-Kasia Chmielinski, White House Digital Services Expert, 2018 Women Can Do Keynote Speaker
A few months ago, I led a product design workshop at a Girls Who Code event in New York for twenty rising high school juniors. The students worked in pairs to design ‘better backpacks’ for each other; every student came up with a design unique to her partner’s needs. The final set of sketches included such wonderful features: everything from zippers with thumbprint readers for enhanced security, to compartments for carrying an extra pair of heels, to less visible ‘tampon pockets’. At the end, one student raised her hand and asked, ‘How come we came up with these designs in only one hour, and yet there are no backpacks with these designs already on the market?’ The truth is that these features don’t exist because the people making backpacks are generally not young women, nor are they building backpacks for young women.
This question is at the heart of why I think it’s important for girls and non-binary kids to get involved in making things early and often. Your end product – software, tools, machines, algorithms, services – will look like the team that created it. If women and non-binary folks are not designing, building, and testing the work, then their needs and perspectives will also be left out of the vision. We must be part of the conversation and the design if we want to see services and products out there that reflect our needs. My hope is that young women and non-binary people will start to expect more from the world around them – and will begin to realize, like those students in New York did, that if they want to see a change in the industry and in the world, then they must be part of that change.