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Championing Women and Girls in Tech, with Lorraine Hariton

Championing Women and Girls in Tech, with Lorraine Hariton

Episode 101: Championing Women and Girls in Tech, with Lorraine Hariton

Lorraine Hariton’s illustrious career has stretched into every sector - public, private, and now, as SVP of Global Partnerships for the New York Academy of Sciences, nonprofit. What all of her experiences hold in common is STEM. Lorraine started working in computers in the 1970’s, and her knowledge of technology opened many doors for her. Now she wants to open those doors for future generations of women. In this episode, Lorraine talks about how we must champion women and girls in tech, as this is where the fate of our future lies.

Episode Transcript

00:11 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host, Maricella Herrera. How's it going today, Maricella?

00:20 Maricella Herrera: Pretty good, except I'm really hungry.

00:23 KW: Yes, I promise you can eat right after this, I know.

00:27 MH: I'm always really hungry. [chuckle]

00:27 KW: Well, and we work in an office with an abundance of snacks, which makes it really hard.

00:32 MH: Right. And then Katharine, our producer, comes in and is munching on veggie sticks and popcorn and stuff while we're recording.

00:40 KW: Not the fresh veggie sticks.

00:42 MH: No, of course not. [chuckle]

00:46 KW: 'Cause we like the... And I'm always trying to figure out how much veggies are really in the veggie chip things.

00:52 MH: I think just probably the coloring.

00:56 KW: If you read the bag, 'cause I have, they swear that there's a lot of vegetables in this, but it's just hard to wrap your head around.

01:03 MH: It's almost lunchtime so it's good.

01:06 KW: Okay. Cool. Well, our guest today, Lorraine Hariton is... She's really interesting, she and I are actually on a UN Women Global Innovation Coalition together, where we're looking at how to support women as innovators and how to use innovation to solve social problems for women, particularly in developing nations. And so, there's just a lot of interesting work we'll be coming out with in the next couple of months with that coalition. But I met Lorraine, who is a new grandmother. I have to call that out. She's really excited about that. I met her through that, and her story is just so incredibly interesting because she started out in science and technology many years ago, and has really interesting perspective on what that was like, her experiences and then to how she got to where she is today, which is the SVP of global partnerships at the New York Academy of Sciences, where she's doing some amazing work to create programming and a pipeline for future generations of women in technology.

02:16 MH: That's awesome.

02:17 KW: Yeah. Talk about like full circle and giving back. She really is incredibly passionate about helping get young girls and women excited about STEM.

02:27 MH: That is very cool.

02:28 KW: Yeah. Did you ever think about science and going to school for that?

02:35 MH: No, when I was a kid. I remember though that I went to college. When I first went into college my major was marketing, I decided that wasn't my thing, which is very ironic. And was trying to figure out what I was gonna do next. I ended up doing finance but one of the things I thought was maybe going into industrial engineering. And I was actually really, really serious about going into engineering and I talked to my dad who was an industrial engineer and he's like, "Are you sure? You're probably not gonna like it and... "

03:15 KW: What is an industrial engineer?

03:17 MH: It's a lot of strategy, operations, and processes actually, which is really funny. But he did not think it was a good fit. [chuckle]

03:27 KW: Interesting. Well, my parents... I wonder about that 'cause you see some kids who follow in their parents' footsteps professionally. My dad's a dentist and my mom's a nurse, and none of us in my family can stand the sight of blood.

03:42 MH: Really?

03:42 KW: Maybe we're just such wusses. So it's funny, none of us even went close to that route, but...

03:48 MH: That's funny.

03:49 KW: And I worked in my dad's dental office for years. For years.

03:53 MH: Yeah, you said that.

03:53 KW: I mean, I basically have all the skills to succeed and knowledge to succeed. I should have just gone to medical school. Yeah, except that only blood...

04:03 MH: Right.

04:04 KW: That's a problem.

04:07 MH: I ended up with finance, which is, I would say, it's not STEM but still pretty math heavy.

04:12 KW: Yeah.

04:13 MH: Did you ever think of anything like that? 'Cause I know you're an English major.

04:16 KW: You know what? I didn't. I always really loved English and social studies, more of the humanities and even... I went to Catholic school in my whole life from the time I was four till I was 21, and my experience in those schools were that they were much heavier focused on the humanities and English...

04:43 MH: Interesting.

04:44 KW: Social studies, history than on the math and science. I was never great at science, I enjoyed it but I loved math. Loved math. So yeah, I don't know. That's my hindsight impression and very far removed from that time wise now, and maybe skewed.

05:06 MH: Right. There wasn't as much of a push to get girls and especially girls at a young age, into these fields, and it's great to see the work that's being done now to cultivate that pipeline.

05:19 KW: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Well, Lorraine will share more of that on the podcast. Do you have a quick poll for us today?

05:26 MH: I do. We haven't been sharing info, and stats with you lately, but I have one now.

05:31 KW: Okay.

05:32 MH: What do you think is the main cause of lack of gender diversity in tech?

05:38 KW: Oh, I mean, I think one is just the systems and structures we have in place that have inherent biases that keep girls from really being encouraged to go into those fields, and then once women are in those fields, from creating a culture and environment that is conducive to an equitable workplace, what does our audience think?

06:08 MH: Our audience agrees in most of these, 37% of our community said, "Bro culture in companies."

06:17 KW: There you go.

06:19 MH: 28% said hiring bias, 26% lack of women in STEM education, so cultivating that pipeline from the beginning. 5% said women are just not interested in tech. And I would really like to speak to those 5%. But who I would really, really, really like to speak to is this one person who said, "Genetics." If you don't remember, a few months ago there was this whole thing with a memo at Google, and...

06:53 KW: Said, women were genetically not predisposed.

06:55 MH: Predisposed, right.

06:57 KW: Predisposed to not be good with science and technology. Yeah, interesting, but you know what, that one person, thanks for sharing your opinion. We at Ellevate really care about providing a platform for all voices and having that open and honest and respectful dialogue around that 'cause that's how we see change, and that's how we'll move everyone forward is having these types of discussions. So that is an interesting poll. Thanks for sharing that, and I hope you enjoy my conversation with Lorraine.


07:42 KW: Lorraine, thanks so much for joining me here today on the Ellevate Podcast. We met on another panel with the UN Women and talking about how through private industry, education, non-profits, and other companies can band together to accelerate equality for women all over the world and use technology to do so. So, the first question I would just love to talk to you about, and it's a big one, but why is it important to you personally getting involved with UN Women and the work that they're doing?

08:19 Lorraine Hariton: Well, thank you, Kristy, that's a great question to start with. I have a long history in technology. In fact, I was fortunate enough to go to Stanford in 1976 and get a computer science degree. And then I spent 30 years in Silicon Valley in the tech industry as both an executive and an entrepreneur, starting out technically and moving myself up to be CEO. So, I've lived my life in that world, and it is sad for me to know that there's actually less women in tech now than there were 40 years ago when I got my computer science degree. And I think a lot of that has to do with cultural norms that have changed over that period of time, and we need to change that because the future of the world depends on technological innovation and women to be effective in the workforce and to help us make a difference for the future of the world need to be participating in that.

09:23 KW: So you talked about how women within computer science that gender gap is actually growing. Can you share a little bit more about that information? Because it's something that is a really interesting... Interesting is completely the wrong word for that, it's a startling trend, and I know you've spoken a lot about that.

09:47 LH: Well, in terms of all of sciences, and I work with the New York Academy of Sciences, and we have a big initiative called the Global STEM Alliance, which is aimed at increasing the depth, as well as the diversity of the global STEM pipeline. And certain areas, women have very good participation in the biological sciences, for example. But in the hard sciences, whether it's engineering or material sciences or IT, there's a real issue. And a lot of this, I believe, has to do with cultural norms. So in particular in the IT area, when I went through data processing, it was called data processing, it was in the back room. We used to use card decks, or it was in academia, and there was not really a viewpoint in the popular media or culturally on what computers were all about. In fact, if you've seen Hidden Figures, you know that women were doing computing, manual computing was an administrative thing. And some of them moved over to be computer programmers, but when the PC went into the home in the early '80s and then gaming became a big application, it became a boy's things to do. So those women who came of age in that arena, which are a lot of... My kids, the first generation part of the millennials, they had a cultural bias associated with computing, and that bias was that it was a boy things to do.

11:25 LH: And so when they ended up in middle school at the critical times around computing, they steered away from it, and they still do. So that's why we have the issue that we have.

11:38 KW: Do you think that that will shift now that so much is around cellphones and tablets? And I've got three little ones, girls and boys, and they're always on my cellphone, but equally. And they do different things maybe, but with games and apps and YouTube and all that good stuff, do you think we're going to start to see a shift because more girls are using technology in that way versus what you're talking about, the impact of gaming?

12:09 LH: Well, I hope it will. But I think we're trying to be more proactive about all this. So for example, at the New York Academy of Sciences and our initiatives we focus on three areas. Mentoring, so role models are really important and women, it's shown that one-on-one mentoring, circle mentoring, networking with people who are in the industry really makes a big difference. So, all the programs we have, we have a wonderful one-on-one mentoring program called 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures, which is a global program that gives high school girls a one-on-one mentor. We also do career coaching, career development, and we help them build what's called 21st Century Skills, which include communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. So, I think it's really important to create the right role models so the women who are in technology that are stepping up to mentor, I think that's really critical.

13:16 KW: Who was your role model when you were getting into technology?

13:20 LH: Well, that's interesting. I had a college professor, it was a man who encouraged me to go into computers. Actually, what he encouraged me to do is... I was always good in math. In fact, when I was a kid, and I still do, I had dyslexia. Because of that, I wasn't really good verbally, but I was very good mathematically so I was taking the math courses and then he suggested when I was in freshman year in college that I do a winter study. I was at a college in upstate New York that had no computer science curriculum at all. So I did a winter study and taught myself computing, and I loved it. And then, he encouraged me to transfer to Stanford where I ended up getting a computer science degree. So he was really an inspiration for me and changed my whole life.

14:10 KW: You said you graduated from Stanford in '76?

14:12 LH: Right.

14:13 KW: What was that experience like? Were there a lot of women in your courses?

14:18 LH: Well, like I said, the numbers were about 25% at that time and well, Stanford themselves, they've really done a good job. I think it's now up to about 40%, but on a national basis, it's less than that.

14:29 KW: Less, yeah.

14:31 LH: In fact, the numbers are really terrible. There's a graph that shows that if you look at the relative percentage of women going into technology in the '70s and '80s, like about two-thirds of the number of women went in as men, as ratio. And that was consistent and the number of people who went into computer science varies depending on how sexy it was at the time or what the job opportunities were and they varied over time. But you see, starting in the early '90s that the guys continue on, and the women go down to like 1% or 2% and the guys are up like 9% or 10%.

15:09 KW: Yeah.

15:10 LH: So you really see what's happening there. But at the time that I was there, it certainly wasn't the place that all the women were, but it was better than it is now.

15:20 KW: So how did you get to the New York Academy of Sciences? I know you're the SVP of Global Partnerships there now, but what did that journey look like getting to this place where you are?

15:31 LH: Well, I have a long journey, if you want me to talk about my journey.

15:33 KW: Yes.

15:35 LH: I had a computer science degree. I originally was a programmer actually for American Airlines in New York and then I went to work for IBM in sales. So I moved out of the technology area into sales, but still with a technical company, so my computer science background was still critical, and I think this is something people should realize that my technology background and experience has been helpful for me throughout my career. Even though the jobs that I actually did require sales skills and communication skills and other skills, but I've never had a problem having credibility as a technology person in technology companies. So, I wanna make that point. It's interesting, when Sheryl Sandberg left the treasury and went out to Silicon Valley, she spent 18 months trying to get a job at Google, and she didn't have a computer science degree because they only hire computer scientists.

16:36 LH: So, having technology literacy, it was important for me to have a career in the technology industry, even though I was not doing programming. And I think for women entering the workforce now, having digital literacy is gonna be absolutely critical. 75% of all jobs are gonna require a STEM background and digital literacy is a core competency that's gonna be required. My daughter is an artist, but she spends most of her time on a computer. And the fact that she's really competent in those programs and knows really how to work them is really critical to her success. So, having those core competencies is really important. And in New York, we have the CS for all, they're trying to build CS into the entire curriculum, so that it is a core... Something core for the 21st century. Anyway, that's a long way back to my history, but I wanna point out that I had a long career starting in sales, which is a strength of mine, and still is, working my way up through marketing and through general management. I started at IBM, and I spent 15 years at IBM, I got an MBA from Harvard.

17:50 LH: I was a C-Level executive at a midrange public technology company. I also ran two startups, one during the internet bubble around internet music, and then I also ran another startup in speech recognition area. And then I started getting involved in politics, and I became a major fund raiser for Hillary Clinton. This was in the 2008 cycle, and then she invited me to become her special representative of commercial and business affairs at the Department of State when she became the Secretary of State. And there, I was the key liaison for the business community, and I also launched a global entrepreneurship program there. And then when that was all done in 2014, I started consulting and doing some board work, and I started working with the New York Academy of Sciences. And I'm still working with them on about three-quarter time basis and then I do other board and some other work as well.

18:47 LH: But I really love my work there because it gives me an opportunity to really give back and to have important mission that is around how we can build a great pipeline of STEM professionals, particularly women and underserved minorities that can really make a difference to the future. Because the mission of the New York Academy of Sciences is to provide innovative solutions to the world's greatest challenges using research through science, using research, policy, and education. So if we do not have a well-educated and diverse pipeline of people going to the sciences, we will not be able to address these issues like climate change and population growth.

19:29 LH: All the things that are really issues for the world today, I'm reading about California right now, how California is gonna have to change with the climate change. So it's absolutely critical that we build a really strong, robust pipeline that have technical competencies to meet the needs of the jobs of the future.

19:50 KW: I wanted to touch quickly on the pipeline and actually on both ends of that spectrum because you mentioned the need for digital literacy, and I would love to start on the tail end of that pipeline, which is looking at the older generation and digital literacy and the efforts we can take in what should be happening to help those that maybe are later in their careers in their, I don't know what that age would be, 40s, 50s, 60s to develop those skills that maybe they didn't receive in college or didn't have coming up in the workforce to help them stay competitive within that workforce.

20:36 LH: Well, I think that's a really good question. I think we all need to realize that we do not really have these skills in the workforce and we need to force ourselves to, if you want to be competitive in the workforce, if you're going back after having a hiatus for child care or whatever it happens to be, that you need to be current with whatever the technology is. So, people need to spend the time to take the classes, to force themselves to do it. If not, they're gonna be sadly disappointed at their competitiveness. Unfortunately, especially in my experience, like in Silicon Valley, not only is there the sexism issue, there's an ageism issue. Now, some of this is grounded in real reality is that, especially in the highly technical fields, it's so easy to get out of date if you don't keep yourself current. So there's a bias towards hiring people who have recently learned all the skills, especially if you're doing a heavily technical job. But if you don't have the skill set to do the basic responsibilities of your job, if you're in marketing, you don't know how to do social media, you can't be competitive today. So people need to understand that and get themselves retrained.

21:50 KW: Well then, on the front end of that pipeline, when does that begin? When do we start talking to kids? And you've mentioned earlier about CS within the public school system, but is it at three, 13, 20... I mean, like what...

22:04 LH: I think it starts at two or three.

22:06 KW: Yeah.

22:06 LH: It starts very early, just like you need to read to your kids when they're babies. You need to get them comfortable with technology and fluid in the technology. And that's why the CS for all initiative is going from K to... All the way through the schools, people have to feel comfortable. And in general, what we call 21st century skills: Creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, are something that's really important because rote learning, knowledge, specific knowledge is not as important as the skills to think. And I've recently read this, I think some book on Einstein, and of course, Einstein said, "Creativity is more important than knowledge." And I think that's even more important for where we are today than it was a hundred years ago when he said that because knowledge is at our fingertips now. Now, we need to know how to utilize knowledge to create a better world.

23:06 KW: So much of what you've been talking about really resonates with me because I think the narrative around technology, and particularly even around kids and technology, has been getting them used to coding because they will eventually be a coder, developer for a startup or a tech company. But it's so much broader than that because we see the pervasiveness of technology across all industries. If it's a tech company, or if it's just a regular business, if it's a bank, if it's publishing media, knowing how to reach an audience online, knowing how to operate a business with technology tools and constructs, it's part of creating an educational pipeline that is comfortable with all of that and wanting to learn and to understand how that works. And then, of course, there's the further level of really specializing in creating and development of technology, but it's really interesting to think about how much bigger it is than just working in Silicon Valley.

24:30 LH: I totally agree. First of all, learning to code, that's a good thing to understand what it is to construct algorithms and how code is written. I think it's something that's good to know, but most people are not gonna be coding. And in fact, 20 years from now, we may not be coding at all. There's a lot of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and what we consider coding right now may not even be something you do 'cause we're elevating the level of what you need to do. But the understanding of logic and analytics, and data analytics is a big area now. That's why I'm saying that my degree in computer science in 1976, we used to code in FORTRAN. No one codes in FORTRAN anymore. [chuckle]

25:18 LH: But my understanding of what algorithms are, what data is, what statistics are, I'm involved with a startup right now, it's easy for me to understand what they're doing. I understand analytically and structurally what we're talking about. So we need to teach critical thinking and this is a big part of it.

25:41 KW: Do you have advice for women that are looking to maybe move from... If it's private sector, to nonprofit, to education, to government, whatever that may be, but how to navigate that?

25:51 LH: Yeah. It's interesting you say that I was having a conversation with someone recently that said, "Oh, you have the three sectors. You've been in public, private, and nonprofit." And that's true. I think that we need to focus on what our core skills are and leverage them into different sectors. It's possible to make these changes by majoring... Well, I used to say major on your majors. And my example of this is, actually my core best skill is sales and business development and networking. And it took me a little while to get to that. As well as analytical thinking, I guess. So those skills are used in lots of different places and in different sectors. So I'm doing development work mostly from the New York Academy of Sciences and partnerships. But I was doing that in Silicon Valley too.

26:48 LH: So I think that if people really focus on what are they really good at and what do they really enjoy doing, and then focus on where they can do that to do things that they feel passionate about. And we change what we feel passionate about. You know what? When I was working at IBM in the '80s, I wanted to be a branch manager and a regional manager and I was really into the IBM career path. And then I was in Silicon Valley, and the internet bubble's happening, I wanted to be the CEO of a startup. And then I moved my agenda, focus became more broadly on the world and that's when I got involved in politics. And now, I'm in a stage where I really wanna give back more, but I've applied my skill sets to these different areas at my network, which I've been up to bring along to these different sectors as well.

27:37 LH: So there are transferable skills that can lead you to have a fulfilling, rewarding life at different stages where your passions and your desires are different, and also your capacity to engage. So when I was raising two children and working, that's really the only thing I could do. But later on I expanded my horizons on to boards and things like that. So I also like to tell people, "You can do it all, but not all at the same time."

28:07 KW: Yeah.

28:07 LH: Because especially women, they think, "Okay, I've gotta do everything." Well, they can't do everything. You gotta focus on the priorities and realize that... I mean, I am now in my 60s, my children have been away from the household for about 12 years now. I've had all this time to have more flexibility in my life.

28:29 KW: Yeah, I'm definitely one of those women who... I'm always feeling like I'm behind, like I've got more to do, I've got more to do. [chuckle] But you realize we're living longer. That's like it's a journey, and it's not... It's like just about today.

28:45 LH: You know, people my age are also thinking about what are they gonna do if they're gonna live to a hundred? What are we gonna do for the next 20 years until we get into what used to be? It used to be at 70, you were really old. Now, it's more like 85. Dianne Feinstein's renewing her senate seat in her 80s.

29:07 KW: We've heard that quite a bit as well. Women who... Yeah, we're living to a hundred so you are in the workforce, say, you start working in your early 20s, you're in the workforce for 40 years and you're like, "Well, I still have like 40 years ahead and I don't wanna do this forever." And that's kind of full circle where having the technical fluency and confidence and competency can really empower you or give you the tools to really start your own business, to pursue your dreams, to do the things that you wanna do and not feel like you're limited by a lack of knowledge.

29:45 LH: Right. Well, if there's some trends like the gig economy is gonna help that also, where people are independent agents and they can fill in, in different ways. It also gonna help women in their 30s who are having children and trying to... That we don't all have to go into an office in downtown Manhattan and commute for two hours, and then come back to our kids at 8:00 o'clock at night.

30:05 KW: Yeah.

30:05 LH: It's like, who wants that? Right?

30:07 KW: Right. No. What are some of the other things you're excited about at the New York Academy of Sciences?

30:13 LH: We have a big initiative around enabling the UN Sustainable Development Goals through science and technology. We've had conferences on that. We are partnering with a company called Arm Holdings in the UK that provide semiconductors to have a big initiative called 2030 Vision, which is focused on R&D leaders of technology companies, learning how they can innovate in a sustainable way to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. So, just like we need as part of UN Women to make sure that people who are innovating innovate with gender in mind, we need people who are innovating to think about how it can be broadly impactful. Like when I said that I think that things like the birth control pill or mobile phones have really empowered women, I do think that if we can innovate with a lens in mind for how we accomplish the UN Sustainable Goals, we will even accelerate more of the impact we have in it. The millennial challenge goals, most of them were sort of met. So I'm hopeful that maybe technology will make a big difference in meeting these set of goals.

31:34 KW: I believe it will. I believe it will. Well, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast. It's been great to catch up with you and to hear your story and thank you for all the work that you're doing.

31:45 LH: Thank you, it's my pleasure.


31:47 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller. She rocks. And to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.


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