By Gwen Tilghman May 02, 2017
From an early age, I have always been interested in topics relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). So when I started college and was able to learn any subject of my choosing, it was no surprise that I decided to pursue an engineering degree. However, what was surprising was that I seemed to be the only girl to do so, or at least that’s how it felt sitting in a room full of boys throughout many of my classes. Perhaps it should not have been because even though women now represent 47 percent of the workforce, only 12 percent of engineers are female.1
While I graduated from college a few years ago, that same ratio still seems to have followed me in my post-graduate life, all the way to KKR in my work with technology companies as part of the firm’s technology, media and communications (TMT) investment team. Put simply, as I look around the many rooms I’ve occupied in Silicon Valley, I see far too few women. Personally experiencing this gender imbalance in the field of technology, and not quite understanding why it exists, propelled me to take action and get involved in trying to close the STEM gender gap.
I believe education is the first step in closing the STEM gender gap, so I started through volunteer work with Circle of Women and Library for All, both non-profits aimed at making education equally accessible across the globe. Through my work in the non-profit world, I had the opportunity to attend the United State of Women Summit this past summer, where I met an organization that, in my opinion, presented the perfect intersection of my interests in technology and education: Girls Who Code.
Girls Who Code is a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. Its programs inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. They have been especially effective in impacting skills development for girls in their formative years. At the completion of this academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached 40,000 girls in total covering all 50 states during its five-year history. In fact, an impressive 93 percent of their summer program participants said that they now want to major in, or are interested in, computer science because of their participation in the program – that means no longer being the only woman in the classroom!
As I started to get more and more involved in the organization, I became impressed with how much Girls Who Code functions like KKR: they are highly entrepreneurial, they think big, and they strive to maintain a culture of excellence. They are also both extremely focused on Inclusion and Diversity. While Girls Who Code’s efforts in this area may be more obvious, KKR has made important strides to create a more diverse workplace, starting with the creation of our Inclusion and Diversity Council in 2014, which is led by eight of the firm’s most senior leaders.
Thinking more expansively, it struck me that KKR, with its broad platform and scale, could make a unique corporate partner for Girls Who Code – one that extended well beyond the four walls of KKR. After expressing this to a representative at Girls Who Code, I learned that one of my colleagues, Ted Oberwager, was already on the case! I teamed up with Ted, and like any investment we’re considering, we began our due diligence and business plan building – getting to know the Girls Who Code leadership team, speaking with senior executives at large corporations who have already worked with the organization, and visiting the Girls Who Code classrooms to see firsthand how they impact young women across the country. It wasn’t difficult to see that Girls Who Code would be one of the best “investment” opportunities that I would find, and I was thrilled to discover my colleagues agreed with me – not only on the TMT team, but across the firm broadly including IT, Public Affairs, KKR Capstone, and – of course – the IDC. Every area of the firm wanted to be a part of this initiative and today, we collectively are proud to formally announce our partnership with Girls Who Code, alongside two of our portfolio companies First Data and GoDaddy who are each sponsoring a Summer Immersion Program in their local communities.
We hope that this will be just the first of many announcements we make with Girls Who Code, and in the future we plan to expand the program more broadly throughout our portfolio – after all, this is not just a technology issue, this is an every company issue – and at KKR itself. Please join us in our efforts to promote more women in STEM, ultimately resulting in a more competitive and prosperous workforce for our entire nation.