Boston College Students Start Support Group for Women in Innovation

The group is designed to encourage more women to join the tech, entrepreneurship, and leadership fields.

(L to R) Ayako Mikami, Julie Bacon, Annie Weber, Emily Raleigh (Guest Speaker), Erin Cullen, and Arev Doursounian.

(L to R) Ayako Mikami, Julie Bacon, Annie Weber, Emily Raleigh (Guest Speaker), Erin Cullen, and Arev Doursounian.

There were about 60 students in Julie Bacon’s algorithms course at Boston College. Four were female.

“Low representation in the classroom is a tangible thing,” Bacon says, “and getting a grasp on how low these numbers are has given us fuel.”

That’s why John Gallaugher, an associate professor in BC’s Carroll School of Management, contacted four female student leaders and encouraged them to meet.

“It was an opportunity for us to discuss the lack of women that are in these tech and entrepreneurship clubs on campus,” says Bacon, who is the president of BC’s Women in Computer Science club. “The ideas were just flowing. The four of us were just so passionate.”

It’s that passion that ignited the BC Women Innovators Network, a resource for female students who are interested in tech, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Erin Cullen, Annie Weber, and Ayako Mikami joined Bacon, each representing one of three additional clubs—the Information Systems Academy, BC Women in Business, and the Boston College Venture Competition—and were interested in uniting the existing groups under one umbrella network.

“We all had similar interests in empowering women in innovation,” Bacon says, noting they wanted to serve as a support system for the “educated, skilled, and confident women” they were regularly spotting on campus.

The group held a kickoff event in late April with Emily Raleigh, a Fordham University student and founder of Smart Girls Group, a family of brands created to unite, empower, and inspire ambitious women. Raleigh, who Bacon says “really embodies what it means to be a student entrepreneur,” shared her story to an audience that Bacon says was “super inspired and hungry for more.”

Roughly 20 attendees—including two men—showed up to the kickoff, and later brainstormed about future events that would attract more women to tech. A coding day and salary negotiation workshop are now in the works for the upcoming academic year.

Bacon says that the group will be tapping into BC’s own alumni network to foster their own growth. “We plan on growing this network through different workshops, speakers, and mentorship,” she says.

If successful, women will start to fill more seats in the school’s clubs and classrooms.

“I think that a lot of women will come into an intro to computer science or information systems class and find there isn’t enough support for women,” Bacon explains. “It can be very intimidating when you’re one of four [females] in a class of 60.”

One solution would be to start introducing female students to tech earlier in their college career. Bacon says that she has been encouraging the school to host an orientation program that would feature an overview on concentrations like computer science and information systems, as well as the career opportunities in those fields.

“Women are coming into the university and they aren’t provided this information or those resources,” Bacon says. “The education factor is huge. You need to target that early on.”

With Bacon, Cullen, and Weber graduating next week, Mikami and Arev Doursounian will be taking the reigns of the group come fall. The three seniors each have positions lined up in the tech space—Bacon is off to San Francisco, and Cullen and Weber will head down to New York City.

Although they will be living far from Chestnut Hill, the trio will continue promoting the organization’s message.

“I definitely think there’s more work to be done,” Bacon says. “I would love nothing more than for there to be a Women Innovators Network on every campus.”