UPDATED 11:41 EST / MARCH 14 2022

POLICY

Inclusion leader weighs in on community outreach, gender bias and why breaking things is a good start

Listening to community members is the first step to understanding their needs — and how to help.

From an idea in a team meeting to global outreach, thinking backward from community needs to organic solutions kickstarted a youth development program.

“The [AWS] Think Big Space started with teachers talking about emerging technology and how it can be difficult to keep up with what’s next,” said Cornelia Robinson (pictured), senior manager global data center operations and manager of global inclusion and outreach programs at Amazon Web Services Inc. “What do we need? How do we help our students prepare for jobs that may not even exist right now?”

From this framework, the idea that started as a tech lab has grown into an international program, supplying an instructional lead to develop curriculum, AWS’ leadership principles and a classroom experience for the community.

Robinson spoke with John Furrier, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during the Women in Tech: International Women’s Day global event. They discussed community outreach, gender bias and why breaking things is a good start.

Disruption across the board

Breaking the perpetuation of stereotypes requires that children see examples of diversity across all fields. This is especially true in technology, where fewer than a quarter of tech jobs are filled by women.

“We see that bias starts early,” Robinson said. “This is not something that people show up for work and all of a sudden there’s all of this bias. It’s the way that young people are socialized. We should be encouraging people to pursue certain areas based on interest and not gender.”

The idea that girls and women belong in the tech field is not particularly controversial. But the reality is that from an early age, girls are shunted into arts, humanities and so-called soft sciences such as sociology. Showing girls and other underrepresented groups that they have a place in technology starts with having strong role models and seeing people in positions who look like them, according to Robinson.

Gender and other biases are not the only area of targeted disruption. A penchant for breaking things may be an internalized personality trait in STEM careers, Robinson said.

“It’s been really exciting to see students tinker and try new things,” she said. “And they know that if they break something, it’s OK because we can come up with a way to fix it. And in the process of fixing it, they come up with something else.”

Access and visibility are essential to building a diverse workforce. The ubiquity of technology gives this generation of children a leg up, but extending STEM education to all youth, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status, takes steps to level the tech playing field.

“AWS infrastructure is all over the world, and we strive to make sure that in the places where we build and operate our cloud, we’re being good neighbors and striving to be Earth’s best employer,” Robinson said. “And my role ultimately aligns those things into both inclusion and outreach.”

Here’s the complete video interview, part of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the Women in Tech: International Women’s Day event:


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