International Girls in ICT Day was eventful in the Cisco Toronto office – we hosted high school girls from Cardinal Leger Secondary school for a unique opportunity to speak with counterparts over 1,000 km away in North Carolina. The day was meant to be an exciting introduction to technology careers, but as usual, we not only had fun but also learned a lot more than we expected from the girls. And in an industry struggling to attract female talent, we were all ears.
Here are some of the lessons we learned from the Cardinal Leger students, and how you can put them to good use if you’re interested in holding a similar event. (Are you listening Canadian educators?)
Just coming to the office was an experience for them. We got comments like “Wow, you have such a nice office! We thought all engineers worked in a lab with wires hanging over their head!” Coming into the work environment helped demystify what a typical workday is like for a person working in the technology sector.
Technology is part of their life. Now. As part of the day we asked them to prepare a slide presentation to share using Cisco Telepresence with the girls in North Carolina. As part of our preparation, we had created a template so they could “fill in the blanks” but when it came to that part of the day – it all got thrown out the window. “We know how to use PowerPoint, just give us the computer!” and they took over making something far more creative than we expected.
Technology is taken for granted. One of the “wow” parts of the day was supposed to be using our Telepresence meeting with the girls in North Carolina. We thought that the technology would be “cool” – but it actually faded into the background.
What was cool was telling their new friends about Canadian specialties like poutine (reaction from the girls in North Carolina “Ew – what is that?”) and Tim Horton’s, and bonding over common passions for Justin Bieber and the TV show Degrassi.
If you want to host a similar event at your office, or coordinate a field trip through your school board, here’s how to put the above lessons in action:
The smaller the group of students, the more effective. What we found is that any group larger than 20 students gets harder to manage – it’s more complicated to keep them engaged and they can become a bigger distraction to your office.
Give them things to do. Spending hours giving presentations is a recipe for disaster. You will end up with a group of bored, grumpy teenagers – they were looking forward to the field trip because it was not school. They do not need more adults talking at them!
For this field trip we started them off with a scavenger hunt – we brought in Cisco volunteers and gave the girls a list of facts (who has an MBA, who worked in the USA, etc.) Then they had to interview us to find who matched the facts.
Get volunteers close to their peer group. For a high school student it is easier to relate to somebody who is closer in her journey towards a career. So a new grad is going to be more relatable than me, who could be their mom.
Consider utilizing the above tips when you plan your next high school / office visit, and see what kind of engagement you get from the students. If you have additional suggestions, I’d love to hear them below.