Girls in Tech Vancouver: Connecting Through Remote Work

By now, the ongoing COVID-19 situation has almost certainly impacted some aspect of your day-to-day life. Whether you are working from home (probably in your pajamas), taking classes online (again, probably in your pajamas), or going through a career change, we’re finding ourselves adjusting to this ‘new normal’. 

But in this age of remote work, virtual meetings, and rotating through the same three pairs of sweat pants, how do we maintain our collective efforts to engage and support girls and women in STEM? Have we seen a shift in the type of resources sought after?

Amid the abrupt shift to online conferences, workshops, and meetings, an important question has surfaced: How do we keep girls and women engaged in STEM? 

To help answer these questions, SCWIST sat down (or rather, had a video call… it is 2020 after all) with Ghislaine Chan and Jennifer Waldern of Girls in Tech Vancouver, an organization dedicated to empowering and supporting young women in the technology sector. 

The main message? “While amplifying digital content and modifying communications strategies is important, an emphasis on compassion is most important during these times.”

What were your initial thoughts and reactions to the changes surrounding COVID-19 with respect to Girls in Tech programming and initiatives?

Girls in Tech Vancouver recently sent out a survey to its team, checking in on any work or life changes brought about by COVID-19. 

“We want to ensure that everyone is taking care of their specific needs and not feeling pressured to feel like they have to maintain a certain level of productivity,” says Waldern. “We want to make sure people have access to the resources that they need, like if they’re feeling isolated, for example.” 

Girls in Tech Vancouver have approached their members and volunteers with compassion and empathy, giving people the flexibility to manage their time and priorities in a way that works best for them.  

“Another initial priority was to move the resources online”, says Chan. This way, members are able to access materials to help guide professional development, such as webinars, through the website and social media platforms. 

Through this process, the team recognised that expanding the use of virtual engagement in response to COVID-19 is likely to benefit members. 

The reason? Increased accessibility to events. 

Virtual events allow for participation from those who would otherwise be unable to attend in-person due to financial, caregiver, or other constraints.

Now, they are able to join from the comfort of their living room without needing to arrange for flights or accommodations. The team says they are working towards more permanent inclusive opportunities for engagement. 

Expect to see digital engagement benefit volunteers as well, say the pair. 

“As in-person meetings are replaced with video conferencing, or even platforms like Slack where you can touch base when necessary, there is less pressure to be in a particular place at a particular time”, explains Waldern.

(Schedule too many video calls at one time, though, and ‘Zoom fatigue’ may start to set in, as many of us can attest to).

“It’s all about balance.”

How have you managed to adapt your engagement activities to the online world? What digital or online initiatives have been successful so far?

Girls in Tech Vancouver have already launched an innovative online concept: a Podcast Club. (Think book club, but online and with podcasts). The group hosted a live online listening party of the podcast “Women at Work – Make Yourself Heard”, followed by a discussion on female empowerment. This is an innovative approach to finding meaningful connections with other girls and women in STEM fields during a time when we cannot physically be together. Fortunately, we can expect more Podcast Club sessions in the future.

In June, the global Girls in Tech team hosted a Virtual Hackathon with over 400 global participants, focused on creating tech solutions to combat COVID-19. Participants were encouraged to develop solutions for a range of social and scientific challenges related to COVID-19, including accessibility to educational resources about social distancing, ensuring adequate distribution of PPE for frontline workers, and offering remote patient triage services. You can read more about the Hackathon here

Past Hackathon events at the regional level had been, like many others, hosted in one large space to allow for collaboration, communication, and feedback among participants. Girls in Tech were able to maintain an exciting level of engagement and connectivity between contributors on a global scale, with everyone at home and online. Participants were able to recruit team members, create team channels, and communicate with their team members – all using Slack. 

Girls in Tech have also compiled a list of webinars, master classes, and “global classroom” instructional videos for members. These resources include topics ranging from brand development, Python coding, and cybersecurity, but also themes such as health and wellbeing. 

“Helping members with their overall health during these times is just as critical as helping them develop technical skills,” says Chan. 

Girls in Tech also intends to share tips for effective work and communication habits during this new era of virtual online meetings. “Even seemingly simple things like turning on your camera while on a video call…this is really important for establishing good connections with others.” The goal is to emulate the experience of a face-to-face conversation as much as possible so that we are engaged (and accountable).

Tell us about the response so far to your new digital programs that you have featured online.

The team says it’s still a bit early to really understand how members have responded to new digital and online resources. “Sometimes I need to remember and appreciate just how early in the process we still are,” says Chan. 

Ultimately, the group tries to display the most important information in the visible online spaces.  “The goal is to not contribute to any online fatigue.”

What page has received the most clicks so far? The Job Board.

Chan elaborates, “This says something about what people are interested in and looking for right now. Some might be under the impression that job searches have slowed down, but we have these numbers to say that the opposite is happening, at least on our website”. 

How do you think programming and engagement will change in the “post-COVID” era, whatever that may look like? Do you think you will return to the same approaches as before? A combination of approaches?

Although the team is still busy exploring ways to amplify and support young women in technology under the current circumstances, they do have some predictions looking into the future:

  • People will value the ability to work remotely, and will be increasingly trusted by their schools and employers to do so.
  • The renowned novelty of in-person meetings and conferences will allow people to see them as exciting instead of exhausting.
  • Deciding when and where to have events will be a more strategic process.
  • Events will be more intimate compared to large gatherings, like global conferences.

Get ready for more collaboration between organisations as well, they say. “Non-profits and volunteer organizations may start to join together to provide broader support. People may begin to sign up or become a part of different organizations as their needs change.”

Do you have any advice to share on how to continue supporting girls interested in tech during these times?

“The retention of women, especially young women, in the technology sector is critical,” says Chan. “Keeping those support systems open and accessible is critical, especially considering the employment changes that may be happening during this time, or the transition from school to the job market for recent graduates.” The team encourages those who are looking for ways to grow professionally at this time to further develop essential skills – like public speaking.

For anyone who feels that navigating the tech field is a lot (or even too much) to handle at this time, Girls in Tech encourages you to reach out.

“We want you to know that you are not alone, and we can help you stay the course if that’s the journey you’re looking for,” says Waldern. 

Chan adds, “We have resources for whatever stage you are at right now – from listening to a podcast to gaining new skills in tech. For those who are taking this time to focus on their health or job security, we will support you by creating that space. When you are ready, we are here to provide you with the resources you need.”

What can we all still do during this time?

Here are a few things that the Girls in Tech team think are important to prioritize right now:

  • Self-care: We should make sure we are taking the time to just breathe. Take the time to find what makes you feel more present, especially if you have experienced job loss or a drop in job satisfaction as a result of COVID-19.
  • Use your voice: If you are feeling up to it, this could be a good time to learn how to use your voice more effectively, whatever that looks like for you – perhaps building your confidence in meetings.
  • Telling (and listening to) stories: This can be one way to find inspiration right now. Look for (or create!) videos, podcasts, and interviews online.

So what does this mean for you? “It’s okay not to be okay right now,” says Chan. Although you may feel pressure to focus on staying productive during these times, “We encourage everyone to take the time they need to feel ready to be productive again.” 

What can I do if I am looking for STEM resources at this time?

If you are looking to develop your professional and personal development, or would just like to learn more about the Girls in Tech organization, you can search their global site and Vancouver chapter here. Stay tuned for upcoming webinars, podcasts, and virtual events. Girls in Tech Vancouver also recommend taking some time to become familiar with organizations dedicated to girls and women in STEM that are still active and providing online resources. 

For resources available through SCWIST, visit www.scwist.ca/

Girls in Tech Vancouver understands that organizations still care deeply about supporting women and girls in STEM. The ultimate goal during these times is to create a sense of belonging for young women in the technology sector.

Regardless of your status as a student, working professional, mentor, or volunteer in STEM, learning to maintain engagement during COVID-era – specifically for girls and women – will vary depending on each individual’s needs. 

SCWIST would like to thank Ghislaine, Jennifer, and the Girls in Tech Vancouver organization for their time and ongoing support for girls and women in STEM, especially in this era of COVID-19.