Our founder, Linda Kekelis, shares her thoughts on supporting girls in STEM, shaping the Techbridge Girls experience, and leading fearlessly.
Leading fearlessly doesn’t mean not being fearful. I think it means acting in the face of fear, being able to confront fear and get through it and recognizing that it can be uncomfortable and scary and hard. That’s kind of how girls have to be in a Techbridge Girls program — you can have that feeling but not let it hold you back from doing things.
I felt then and now it really takes a network and a village to support girls in STEM. So very early on I realized how important it was to make a career connection for the girls. We started with girls in middle and high school but then went down to girls in elementary school because oftentimes by the time they got to 6th grade they were already kind of turned off to STEM or thought “this isn’t something I can do,” so the earlier the better. On the other hand, even with girls who were in high school who might never have thought about engineering, we realized that it’s never too late to be able to expose those girls to the Techbridge Girls experience and really turn them on to STEM. Role models have also always been integral to our model, women who really share their passion for what they’re doing and show what’s possible with engineering. But we also realized very early on how important it was to train role models.
Another key element that was really important thinking about lessons learned was engaging with families. Families are key decision-makers in terms of the afterschool programs that girls will be in or what they might do in the summer, or exposing them to an opportunity with a museum or another partner, so it was really important to empower the families of our girls with the resources that are out there and let them see the great opportunities in STEM and dispel some of the stereotypes that they might have had.
The other thing about leading fearlessly is being true to your beliefs and who you are and so even if you’re getting pressure from funders or from other people to be different or to do something different that doesn’t align with your inner voice of who you are and what the organization should be.
I think for me the whole passion for my work comes from who it’s for. There’s no way that I could give up on the girls knowing who the girls are. One great experience I had was at the start, being on the ground and knowing who girls were and visiting programs, so whether it was going after grants or an HR issue or figuring out new technology, all that was secondary to who we were doing it for, so there was no way we could give up on that because it was such important work.
I think there’s not just one ideal quality in a leader because I feel like It’s not a one size fits all for leaders. So I really feel like leaders need to be themselves and that can be very different. For some people it’s being very brash and bold if that’s who they are, for some it’s being humble and quiet because that’s who they are. Leaders need to hold on to their personal style,so girls looking up can see that they can be themselves, and not feel like she has to be a particular girl or woman or leader. This to me is Leading Fearlessly.