to Girls in Tech, and continue Gascoigne’s mission to make tech a more equitable place. After all, as she says, and has so admirably demonstrated, “Actions speak louder than words.”