Her male classmates weren’t thrilled about women engineers.

This blog post was originally posted on Upworthy.com as part of a project with Girls’ Globe, Upworthy and Johnson & Johnson.

When Aya Mouallem took her first software engineering class, she had a rude awakening: she wasn’t exactly welcome.

As one of two girls in the class of over 20 students, she felt out of place right away. And this was only made worse by the comments she’d hear from her male classmates.

“[They] said, ‘it’s no wonder there aren’t a lot of girls in [electrical and computer engineering] . . . because girls are bad at math.’ They casually mention[ed] phrases like, ‘we were happy without girls in this major,’” Aya recalls.

Unfortunately, comments like these weren’t exactly new for Aya.

She had been interested in STEM from a very young age. “I never really felt interested in playing with dolls as much as I loved to know how stuff worked,” she says. And while her immediate family had been supportive of her interests in STEM — calling her the ‘thinker’ in the family — she had faced a lot of sexism from other family members, acquaintances, classmates, and even staff at her university.

That didn’t hold her back, though. Since Aya’s parents encouraged her to ask questions and be curious, she kept pursuing her passion. When smartphones became available, for example, she eagerly explored how they worked and became her family’s go-to ‘tech support’.

But Aya knows that many girls don’t get that kind of encouragement.

“A lot of other girls were forbidden by their parents from pursuing ECE because it wasn’t ‘feminine’ by societal standards,” she explains.

Aya knew that, as a result, girls weren’t getting the same opportunities to explore technology as boys their age. For example, boys were more likely to be called to help change a lightbulb or to see how a car works, “but girls were supposed to stay busy with their dolls,” says Aya.

So girls who might have a knack for STEM were being discouraged from exploring a field they might otherwise be passionate about later in life.

“Their implications are very dangerous,” she explains. “There’s a lot to be done when it comes to raising awareness to gender inequality in STEM.”

That’s why in March 2017, Aya teamed up with Maya Moussa, another classmate studying computer engineering, to empower girls to explore STEM.

They created All Girls Code, a project that provides girls between the ages of 12 and 19 in Lebanon with access to STEM fields through mentorship programs and other opportunities.


“We wanted to give girls the opportunity to try hands-on STEM workshops before they have to choose a university major,” Aya says.

It wouldn’t be easy, though. At first, they struggled to get funding for the project. Since All Girls Code doesn’t generate revenue, it was hard to get the financial support that the project needed. So to get it off the ground, “we [first] reached out to the local community through our university, our phone contacts and people we’ve networked with at tech events,” she explains.

Luckily, their hard work paid off. They were able to get support from their university, the American University of Beirut, which provided a space for the workshops. Aya and Maya also recruited over 100 volunteers to support All Girls Code as instructors, graphic designers, photographers, moviemakers, and administrators.

Now in its second year, All Girls Code is continuing its mission with its flagship summer program, Tech Immersion.

The program focuses on three goals in particular: skills, exposure, and sisterhood.

For the development of technical skills, All Girls Code has created a curriculum that allows girls to use code to help improve health, the environment, and other fields.

In sponsoring hackathons, for example — events where the girls collaborate to create software or hardware for a specific purpose — they learn to apply their technical skills to solve real-world problems. These hackathons also provide girls with opportunities to learn how to pitch their ideas and network.


The girls are also given mentorship opportunities, working directly with women in the industry. Through the program, they’ve learned about Lebanese women entrepreneurs, the latest trends in tech and Silicon Valley, and which ‘tech titans’ in the industry they should be familiar with.

To ensure they’re reaching a diverse group of girls, all events by All Girls Code are free of charge.

“We’ve been proud to welcome girls from more than ten countries, including public school students, refugees, and private school students,” says Aya.

In a field dominated by men, Aya believes that sisterhood plays a critical role in the mission of All Girls Code.

“It was important for us to nurture this bonding between them over STEM, just like they would bond over dolls,” she explains. Working together to develop their ideas and participating in icebreakers are just some of the ways in which these girls are able to connect with each other.


That’s why Aya wants to expand All Girls Code to be worldwide, impacting an even greater number of girls. While over 200 girls have participated so far, she hopes that in the future, there will be thousands.

After all, it was the support of other women in the field that helped her find her way, too.

“When girls try tech together, they feel that they are not outsiders,”she says.And through her work at All Girls Code, she’s hopeful for a future in which girls in STEM never again feel out of place again.

Gabrielle Rocha Rios co-authored this post with Sam Dylan Finch.

Girls: It’s Okay To Come Out of the Videogame Closet

When I was nine, I stumbled upon a gaming section in a store for the first time. After rummaging through space games and shooter games and building games, I held up The Legend of Zelda to my mother and asked if I could get it for Christmas. “No,” she said. “Girls don’t play videogames.” I asked her why not and she said, “Because videogames are for boys.”

She wasn’t scolding me, or trying to be mean. She had the tone she did when she was explaining fundamental concepts: that water evaporates and turns into rain; that I shouldn’t buy the shoes that were snug because they’d hurt my feet after I’d been walking around in them all day; that my father would always forget something if he went to the supermarket by himself. And so, I put Zelda back on the shelf, and watched a little enviously at school when the boys hovered over their gameboys and talked about Super Mario Bros.

The barrier between femininity and gaming is a cultural construct that’s remained surprisingly strong, even in 2017. When it comes to women, gaming has a terrible reputation. Games themselves have traditionally been populated by women characters with bizarre proportions in barely enough clothing to cover them. Gamergate is one of the first things people talk about when discussing the culture. Women make up the minority of developers because of sexism in the workplace.

At the same time, the old belief of ‘only boys play videogames’ is now patently untrue. In the United States, 48% of the 190 million gamers are women. You’d never know, however, because most don’t talk about it. In the realm of the video game world itself, for those girl gamers who are logging on online, they’re hesitant to open their mouths and identify as female. A Pew Research Study found that while 60% of teenage girls play videogames, less than 10% will speak on a mic in a video game space.*

Even Google has yet to catch up. A search of ‘why women don’t say they play videogames‘ brings up suggested searches: girlfriend hates video games, why do guys play video games all the time, my boyfriend plays video games all the time, why do guys play video games so much, adults who play video games immature, men video games relationships, how to get your boyfriend to stop playing video games.

Furthermore, gaming itself – for men and women – is still stigmatized.

It’s a shame. Gaming as an industry has flourished, and games themselves can run the gamut from battlefields to massive open worlds to rebuilding ancient civilizations to time traveling through meticulously reconstructed historical eras. Games can showcase incredible achievements in imagination, design and storytelling.

In moderate doses, games have been proven to be beneficial. They decrease stress and can sometimes soothe anxiety and depression; they’ve been shown to increase resilience; they’re an easy gateway to communities with similar interests, and they even increase executive function. Gaming should never replace exercise, work or socializing, but it undoubtedly has value for building a community, or simply as an escape.

Gamers are programmers, students, engineers, politicians, doctors, lawyers and journalists – men and women. For all those who support gamergate, there are other communities thrilled to embrace women. Even video games themselves are adapting to a more women-powered world; just look at the original Lara Croft vs the newest Lara Croft for proof.

Girls – it’s okay to come out of the videogame closet. (And when you do, look up my gamertag. I hear Destiny‘s multiplayer is great.)

Here’s the Good News About that Google Memo

Google’s now-infamous memo has both women and men up in arms about tech’s attitude towards women overall. The memo (not authorized by the company itself, but written by an employee and then circulated) suggests that women may be inherently less suited to the company’s workplace by virtue of their gender alone, and advocates stemming certain processes aimed towards diversity in recruiting.

(Note: the memo itself is not implicitly anti-diversity in its philosophy, as explained by The Atlantic. Nonetheless, it questions current initiatives to recruit across the board, and challenges attitudes towards promoting diversity in the workplace. Read the full memo here.)

The problematic ideas in this memo aren’t symptomatic of a new problem. There are countless examples of sexism and a penchant for the status quo that have emerged throughout the years, then disappeared in the fast-paced and unforgiving nature of the tech industry. In 2014, reporter 

Nonetheless, it is very easy to get upset about Google’s Diversity Memo. Google is a cultural cornerstone as well as a tech behemoth. For a company that is known as the good guy of the internet, to e-mail sexism directly to its employees’ inboxes seems a new level of egregious.

All over, news outlets are decrying the fact that winds of change have not yet hit Silicon Valley; but they’re missing an important development.

It used to be okay to say women weren’t as good at tech. It used to be okay to say they might be happier raising children, not rewriting code. The explosion on twitter, media outlets jumping over the story and the launch of 100 thinkpieces all sent the very clear message that society no longer turns a blind eye to discrimination.

Swift retribution from the company was the most powerful signal: Google fired the employee who wrote the memo. In the last few years, other companies have responded in kind to their own controversies. Uber fell over itself trying to reform its ‘toxic culture’ after a former employee wrote a blog post about the treatment she endured while working there. The co-founder of 500 Startups was asked to resign after investigations into sexual harassment (which he himself later admitted). Employees resigned and investors threatened to pull funding from Binary capital after six women accused the co-founder of harassment.

Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, conceded that employees should have the right to express their feelings but nonetheless found the memo too insulting to the company’s female employees. In a heartening message, he defended the subtle discrimination that underlined some of the memo’s assumptions.

“Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic’.”

From Google’s chief executive, these are powerful words, and indications of huge steps forward.

As women in the workplace, we’re still climbing a mountain, and a steep one. At moments like these, we have a tendency to look at how far we have left to go. However, it can be heartening to look back and consider, as well, how far we’ve come.

What’s Holding Women Back in Engineering?

Although the topic of gender equality in engineering (and in STEM overall) is still common, and there is undoubtedly greater awareness of it, the problem is still far from being solved. Recently, there was an infographic published on the difficulties women face in scientific faculties, with a particular focus on engineering. There are several components that contribute to the gender gap in the field.

One such factor is the “stereotype threat”, as defined by Steele & Aronson in 1995. This occurs when one is afraid of confirming negative stereotypes about a particular social group (in this case that “girls are not meant to work in science”). This can have an impact on a student’s performance when taking an important test, for example.

Various American studies have shown how the environment plays a heavy role on pupils’ test results, preventing them from reaching their full potential when skin color or gender is emphasized.  This negative feedback loop is a vicious circle: when girls score lower on STEM tests, it can further discourage them, reinforcing the idea that the stereotype is true.

This might have its effect on their future as well. In the United States, for example, only 20% of engineering students are women. And this female under-representation is a global phenomenon. This suggests that by the time they reach their college applications, many women have lost interest in becoming an engineer, or think that the major is too difficult.

Confidence is a crucial factor for women when making decisions. A Hewlett Packard report quoted in several articles, including the Harvard Business Review, showed that while men apply for jobs when meeting 60% of the requirements, women have to meet 100% to feel confident enough to apply. If we assume the same applies for college applications, we can see how the stereotype threat can play a big role.

There have been initiatives to change the current situation. For those girls interested in learning more on the subject, there are countless articles and publications introducing female role models in STEM, one being “STEM Gems”, a book listing 44 women shining in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Another initiative worthy of mention is “Engineering is Elementary”, an organization that developed an engineering curriculum suitable for grades 1-5 with the hope of making kids familiar and more interested in engineering at a young age.

Nonetheless, the road ahead is long, and awareness of the issue is only the beginning. A problem this embedded in culture takes time to resolve as we need to change the most stubborn thing of all – our culture’s mindset. The mindset of the employers, young women and society in general. We can all contribute on a daily basis: let’s talk openly about the situation and encourage women and men to break the norm and lose the stereotypes still present.

Breaking the Silicon Ceiling – an Interview with Audrey Eschright

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the lack of women in the technology field. Rightfully so. In a world where technology has become the backbone of many societies, women should be involved in the creation and development of the innovations revolutionizing our security, healthcare and finances, be high up in the companies that distribute them and be part of the social media sites we faithfully log into every day.

The lack of diversity in technology is striking, and recognized from the media to the White House. Employee networks in technology, as one article writes, “can look like an old boy’s club.”

Gradually, this is being called out and acted upon, in ways good and bad. Ellen Pao stands as a figurehead for the controversies surrounding the issue and last year’s GamerGate’s fiasco at SXSW showed passionate voices on both sides of the debate.

On the ground, there are smaller, but equally powerful movements dedicated to helping women and girls break into the tech scene. One of the individual spearheading her own project is Audrey Eschright, from Portland, Oregon. Eschright is the founder of The Recompiler, a self-described ‘feminist hacking’ magazine, dedicated to exploring and publishing issues of technology through works written by women. The Recompiler has gained traction as a young but promising magazine that, as New York Magazine says, “arrived just on time.”

Eschright granted Girls’ Globe an interview on her inspiration behind the magazine, and her advice for young girls and women in tech.

What’s your background?

I’ve been involved in the technology industry and open source for much of my career: working as a software developer, and organizing community events and resources such as user groups, conferences, and an open-source community calendar platform called Calagator.

You call The Recompiler a feminist magazine – would you consider yourself a feminist? That’s such a loaded word nowadays, can you define what it means to you?

I do consider myself a feminist, but I’m less interested in feminism as an identity, and more interested in feminism as a thing we do. For me, it means that I try to be informed about the issues that affect women, all women. I make decisions based on how I can help reduce inequality and oppression. And I try to ask the really big questions, like: what would it take for all people to be able to participate in building technology equally?

What’s the response been?

Overwhelmingly wonderful. Someone just tweeted at me today: “Technology for everyone is something I hear a lot, but The Recompiler actually means it”.

What do you think of the role of women in tech nowadays?

Under-representation is still an enormous challenge. I am so encouraged by the energy and desire to contribute I see from younger women—even as they’re aware of the things that aren’t easy.

But retention of experienced contributors is an enormous problem: you can read statistics about 40-50% of women dropping out in mid-career; it takes on a new level of urgency when you reach the point that you see this happening to your peers.

What’s has been your biggest personal challenge as a woman in tech?

I’ve been in so many situations where I felt un- or under-supported. It’s so hard to believe that it’s not about you, and that what you want or need is reasonable when you’re in that kind of environment. I have to stop myself from getting stuck thinking about what would be different if I hadn’t experienced that.

Any messages you have for women in the field?

If you like technology, you want to work with technology, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Practice, practice more, and find people who support you and share your interests.

Featured image: Daniel Dudek-Corrigan/Flickr, Creative Commons




January’s Inspiration

A new year offers the perfect opportunity for a little motivation-renewal, and so this January I have been thinking about who, and what, inspires me.

Female role models received an unusual level of media attention in 2015. There was the Pirelli calendar, which made a shift from images of nude supermodels to ones of women who’ve done really great things – think less Gigi Hadid’s boobs, more Amy Schumer’s jokes.

Then there’s the ongoing fight for equal pay, championed by several of Hollywood’s most influential ladies. Jennifer Lawrence’s essay on the topic was assertive and unapologetic and went totally viral.

Here in the UK, when the government announced plans to drop feminism from the politics syllabus, my fellow blogger and all-round wondergirl June Eric-Udorie launched a petition that received more than 50,000 signatures to secure the place of influential women in the brains of British teens.

Magazines, including the glossies, are slowly but surely readjusting their focus. Sure, there are still obscene levels of Kardashian at every turn, but there are also features like Women of the Year Awards. There’s even a glimmer of hope on TV – Virgin Media’s recent advert shows a girl and her mother googling videos of ‘women who rock’.

And on top of all this, Adele exists.

Each of these examples shakes the very core of the argument that female role models are inadequate. Each proves that such role models exist, it’s just that we can’t always see them. So what can we do, aside from wait patiently while the media repositions its spotlights?

Perhaps we can start by repositioning our own. By looking more closely at the women and girls we share our lives with. The ones not necessarily on the cover of any magazines, but who we rely on, talk to and listen to each day. The women and girls whose lives are woven in to the story line of our own.

So ask yourself, what do your friends do that you admire? What qualities in them do you depend on, and then try to recreate in yourself? Who do they find inspiring?

I thought about a few of the people I see or speak to on a regular basis:

  • First I thought of Hannah, a PhD student. Her research in the blood stem cell environment aims to be a step towards creating therapies for diseases such as leukemia. She’s inspired by an influential Professor at Imperial College London – Molly Stevens. Watch this TED Talk to see someone with true passion for what they do.
  • Next, Rachel, who secured a place on a competitive graduate scheme to kick start her career in the financial sector. Listening to Tori James (the youngest British woman to climb Mount Everest) leaves her feeling motivated – follow @torijtweets.
  • Isy the Adventurer spent a year travelling and working her way across the globe, visiting 14 countries across 4 continents and immersing herself in each of the cultures she found herself in. Malala Yousafzai is an inspiration in every corner of the world through her advocacy for girls’ education – read her story here.
  • Laura is a creative pattern cutter and fashion designer. Her designs have featured in an ever-increasing number of magazines and shows, including Vogue.co.uk, and she’s recently launched her own website. Lena Dunham is top on her list of role models – if you haven’t already signed up to Lenny Letter, you can do so here.
  • Emma works for  Theirworld, a charity championing every child’s right to a quality education. Emma and I met at university, where together we ran an international development charity for students. She sees Theirworld’s founder, Sarah Brown, as an inspirational figure – follow @SarahBrownUK.
  • Then I thought of my mum, who I find endlessly inspiring. She instilled in me the belief that anything is possible, as long as you’re willing to work  hard at it. She remains my daily cheerleader, advice-giver and unwavering supporter. For her, Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent and Senior Presenter for the BBC, is role-model worthy. Follow @bbclysedoucet.

I didn’t have to think very hard or look very far at all, and I don’t think you will either. Inspiration surrounds us, but can be easy to miss when viewed at close-range. So as you settle in to 2016, look around and celebrate the inspirational females you share your life with.

A lack of role models to inspire women today? It doesn’t look like it, not from where I’m standing.

Cover Photo Credit: Pepe Pont, Flickr Creative Commons