A Winning Strategy to Drive Gender Equity in Tech

A Winning Strategy to Drive Gender Equity in Tech

Research supporting the positive role that experiential learning plays in the career outcomes of college graduates has prompted many higher education institutions to promote internships as an essential learning experience.  Recent studies have indicated that students graduating with internship experiences, in general, are more likely than students without those experiences to find employment upon graduation (NACE, 2017).


Many employer partners involved in the Minnesota Aspirations for Computing Program, believe exposure to technology career options through experiential learning opportunities can be equally powerful, and perhaps more advantageous during the high school years. Just ask talent acquisition specialists and business leaders at HelpSystems, Land O’Lakes, PeopleNet, SPS Commerce, STEM Fuse, Thomson Reuters, and Veritas Technologies, among others.  All have enjoyed high levels of success engaging with high school students.


According to Briana Birkholz, senior director of development, SPS Commerce, “This program thrives in part by having real partnerships to set these young women up for long-term success in the technology field.  As internship providers, we offer the opportunity for interns to gain that on-the-job experience that will be a launchpad to further their education and hopefully a career in a STEM-related field.”


Early internships may all together be one of the best strategies companies can employ to bridge the gender equity gap in the tech workforce.  And……the gap is widening. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), “in 2017, 26% of the computing workforce were women, and less than 10% were women of color (5% Asian, 3% African-American, and 1% Hispanic).”  


So why does the tech sector remain largely challenged to fulfill gender and diversity balance?  Some of the reasons negatively impacting the depth and breath of the hiring pool begin long before the job posting and interview process occur. The easons that stand above others range from fairly pervasive societal messages that discourage girls from choosing STEM learning and careers, to a lack of female role model connections, to parents, educators and other influential people who oftentimes unknowingly perpetuate myths and misconceptions about information technology roles and careers.


Aspirations Honorees (l to r) Fiona Chow, class of 2018 – Burnsville HS,  Tien VoNguyen, class of 2017 – DeLaSalle HS, and Stuti Arora, class of 2020 – Maple Grove HS leap for summer internship joy at Land O'Lakes in Arden Hills.

Research points to ways to better support girls and young women in STEM (Microsoft, 2018). A recent survey conducted by Microsoft in Europe also found that young girls gain interest in STEM subjects at age 11 and then lose it again by age 15 (Red Tricycle).  Fortunately, partnerships like the Minnesota-based  IT Discovery Network, exist to address the challenges through a growing and thriving ecosystem of providers who offer opportunities for educators, students and businesses to work in unison to turn the tide of opportunity, and in so doing,reshape the narrative and perceptions that influence reality.


Since the 2013 inception of the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards program, 128 job shadow instances have occurred, as well as 43 paid summer internships.  All have provided the next generation of female STEM employees with a helpful dose of confidence, community support, and technical and professional skills necessary to establish a strong foundation for employee and employer success.  


Back Row:  Doug Moses, Levi McCormick, Scott Russell, Briana Birkholz, Jon Beattie, Amy Patton, Claire Byerlyv | Front Row:  Megan Tischler, Madeline Sandish (intern), Grace Hansen (intern), Rachel Springer (intern), Kristina Ortmann, Nesrin Balioglu.  SPS Commerce goes all out for Aspirations Interns!


Intern comments regarding their experience include:

“I loved being able to develop a tool that would benefit people in my company with another intern. This process helped me gain a better understanding of good technology practices while also introducing me to a variety of tools of the trade.”


“I loved being integrated in an IT team, and constantly contributing work/help to the team! I also really enjoyed meeting other employees of the company and hearing about their experiences.”


“The relationships I built. The experiences I gained. The opportunity to see what it's really like to work in an office environment. The opportunity to learn more about what the field I'm interested in has to offer and how it made me really think about what I want my future career path to lead to.


Internship providers offered these perspectives:

“We really enjoyed our experience with our Aspirations Intern this summer.  It was inspiring and great to see the level of technical knowledge and passion of young women interested in tech careers.”


“We learned as a company having them here this summer on what we need to improve on. Overall, they did a great job.”


”The intern that worked on my team was a good fit for the work that was provided for her to complete. We had our intern complete many informational interviews to learn about IT from different leaders.  She said this was very valuable for her.”


Briana Birkholz, SPS, sums it up perfectly: “It’s more than just the experience we give them.  The interns bring an energy to our environment that further contributes to our innovative and collaborative culture beyond their many technical internship achievements.  We actually get back so much more than we give. MN-based companies need to invest in the future, focusing on the creativity and innovation that a diverse workforce affords.  It’s a win-win proposition.”


VIDEO:: MN Aspirations in Computing Program Seeking Applicants | Apply Now



More Internship Partners Are Needed!   The Aspirations recognition program identifies young women with technology passion, impressive accomplishments, and the desire to address challenging problems.  They will become excellent employees……with your help and guidance. To learn more, contact Director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships, Russell Fraenkel at (612) 659-7224 or Russell.Fraenkel@metrostate.edu.




The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Award Program partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to honor young high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests.  The powerful story of their accomplishments does not end at a recognition ceremony in the spring of each year, it’s just beginning!  Nearly 200 young women who have been honored since the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program inception in 2012-2013 continue to pursue life-changing education and career opportunities and accomplish AMAZING things.  The ‘Where are they Now’ series provides wonderful illustrations of Aspirations in Action.