Craig’s New Crusade

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark hopes to narrow the gender gap by sending female computer science and engineering students to national conferences.

There’s a problem – and there are a lot of theories about it. That problem is the lack of women in the engineering field, according to Craig Newmark ’75, M.S. ’77. Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, is helping to solve that problem by funding female computer science and engineering students to attend national conferences, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the Society of Women in Engineering’s WE17.

“I can make things better with a little attention,” he said.

Case Western Reserve University is helping in its own way. Women are 33 percent of the student body in the Case School of Engineering, well above the national average of 18 percent. Additionally, the percentage of female faculty in the Case School of Engineering is about 16.3 percent, which also is above the national average of 15.7 percent.

Newmark, who created an online classified ad website used by 60 million people each month, spoke to students November 13 as part of a presentation to a Weatherhead School of Management course with entrepreneurial studies professor Scott Shane, Ph.D. He frequently responds to questions about his support of people and programs this way:

“I reference a quote from Kevin Spacey about what Jack Lemmon said years ago: ‘If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down,’” he says, adding that his wife, Eileen, is inspirational to him in helping women.

Over the past two years, Newmark has supported numerous CWRU female students in computing, allowing them to attend international conferences. GHC is billed as the largest gathering of women technologists (students and professionals) in the world.

Last year’s event, held in October, drew about 18,000 women. GHC promotes the inclusion of women in the technology field and offers networking opportunities and panels featuring well-known names in computing, catering to technical and career-related content. The most recent keynote speaker was Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The conference also offers professional development and a career fair, which provides students the opportunity to interview for jobs and internships.

In October 2014, nine female students from CWRU traveled to Phoenix for GHC. In October 2015, 16 women attended GHC in Houston, building on the momentum of the previous year’s trip.

“It’s empowering to be surrounded by other women who share my interest in tech,” says Lauren Jahnke ’18, a computer science major. “My favorite part is the panels, where you hear from women in the industry who’ve found success and become executives in their companies, because that’s where I hope to be someday. GHC makes me hopeful about the future for women in tech and inspires me to encourage other young women to pursue a career in technology. I’m glad I could be a part of it.”

Computer science major Anna Sedlackova ’19, shares her enthusiasm.

“As a software engineering co-op who works primarily in a male-dominated workplace, attending the Grace Hopper Celebration was incredibly inspiring,” she said. “Hearing other women talk about their experiences in computing gave me additional confidence that I can be successful in this field and encouraged me to support all female engineers and scientists in pursuing their dreams.”

At the conference’s career fair, each attendee was able to interact with companies that value diversity. Thanks to this opportunity, Sedlackova received a summer internship offer in the Bay Area with Apple.

“I would highly recommend the Grace Hopper Celebration to any female in STEM because it has not only made me a better leader and engineer but also secured my job prospects,” said Sedlackova, who is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta and the Hacker Society.

Newmark says the tech industry needs more skilled workers, which should mean a lot more women in computing. However, the industry hasn’t treated women fairly, says Newmark, who supports organizations such as the Women’s Startup Challenge and Girls Who Code.

WE17, which is billed as the world’s largest and most prestigious conference for women engineers, is another important event for women in technology. Last year, WE17 was held with the theme of “Always Connecting ... Always Engineering.” Exhibitors included companies such as 3M, Accenture, Amazon, Apple, Raytheon, Rockwell Automation, Siemens and Texas Instruments. The conference provided women ways to connect, discover career opportunities and pursue professional development.

“Every company exhibiting at SWE is hiring for tech positions, so there are a lot of opportunities there,” says Jahnke, who attended the conference three years ago. “I found my first college internship at SWE. The best thing I got out of it, besides an internship, was practice talking to companies and recruiters.”

Providing these opportunities for women will help close the gender gap in the tech field, Newmark believes.

“I want to create a new normal about women in tech, so we need to keep talking about it until it doesn’t seem all that unusual,” he said.

For more information about the Grace Hopper Celebration, visit ghc.anitab.org. For information about SWE, visit we17.swe.org.