On March 31, 2017 we were incredibly proud to partner with Made By Girls (MBG) — a STEM education program dedicated to empowering girls — to organize a VR workshop and career day for girls at the Unity offices in San Francisco.
Research tells us how valuable role models and mentors are for bridging the gender gap in STEM fields and changing the way young people relate to technology. As Jacqui Frost explains in an article at The Society Pages, the term “role model” was coined by sociologist Robert K. Merton to describe ways that people mirror sets of behaviors they admire in others. Exposing girls and young women to successful females in STEM fields increases their likelihood to do well in STEM classes, feel a greater sense of confidence and belonging, and have more pro-science career aspirations. On the other hand, mentors help navigating careers and also combat negative stereotypes about STEM. A report by the National Coalition Girls’ Schools characterize role models as lighthouses: “They offer a steady point of reference as we travel through complicated waters," while mentors “forge an on-going close connection with students and offer one-on-one guidance”.
Armed with these data and our goals of democratizing development and enabling success for future developers, we organized a job-shadowing kind of event in which young women would spend an afternoon at the Unity SF offices interacting with female technical staff, doing activities and discussing careers in technology. MBG selected 5 girls to participate.
Lolita Amica, from our Recruiting department, started the afternoon off with a tour of Unity’s SF offices. The young visitors got a peek into the daily tasks of working on Unity products and games as burgeoning designers and engineers, learned interesting facts about the building and had a chat with my boss Sylvio Drouin, VP of Unity Labs, who told them about learning to code at 9 years old and later following his passion.
The tour was followed by lunch where we joined by other female technical staff. It was a chance for women to talk about what’s been surprising, challenging, and rewarding about working in the tech field. The girls also talked about their interests and even shared advice with each other.
The highlight of the day came after lunch: a virtual reality workshop conducted by Crysta Frost, Production Associate at Unity’s Education department. They worked from their own design document to customize the journey of a character called Mona the elephant, learned about animation, manipulating points in 3D space, and how much teamwork matters in building beautiful games and experiences with Unity.
We conducted pre and post surveys and obtained exciting results. We also got positive verbal feedback from everyone involved.
Our 5 young visitors had little to no Unity experience before this day. All of them expressed that this was an enriching experience. Responses to the question about something they learned from the Unity mentors that they didn't know before included “VR programming” and “I learn[ed] that meeting incredible people all together can make awesome games out of ideas." They also loved the VR workshop and were excited to see the Unity offices:
“My favorite part was the tour because it was nice to see the different places people work.”
“I enjoyed doing the workshop after lunch.”
“Every time with this awesome woman is really fun.”
Regarding interest in Computer Science, pre-surveys showed the average for the group at 3.8/5. The post-surveys average is 4.6/5.
The experience was also inspiring and quite beneficial to the Unity staff involved. Lunch was an opportunity for women in different departments and teams at Unity to relate and learn about each other. Several of them commented on how it brought another layer of meaning to their career to hear how inspiring their work was to the girls. It was a galvanizing experience for both girls and women. In post-surveys, the majority of mentors rated the usefulness/importance of participating in this event to their career as 10/10. They all agree that this kind of event creates social change, and 2 out of 3 reported benefits in terms of professional networking and adding fun to work.
It was a successful day where we made an impact on giving girls the confidence to see themselves as builders, creators, and leaders.
All of us at Unity and Made By Girls plan to continue working with girls and women for VR workshops and other opportunities to engage. We think VR provides a valuable lens through which young people can reimagine the realm of the possible and engage in a meaningful, personal level with STEM.
Finally, allow me to give a big shout out to everyone involved (in alphabetical order):