Bloomberg Women in Technology (BWIT): Bringing Tech to Women and Women to Tech

(from left): Bloomberg Women in Technology (BWIT) Co-Founders Cheryl Quah, Esther Kundin, Yunfei Xu

Esther Kundin started her Bloomberg career nine years ago, as an intern. Today she is one of the company’s financial software engineers and one of three co-founders of Bloomberg Women in Technology, or BWIT, an organization that brings together people from across the company to focus on coding, leadership, and mentorship.

The role of women in tech interests Esther not just because of her own career; she’s also the mother of four daughters, all under the age of 10, and it’s their futures that she can’t help but consider when she looks at the role of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) today.

BWIT was set up in 2014, and is now taking its mission beyond the company’s walls—just as the world celebrated International Women’s Day this month. “Our mission is to bring women to tech and to bring tech to women,” says Yunfei Xu, engineering manager for portfolio and risk analytics at Bloomberg, and another of BWIT’s founding leaders.

Where Engineering stands today
In the U.S., women make up half of the total workforce, but fill only a quarter of math and computer science jobs, and a mere 13 percent of engineering roles, according to National Science Foundation data.

Growing up, Esther learned much of what she knew about technology and programming by looking over her older brother’s shoulder. “I came to tech late,” she says. “Access is a big deal.” It wasn’t until college that she decided to focus on computer science.

Her girls should have an easier start, Esther reckons—so she’s created the first robotics club at one of her daughter’s schools to encourage girls to learn more about the field. By setting up and growing BWIT, she, Yunfei, and other technologists at Bloomberg are trying to address the myriad barriers that stymie women from entering STEM careers today—starting with stereotypes that get reinforced in the aisles of toy stores. “What’s up with all this pink stuff?” says Esther, sitting at a conference table in the Bloomberg office, as she waves her arms in exasperation at the abundance of “girlie” toys she sees when shopping with her daughters.

Building a pipeline of talent
Perhaps most recognized for putting together the company-wide CodeCon R&D competition in partnership with CodeCon creator Rangan Prabhakaran, BWIT also does outreach work to educate girls about coding and engineering career options. In addition, it offers training and networking opportunities geared toward women engineers, as well as support and resources to women transitioning into leadership roles.

“It’s really important for girls to see role models,” says Cheryl Quah, a software engineer on Bloomberg’s government intelligence team. “We bring girls here to see the space and interact with actual engineers. A lot of girls, when you talk to them, ask, ‘What can I do to create a product that influences people?’”

To reach girls at this crucial young age, BWIT partners with Bloomberg Philanthropy & Engagement to help supply volunteers, create content for a variety of programs aimed at girls in STEM and connect with external organizations. For example, Bloomberg has partnered with the non-profit Girls Who Code, which teaches coding skills, and Microsoft’s DigiGirlz, which helps connect middle and high school girls to careers in the field.

“We have to start girls very young,” says Yunfei, who herself has been working in Bloomberg’s engineering group for 17 years. “Later on, it’s really hard to catch up.”

Leadership, mentorship, and networking support
The three ingredients engineering departments need to keep women engineers are leadership, mentorship, and networking support, say the founders of BWIT. Women working in science, engineering, and technology are 45 percent more likely to leave the field within a year than men in similar roles due to isolation, bias in training and performance evaluation and other factors, according to research by the non-profit Center for Talent Innovation. BWIT is driven by the knowledge that across the engineering space, the only way to prevent talented women from churning to competitors is to address problems proactively—instead of waiting for complaints.

Recruitment and human resources—where hiring and promotions issues often show up first—are other focal points for BWIT. Bloomberg also collaborates with external groups, like Women in Computer Science (WICS) at Columbia University, to bring more female representatives to campus during recruitment drives, as well as with the National Center for Women & Information Technology to promote unbiased interview and training methods to find new and prospective hires.

“Technology is something that is economically empowering for women,” says Cheryl. “The more girls and women we can help, the more we can make a difference.”

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