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Trini techie makes Business Insider top 30

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Stacy-Marie Ishmael

A few weeks ago, Stacy-Marie Ishmael was named one of the 30 Most Important Women Under 30 in Tech by Business Insider magazine. Although Ishmael has spent almost her whole lifetime developing an interest in technology and working at the forefront of Internet-based journalism, being included on the list still came as a surprise to the 28-year-old. 


“I didn’t see it coming and it’s funny because I’m guilty of exactly the same things that I tell my friends about all the time, which is not underestimating what you’re doing,” she said during a Skype interview with the T&T Guardian. 


“I feel like too often women in particular don’t put themselves forward for things. It would never have occurred to me to nominate myself because I did not think of myself as a technologist in this sense, but the fact is that every day I come to work and I work for a technology company so even as much as I try to be aware, clearly I still have a lot of work to do.”


When Ishmael speaks of awareness, she’s partly referring to a lack of visibility of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). In her teens, Ishmael was lucky enough to have a computer at home and be open early to Internet chat rooms where she met many other techies who she remains friends with. Most of her Internet buddies were male and Ishmael, along with her brother spent a lot of time taking apart computers and other electronics and working on programming, coding and the building of Web sites. 


It was an early love but since Ishmael went to an all-girls school, that love for technology was nurtured mostly at home.


“I went to an excellent high school (Naparima Girls) and we had amazing teachers and a fancy computer lab with Internet access which was great. But I didn’t do computer science because IT (information technology) wasn’t on the regular curriculum and I couldn’t do IT unless I was willing to stay after school on a Friday—which I did. We also didn’t have technical drawing on curriculum,” she said. 


High-school and other experiences have cemented Ishmael’s resolve to make a difference in her field. “Getting girls to think about what careers are open to them starts really, really young. Worrying about the lack of women doing computer science in college is too late. We have to think about why women and girls don’t get into technology much, much earlier on.” 


Ishmael is currently product manager at Percolate, “a thoughtful technology company.” Her career in tech followed a somewhat unusual path, however, as Ishmael was a humanities student at the London School of Economics. After undergrad, she joined a graduate training programme at the Financial Times, where she helped start up their financial blog FT Alphaville and was also the founding editor of FT Tilt—an online-only publication covering emerging markets. 


She is also founder and blogger at Galavant Media and is a part-time lecturer at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Ishmael uses her managerial position to make a difference by ensuring that the application pool for job applicants is very broad—she ensures that job advertisements are written in a way that will encourage women to apply. 


Ishmael is also a mentor. “Outside of my day job, I try to destigmatise and demystify technology as a thing only made for elites or a thing that is really expensive or a thing that is really scary or a thing that’s only for nerds or a thing that’s only for nerdy men,” she said.


“One of the things I’ve always been interested in and committed to is the idea of expanding the way people perceive other people and that plays out in a lot of the things I do outside of work. I do a lot of mentoring. I do things that surround diversity initiatives and raising awareness of the need to have more women and other minorities in technology.”


Ishmael is also committed to broadening access to technology. “If what we’re saying is, in 2013 what it means to work is having access to broadband, then what about all the people who don’t have broadband? What about all the people who can’t afford broadband?


“There are a lot of really interesting discussions I have with people saying well, everybody has a smartphone but no, not everybody does. Not everyone is connected to their e-mails. Not everybody has that kind of access to information on a constant basis. So the question is, how do we think about public spaces to give access to tools that a lot of the time we take for granted to ensure that we're not leaving people out of those opportunities, particularly women?”



Women in Science, Technology in T&T



Last October, when the world celebrated Ada Lovelace Day in honour of the 19th century mathematician, T&T Guardian spoke to chemical engineer Jacqueline Morris about the role of women in STEM locally. 


Morris, who teaches technology and is involved in developing ICT governance policy, said young girls needed to see STEM as a plausible career path. She acknowledged, however, that her own career path has not been easy.


“There were very few women in engineering when I was at UWI in the 1980s. It has been challenging, but nothing worthwhile isn’t. Gaining respect for quality work helps. Stamina and persistence also help,” she said.


From her observation, Morris sees many women in STEM halting their careers because of family life. “One thing I’ve noticed is that women in STEM tend to middle out their careers, not getting to top positions in engineering in numbers that are proportional to their participation at the lower levels,” she said. “I’m not sure if that is a glass ceiling with institutional barriers to advancement or if it is a choice based on child-rearing needs.”


Media producer and blogger Georgia Popplewell also believes that women are underrepresented in STEM locally.


Popplewell, who also spoke to the T&T Guardian on Ada Lovelace Day, said there have been many exceptions to the rule of women in STEM and are many stereotypes which women have to overcome. “I do think, however, that there is a lingering perception in T&T that these fields, especially technology and engineering, are more suited to men than women, and as a self-taught female geek I look forward to the day when we eradicate that notion.”



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