I vividly remember being a young girl with a passion for video game design. My dream was to work for Nintendo, creating a game that would take Mario and his tribe on a journey around the world, fighting Bowser at every stop. But when I saw the requirements for a computer science major, my dream was shattered. My math skills weren’t strong enough for the many calculus classes listed. I gave up on my dream. It’s only now looking back that the path to that dream was not linear.
While one path might have required math, other paths might have not.
Looking back, I realize that I was not alone in this experience. Many girls and women are discouraged from pursuing their dreams because they don’t see people like them in the industry, or they don’t have access to the tools, resources, or mentorship they need to succeed. It’s a driving motivation behind a course I created for high school students that anyone can implement called, “Design Your Future: How to Figure Out What’s Next.”
The course is designed to help learners create an online presence and portfolio using LinkedIn through which they explore their strengths, interests, and career aspirations so they can make informed decisions about their future. Because let’s face it, traditional high school education focuses on teaching math, science, English, and history, but doesn’t provide much guidance on how to navigate the real world.
I was fortunate to have a teacher named Bruce Baron at UC Irvine who created that space for me to explore my passions and interests. And now, in my field, I have the opportunity to advocate for access, mentorship, and support for girls and women who dream of a career in technology.
Life has a beautiful way of bringing us full circle and I’m so grateful to be in a field where I get to advocate for this every day. I remind myself of this quote by author William Gibson daily:
“The future is here. It just isn’t evenly distributed.”
Expanding Mentorship and Access: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality. This theme emphasizes the role of technology and innovation in promoting gender equality and empowering women. It recognizes the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities and seeks to address the lack of inclusion of women and other marginalized groups in the technology sector. Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. The lack of inclusion, by contrast, comes with massive costs: as per the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, women’s exclusion from the digital world has shaved $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade.
As we think about how to address this challenge I’m reminded of Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) who said:
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
In this post, I’m going to share three strategies anyone can implement to expand mentorship and access for all learners.
Strategy 1: Build a Professional Network
Ultimately what allowed me to come full circle was being able to network beyond my proximity. Social media platforms, particularly LinkedIn are invaluable for being able to simply browse job titles as you scroll through your feed, or share your ideas and ask your questions to people you would otherwise not even know existed. When I began to actively share my ideas, and experiences online it allowed me to connect with people who I could learn from. While I didn’t quite make it to learning how to code and working for Nintendo, I was recruited by Apple and had the privilege of advocating for the Everyone Can Code program that teaches coding to students K-16. What I appreciate about LinkedIn is that it is both a portfolio and a platform.
In today’s world, your first impression is often a digital impression. Think of it this way – LinkedIn is the party, and your profile is your outfit. In the same way you dress your best when you go to a networking event, or an interview, your profile needs to be given the same attention. In the same way we learn to spark interesting conversations at a networking event, your profile needs to be a conversation starter. How? A dynamic headline that shares your vision and values. If you want to get started you can download my free guide where I share the four elements every LinkedIn profile should have. What do the results look like?
Here’s one example.
Meet Maria Maldonado. We teach a design thinking course together at the University of Southern California. This is what Maria’s LinkedIn looked like prior to our time together.
The problem, it doesn’t even remotely tell you anything about her values, her passion, and her vision for the work she does and wants to expand. After 30 minutes here is what she created. In just a few moments we learn so much more about her:
Strategy 2: What Energizes You
It’s the simple things that we often miss when thinking about innovation. The things that often don’t require technology, but rather require a deeper human connection. When we begin by asking people about their fears, their motivations, and their dreams we create cultures of innovation that begin with empathy. We’re all great at something, but we can’t be great at everything. When we create a strengths-based team we allow everyone to come to the table with what they are energized by.
How do you learn what energizes you? By far every student’s favorite activity from the course, “Design Your Future: How to Figure Out What’s Next” is the Sparketype. It’s a unique and free assessment that measures what energizes you at work. Why does it resonate? Because self-awareness is the number one area that unlocks everything else. Students want time and space to learn more about themselves, so that they can articulate their challenges, values, and dreams. In this article, Claire, a former VP at Google shares that self-awareness was the number one quality she looked for when hiring:
Sure, your experience and skills matter, but they can be learned. And when someone is highly self-aware, they’re more motivated to learn because they’re honest about what they need to work on. They also relate better to their colleagues and managers.
Strategy 3: Sharing Your Story
This strategy was inspired by a recent session with students at Synergy High School. As they were getting ready to create their LinkedIn profiles we talked about the challenge of writing about yourself. This is where generative AI tools like ChatGPT can bridge the gap between those who get support, whether it be family or someone that is hired, and those who don’t have the access or means to do so. In the course, I share a framework students can use to write their about me. We customize this template however it’s a great starting point to understand how to use prompts to craft the first draft of your “About Me” statement.
Step 1: Have students write a list of their strengths and skills, their goals, 3-4 projects and experiences, and 2-3 words they would want someone to use to describe them.
Step 2: Use the prompts below to generate a draft of an “About Me” statement using ChatGPT
The image is an excerpt from the guide, “Unlock Your Potential with LinkedIn” and you can download it for free here.
How might we design experiences to accelerate and advocate for more mentorship and support for girls and women who have dreams and aspirations, especially in fields that are traditionally male-dominated? We must provide more access and exposure to the possibilities that exist and show them that there are many different paths to success. As Edelman says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” LinkedIn is one way to expand exposure to the many opportunities today’s world offers.
As we celebrate the achievements of women around the world on this International Women’s Day, let us remember that every girl and woman deserves the chance to pursue her dreams, reach her full potential, and make a positive impact on the world. If you want to learn more about how you and your students can use LinkedIn to create a portfolio and a professional network, you can book a time with me here.
In the meanwhile, get that profile ready to unlock your professional potential with my free guide.
I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.
Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities.