Student-founded She Leads pairs teen girls with female entrepreneurs
USC senior Avni Barman thought there should be support for getting women into positions of power at tech companies, so she did something about it
Avni Barman, a USC senior, remembers the first day she interned at LinkedIn.
She was excited about the software engineering internship, where she would go on to create features that are used by thousands on the platform today. But, when she walked into its San Francisco office, she was a bit startled.
I was the only female on my entire team, she said.
Barman, and probably most of you reading now, are familiar with the statistics:
- Google reports that 31 percent of its overall staff is women. When you narrow those positions to leadership or engineering, it gets bleaker: Both are about 25 percent.
- About 2 out of 10 leaders are women at Yahoo.
- Linkedin reports higher numbers, with about 31 percent women in leadership positions.
For Barman, a bell went off. While there was a push for women in STEM careers, she thought there should be just as much support for getting women in positions of power at tech companies.
People tend to recruit people who look like them, said Barman, a senior at USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. My hypothesis is if we are able to create female founders, we are able to create more company cultures led by women and naturally help our diversity statistics.
She started to think: What if we tackled this at a younger generation who will be the generation of female founders?
This led Barman to come up with She Leads, a nonprofit mentoring program that pairs teen girls with female founders. In March, it will kick off with a two-day makeathon at Snapchat parent company Snap Inc.’s Santa Monica headquarters, where dozens of teen girls will get hands-on workshops on everything from marketing to product development. There will be a pitch competition, where a lucky dozen will leave as the nonprofits first cohort of mentees. The idea isnt just to get advice, but to help these young women bring their business ideas to fruition.
Student staff powers She Leads
In the months leading up, Barman and her team nearly all women of color and many colleagues in the academy have spent hours glued to their laptops. Theres sophomore Shirley Huang designing, sophomore Dani Boyce on branding and senior Sarah Kim tackling logistics and accounting and thats just a few. Nearly all pitch in on other stuff too, whether its design or coding.
Academy sophomore Kaitlyn Chu, overseeing partnerships, loves the idea of She Leads because she herself was a teen entrepreneur who, with zero guidance, was flying by the seat of her pants.
I had to learn a lot of stuff on my own, through YouTube and Google searches, Chu said, who made hand-designed iPhone cases in high school. I was super on board when I heard the concept. … Its something I would have wanted.
Its important, at an early age, for girls to see entrepreneurship as an option, the team said. Talking to female founders in her research, Barman said, the one commonality was how much their environments impacted them whether it was supportive fathers who brought them on business trips or seeing their mothers be breadwinners.
She Leads: Broadening exposure to entrepreneurship
Exposure to entrepreneurship shouldnt be limited to a fortunate group, Barman said, and thats the idea behind She Leads.
Barman is also the president of USC Girls in Tech, the only university chapter of the international organization, bringing its membership up from a couple dozen a few years ago to roughly 200 now. Shes created a scholarship to bring students annually to Grace Hopper Celebration, the biggest conference for women in computing in the world. She also hosts events, such as a hike around Griffith Observatory with NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to familiarize students with local tech companies.
For those who cant attend due to financial hardship, She Leads has scholarships available to attend the March event. And the group website, which will provide the communication and curriculum for mentors and mentees, will also have a DIY entrepreneurship handbook available for download.
Empowering young women in tech, it seems, has become a mission of Barmans and she has no desire to slow down.
Find out more about the She Leads x Snapchat Entrepreneurship Makeathon in March.