Bringing Women Back to Computer Science: SAP’s Inspiring Work

Stephanie Redivo

Women were first

At the outset of computer programming in the first half of the 1900s, women were synonymous with the field. They were instrumental in the great wars, consulting with organizations and government agencies on everything from cryptography to the space program to calculating the ballistic curve of artillery for improved accuracy. Through the course of their work, these women created standards in math and computer programming that are still foundational learning today. But by the time the “computer on every desk” mentality of the 70s and 80s came around, the demographic shift toward a male-dominated technology sector was complete. 

SAP, in collaboration with UBC’s Department of Computer Science, is working to rebalance the equation

This partnership began with the GIRLsmarts4tech program, designed to engage and inspire girls in Grade 7 to explore technology. Stephanie Redivo, Senior Program Manager of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Office at SAP, leads SAP’s efforts and is a co-founder of the initiative. Through employee volunteerism, mentorship, a combined donation of $115,000 over five years as well as providing venues for each event, it is obvious how much SAP believes in the cause. Through the combination of their work and UBC’s resources, Stephanie has spearheaded a campaign that, through more than 16 events, has reached over 800 girls.

But there is still more to be done. “We are changing the student population to one that is more diverse,” says Michele Ng, UBC’s program leader for the GIRLsmarts4tech outreach initiative. “SAP has helped us get to a point where we can expand the program’s reach. We are now looking to create initiatives that engage girls to continue to explore science and technology throughout their high school years, as well as reaching out to the LGBTQ community.”

Advancements in research and business are dependent on innovation. An industry dominated by a static mindset or a single gender is unlikely to think outside the box to implement significant change. SAP, understanding this need for fresh perspectives, has led the corporate charge to add diversity to the workplace, and their accomplishments have inspired companies like Microsoft, Broadridge Financial, ACL, Amazon, iQmetrix, PQA and Tasktop to join in these efforts.

SAP employs or has previously employed more than 800 UBC alumni and, since 1999, over 450 co-op students from multiple UBC faculties such as arts, applied science, business, and science have benefited from the hands-on experience of working at SAP. The upshot goes beyond merely filling out SAP’s labour pool as changing the demographic of an entire field has shown the value of working with UBC faculties and students.  As Professor Joanna McGrenere said it succinctly, "UBC Computer Science is very grateful for SAP’s support in promoting and encouraging young women in their pursuit of computer science education, and encouraging greater gender diversity more generally. It is critical for society that the representation of women in the information technology sector be increased. Industry support from SAP significantly strengthens our efforts at the university towards this goal."

The technology marketplace is in need of disruptors, and disruption occurs when new minds weigh-in on old problems. SAP’s Stephanie Redivo and UBC Computer Science’s Committee for Outreach, Diversity and Equity are endeavouring to gather as many new minds as possible to the cause. They are helping to inspire young women who are ready to lead, and the value in pursuing this vision through UBC is easy to see: we have the resources, the leadership, the proximity to the tech sector, and most importantly, the energized students willing to take on the challenges of the industry. 

Believing in the program and seeing the possibilities

SAP and UBC Computer Science have produced some incredible people who have risen in the ranks of world-renowned tech companies. These women are joining our outreach programs to lend their time, expertise, and inspiring accomplishments to a curriculum they truly believe in. A curriculum that, slowly but surely, is solving one of the great problems of the industry: the need for a new kind of leader. At every organizational level, the tech industry needs creativity, perspective, empathy, and people who are willing to try something new.

We are excited to bring you their stories as UBC Computer Science ramps up to its 50th anniversary in 2018. They remind us that women were there at the very beginning, helping to build the world of computer programming as we know it today. They were pioneers who saw the potential in a burgeoning science that could translate beyond the confines of a computer to address real-world issues.

When women helped begin the programming revolution, the field was novel and waiting for ground to be broken. Imagine what could be accomplished now as we face the vast canvas that technology has become. The possibilities are limitless.

And SAP, with UBC’s help, is making sure we have pioneers to explore every one.

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