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Randi Zuckerberg Tells Chattanooga Crowd Bridging Gender Divide in Tech Requires Starting at Early Age

This article was originally published on timesfreepress.com.


When Randi Zuckerberg began working in the male-dominated Silicon Valley nearly 15 years ago, she said she was sure that within the next decade that the share of women in technology, computer science and business startups would grow.

But instead, the gender gap has not improved, and by some measures has gotten worse. Even though women comprise 56 percent of all professional workers, women still make up only about a fourth of all IT jobs, and female entrepreneurs still get only about 5 to 8 percent of all venture funding.

"We're not tackling the problem soon enough and at an early enough age," Zuckerberg said during a visit to Chattanooga Thursday as the keynote speaker for the Impact leadership dinner by the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute. "Even if we don't say a word to girls about what we expect of them, they see what is around them."

To entice more girls and women into science, technology, engineering and math careers, girls need to see role models and be encouraged to develop their problem-solving skills at an earlier age. Parents often don't give girls video games or tech gadgets as early as they do boys and pop culture overwhelmingly highlights boys or men in technical, engineering and science roles, Zuckerberg said.

As an early employee at Facebook, which was started by her brother Mark, Zuckerberg led a number of major new marketing initiatives and saw the need to encourage more women in the business.

She was nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for her innovative coverage of the midterm elections, which combined television and social media. Zuckerberg also helped create Facebook Live, which is now used by more than 1 billion people around the globe.

After leaving Facebook, she launched Zuckerberg Media to create media content that puts tech-savvy, entrepreneurial women and girls at the forefront. Zuckerberg has published three books, "Missy President," New York Times bestseller "Dot Complicated" and "Dot" which she has turned into a television show that debuted last October on NBC's children's network Sprout.

"When I was working on Dot I took a look at everything else that was on TV and could not find a single show about science, math or technology that featured a female lead character," she said. "Every single episode of Dot we try to feature some way that kids are learning about space, flying drones, building robots or doing other activities where Dot is taking tech outside on an adventure."

Dot is an 8-year-old girl, and the show targets children viewers from age 4 to 8 years old.

By the time most girls are introduced to the tech playing field, they often are already behind their male counterparts.

Zuckerberg stressed there is a big difference between screen time and tech time.

"Too often when parents think about kids and tech their minds go to an image of a kid glued to an iPad on a sofa," she said. "You can introduce children to technology without gluing them to a screen."

Zuckerberg said she gives her own two children little screen time, but tries to encourage tech and engineering development by letting them play with robots, games and puzzles. But she also said television viewing "is the main area of cultural influence" even with the growth of social media and other types of video and VR technology.

"The game is changing, but I still feel that if you want to talk to parents and you want to talk with children you do need to be on television," she said. "I come from a world of internet and social media, but I would love to do more TV."

In her address to the CWLI, Zuckerberg said all persons need to be entrepreneurs, whether they start their own business or work on new initiatives within bigger companies, organizations or nonprofits.

"There are always ways that you can bring a fresh new idea to the table, try something new or try a new way of doing what you are doing," she said.

Changing a company culture can be difficult and often people fear that change will mean more work at a time when many workers are already shouldering more responsibilities, Zuckerberg said. But after the initial learning curve, new technologies and ideas often can make jobs simpler, easier and better.

"It can be scary to think of failure at all, but as they say in Silicon Valley, the key is to fail fast, learn from your mistakes and move on," she said.

Zuckerberg toured local business incubators Thursday and praised Chattanooga for turning itself around from a manufacturing-based "Dynamo of Dixie" to the "Gig City" focused on encouraging more business startups and technology ventures.

"This city is doing a pivot and it's one of the most entrepreneurial things I've seen in America," Zuckerberg said. "It's amazing."