As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” For me, that’s what leading fearlessly is all about: moving confidently into new places that life may take you. During my three and a half years as the CEO of Techbridge Girls, I’ve experienced this fearless leadership on both a personal level and an organizational level. In my own life, as a first-time CEO, I was able to move Techbridge Girls forward as a financially solvent organization, while expanding our footprint nationally. At the same time, as a woman of color — a black woman, specifically — I stepped into a role that has set ideas of what a CEO should act like and look like. Every day, as I work within the reality of our systems and biases, I’m also working to change that reality for the next black girl CEOs coming after me.
As an organization, Techbridge Girls is leading fearlessly in a similar way. We are entering this new chapter with an eye towards movement-building and systems change to ensure no girl is left behind. Building on two decades of creating high-quality STEM programming to help our girls thrive and lead in the STEM field, we are committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent our girls from moving ahead. I believe we are in the next generational revolution, the STEM revolution, and if our girls are not part of it, then we’re going to continue to perpetuate the same challenges and systemic oppressions of communities that we see today.
These challenges include statistics like “80% of jobs will require STEM skills in the next 10 years,” and “17% of girls aged 5-17 live in poverty.” My biggest concern for the future is how we will get those 17% of girls on a pathway toward STEM so that they can reap the benefits of the economic promise of a STEM career and ensure that we, as a nation, stay competitive in innovation by filling those jobs. Until we actually start talking about this as a social justice issue and addressing the root of why this is so important — not just to diversify industry, not just to improve a workforce, but the systemic issues of leaving girls from our communities out of this revolution — we’re not going to see any movement. As we step confidently into the next decade, we have to change culture, policy, perceptions, and behaviors.
I want us to lead fearlessly into a new future where we’ve created parity and equity for girls to pursue, thrive, and lead in a STEM career, to the point that Techbridge Girls does not need to exist by 2040. I want us to look back and think that this was an anomaly, a blip of time we had to get right. Our organizational goal for 2040 is to galvanize a movement across our industry and community, and my personal goal is to work myself out of a job. That would be the greatest gift that I could ever receive: that I am no longer needed at the helm, because Techbridge Girls is no longer needed in our society.
Watch Nikole’s TEDx Talk on how we can reimagine the STEM revolution for every girl!