Ways to encourage girls to keep pursuing STEM this Women’s History Month

In 2018, we conducted a study in collaboration with Dr. Shalini Kesar called Closing the STEM Gap. Our findings revealed that 31 percent of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that number jumps up to 40 percent. And by the time they’re in college, 58 percent of girls count themselves out of these jobs.

We also discovered that girls who know a woman in a STEM profession are substantially more likely to feel empowered when they engage in STEM activities (61 percent) than those who don’t know a woman in a STEM profession (44 percent). Unfortunately, most girls don’t have any female role models in STEM to look up to. So it’s no surprise that, when asked to describe a typical scientist, engineer, mathematician, or computer programmer, 30 percent of girls say that they envision a man in these roles. As do almost 40 percent of adult women—and 43 percent of women in STEM and tech fields.

You may be asking: How do we reverse these trends? One of the most important first steps is introducing girls and young women to positive female role models in STEM fields. But it doesn’t end there. An even bigger impact is possible when those women offer encouragement.

Enter: Microsoft EDU’s WomEncouragement Series.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’ve created a series of downloadable posters featuring advice and encouragement from women who are paving the way in STEM and opening doors for future generations of girls to step through and succeed.



These are free to download and print so young women and girls can hang them up in their rooms, in their lockers, on their mirrors, or in their classrooms — anywhere they need a dose of positive inspiration!

But we couldn’t pull off this project without our education community! We’d love to hear from you, too. Send us your own words of encouragement and we might turn them into a poster or share them on our social channels!

Technology jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, but only 24 percent of computer scientists are women. As educators, when we encourage girls to pursue STEM, we double the potential to change the world for the better and help ensure ALL young people are future ready.

Are YOU ready to help make a difference?

Other resources you can use to help close the gap or inspire girls, and all students, to love STEM:

  • Get the free STEM action guide. You’ll find easy things education leaders, teachers, and parents can do today to help inspire girls to stay in STEM and #MakeWhatsNext.
  • New! Earn a Girls-in-STEM badge when you take this Microsoft Education Community course that shows how you can turn research into action and engage all students to love STEM.
  • New! Learn from education experts and teachers to get tips and resources to encourage and engage all students in computer science. Education. Download our free guide to inclusive computer science education now.
  • Participate in a free Microsoft Store DigiGirlz workshop near you through April. Each store will host 2-hour workshops that include presentations from guest speakers along with live Q&As, hands-on coding, and other STEM activities. Workshop topics will cover Women in Gaming, Aviation, Space, Coding, and Business!
  • Check out this gender equality MEC lesson to complete with your students.
  • Sign up for a Skype Collaboration with a woman in STEM and introduce your students to their new favorite role model!
  • Check out how these amazing female code creators who use STEM and CS to save endangered species, create art, fashion, and animated Pixar movies!
  • Discover female Nobel laureates, women who have broken boundaries to change science in their fields. Find out how to connect students with female pioneers in the Women Who Changed Science experience
  • Join the #MSFTEduChat global TweetMeet at 10AM PT on March 19th. The topic is #MakeWhatsNext in STEM, all about empowering young women to pursue careers in STEM to help close the gender gap. This is a great opportunity to engage with educators in over 11 languages globally on this topic!
  • Learn how EVERY Individual’s Actions Can Make a BIG Impact with Dr. Jane Goodall in a special Skype in the Classroom broadcast on April 2nd & 9th.
  • Explore the Girls & CS resource pages for even more ideas on how to introduce your female students to STEM and encourage them to stay with it.
  • From Microsoft on the Issues: How girls from diverse backgrounds have the lens computer science needs.

Closing the STEM gap matters for everyone. More diversity in thought, background, and experience creates more innovation. Innovation is what will help us solve today’s most pressing problems. Together, we can help keep girls inspired and encouraged to pursue a career in STEM.

Spread the support by sharing your words of encouragement or any posters you display using #MicrosoftEDU and #MakeWhatsNext. Then, visit to learn more.

Find the right technology for your schoolFind the right technology for your school


Encouraging girls to stay in STEM and #MakeWhatsNext

Two girls at computer
Girls program together at a Boys & Girls Club in Menasha, Wisconsin.

As the head of Microsoft Philanthropies and the first female attorney hired at Microsoft, I’ve experienced firsthand the amazing potential for change when girls and women are empowered to create and innovate.

Take Aishwarya Manoharan, a student of computer science and informatics at the University of Washington. When Aishwarya was growing up, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, but she was fairly certain her future wouldn’t revolve around computers. It’s no wonder: She thought that working with computers was for men, and computer science meant sitting in front of a laptop typing code by yourself – not exactly an appealing prospect for this outgoing young woman, who also plays tennis and loves to bake.

College student Aishwarya Manoharan
“My burning drive is to somehow change the world for the better, whether it is small or big,” says Aishwarya Manoharan. “If I can help even one person realize their potential to better the world through the medium of technology, information and computer science, then I have reached my goal.”

But when Aishwarya took the Microsoft TEALS AP Computer Science class her junior year of high school, she realized her image of programming was wrong when she saw other girls getting excited about computer science. That was when Aishwarya met her volunteer teachers, including Arti Gupta, a software development engineer at Microsoft, who became Aishwarya’s mentor. The confidence Aishwarya gained from TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), and especially Arti’s support, has helped Aishwarya when she feels like she doesn’t belong in her university classes that are overwhelmingly male and Caucasian. She says, “Remembering Ms. Gupta’s belief in me reminds me that I’m in the right place.”

Computing and technology hold the promise of opportunity for so many girls. And, while progress has been made to get more girls introduced, supported and successful in computer science from kindergarten to career, we still have work to do. The path to a computing-related career needs to be inclusive and provide the right support at the right times, so that girls and women feel encouraged and welcomed. Collectively, our companies, products and innovations will suffer without the perspective that girls and women bring – technologies will inevitably emerge with unintentional bias and limited insight into the diversity of people who will use and depend on them.

Today, girls and students of color represent 65 percent of the entire U.S. population, yet only 28 percent of high school students who take the AP Computer Science exam are girls, and only 22 percent are students of color. The reasons girls lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer science are many: from a lack of role models and support, to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world, and how these skills can help unlock their wildest ambitions. Without more female influence in STEM fields, we risk having hundreds of thousands of jobs left unfilled, not to mention half of our talent left untapped.

This is why it is urgent that computer science education be more inclusive. We need to show girls, and all students from diverse backgrounds, that they, too, can embrace the art and creativity of computers and be the builders, inventors, problem-solvers and computer scientists solving tomorrow’s challenges. This requires us all to take action:

  • Make computer science count. This policy is the single biggest way to help computer science reach more girls. Since 2013, when Microsoft began its work with’s Advocacy Coalition, the number of U.S. states that have made computer science count toward required credits in math or science for high school graduation has grown from nine to 45. Montana became the latest state this week.
  • Provide access to female role models with diverse backgrounds. Many female Microsoft employees volunteer for our DigiGirlz program, designed to introduce girls to the career opportunities available in technology fields. To date, we have offered more than 54,000 girls the opportunity to explore and become active thinkers, creators and doers in STEM.
  • Focus on access and inclusion. We do this by partnering with local nonprofits to bring culturally relevant approaches to computer science to local communities. In the U.S., more than 1,400 tech professionals volunteer with TEALS in schools, serving 16,000 students, 33 percent of whom are young women. Abroad, groups like Shared Path in Australia brings tailored digital skills training to indigenous Australians, and Laboratoria in Latin America, a female-led organization which has trained over 1,000 young women to become web developers and designers by mimicking actual work scenarios.

Today on International Women’s Day, join us by taking action and help inspire the next generation of girls to stay in STEM and #MakeWhatsNext:

  • By taking these steps and joining in collective action, we can create a more inclusive computer science pipeline for women, provider greater access to economic opportunities for people of all backgrounds, and drive more innovation, starting today.

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The Jacksonville teacher with a time machine

Proof point: years ago, Ms. Northern had an idea to combat the dropping graduation rate at Raines.

“I had the idea to start with the end in mind,” Ms. Northern says, her careful cadence of words drawing her audience in. “So we held a baccalaureate at the beginning of the school year. We ordered the caps and gowns for everyone. I don’t care if they were an F student or a C student—they all had a cap and gown. Then we marched.

“Guess where I was during the ceremony?” Ms. Northern asks India.

“Where?” India says.

“Behind the video camera,” answers Ms. Northern, grinning.

“Of course you were, Ms. Northern,” India says. “Of course you were.”

That year, the graduation rate saw the uptick that the administration and Ms. Northern were hoping for.


India was the kind of student that teachers want to duplicate, according to Ms. Northern. “If you gave her a project, she would see that project through from beginning to end. Then, she’d talk the other students into believing that they could accomplish it as well.”

And now, she’s pleased that India has come back, proud that she’d consider what Raines and the people who’ve been a part of her life have done to help her.

“She’s not only looked back, but she’s embraced her history,” Ms. Northern says. “And for that, I am so proud.”

Since junior high school, India dreamed about going to a four-year college. She had her mother’s unwavering support, and they would do whatever it took to get her there, but India would have to figure out the steps. No one in her family had done it before.

“That’s one of the struggles I think can be intrinsic to some kids coming from single-parent homes like I did,” India explains. “Maybe they’re dependent on food stamps or government assistance. Maybe they have to work while in college, whereas somebody else can just focus on going to school. They just have different challenges than some people would. They need help to figure out that path.”

That’s where Ms. Northern stepped in.


Black History Month: A time to lift each other up

As a child of “First to’s” (First African-American to command the U.S. Army Old Guard, First African-American to be selected National Elementary School Principal of the Year by President Bill Clinton), my family is deeply steeped in the history of African-American culture and civil rights in the United States, emanating from northern cities (Philadelphia, Pa. and Gary, Ind.) and the deep south (Hayneville, Ala.). I have been raised with a belief in the verse that “to whom much is given, much is required,” and a commitment to give back to our society, honoring those who paved a path forward for us.

When I look around our country today, I am so pleased to see how diversity and inclusion have moved from a concept to an expectation, embedded in every industry and sector of our society. I see leaders speaking up and actively listening to the feedback on what it takes to create diverse and inclusive environments. Mostly, I see regular citizens showing up, rediscovering their voice, sharing their stories, and demanding inclusion and equality – not just for people of color, but for groups of all kinds.

Every February during Black History Month, a 28-day window provides an opportunity for our nation, our company, and each of us to pause and take stock of the condition and progress of Black people and other minority populations. We can celebrate the achievements and contributions of so many and, at the same time, lament the increase in violence and hate crimes, inflammatory discourse in our political arena and sense of increasing polarization across our country.

At Microsoft, we have made the long-term commitment to build and sustain a culture that fosters an inclusive working environment, which will enable our employees to do their best work and serve the diverse needs of our customers around the world. We also are committed to engaging in and advancing diversity and inclusion conversations in communities where we believe we can help empower people.

Black History Month presents us with an opportunity to engage in diversity and inclusion dialogues across all minority groups.

  • At Microsoft, we kicked off the month with our Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) chapter ringing the Nasdaq bell on Wall Street for the second consecutive year. As a direct result of the impact our team had last year, Nasdaq has created its own employee network called GLOBE – Global Link of Black Employees.
  • Next week, I will share the stage with civil rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, at the Wall Street Project, which strives to ensure equal opportunities for culturally diverse employees, entrepreneurs and consumers.
  • Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code with the single mission of closing the gender gap in technology, will be speaking with Microsoft employees later this month.
  • We celebrate the passionate young gamers who demonstrated to everyone, that a level playing field is possible with the help of their friends, family and adaptive technology.
  • At the upcoming BAM conference, we will recognize the pioneers who started the affinity group 30 years ago – the first employee group of its kind.

I count myself incredibly fortunate to work at a company that embodies many of the principles my parents instilled in me, which have stood the test of time as we continue to engage in the diversity and inclusion dialogue: set the bar high and exceed it, approach the world with a service mentality and, above all, lift each other up.

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Peggy Johnson announces M12 Female Founders Competition winners

Earlier this year, our corporate venture fund, M12, took an important step in helping identify promising women entrepreneurs and accelerating their access to capital. Partnering with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group, we launched the Female Founders Competition, awarding $4M to two women-led companies building innovative software solutions for the enterprise.

Those following this industry are well aware of the hard truths women founders face when seeking funding: just 17 percent of all startups boast a single female founder; and of that small percent, only 2.2 percent of total global venture capital funding went to female founders over the past two years. While the numbers clearly indicate there’s a need to do more, many investors struggle with where to start.

There are plenty of women entrepreneurs focused on solving enterprise technology challenges, but we needed a better way of finding them. With the previous success in sourcing incredibly promising portfolio companies from our Innovate.AI competition, we decided to try a competition again, but this time focused on surfacing female founders. And the results spoke volumes.

We received hundreds of submissions from female founders building enterprise solutions that spanned a multitude of industries and countries. This competition, while a small step to shift how we sourced deals, not only showed us that there is more than one way to effectively discover talent and expand networks, but it’s our responsibility as venture capitalists to begin leveling the playing field so those companies receiving funding are a truer reflection of the world in which we live.

Today, it’s my pleasure to share the results of the Female Founders Competition, and the stories behind the two incredible women whose companies will now join our portfolio.


Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta, began her journey as a software engineering student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where she developed an interest in robotics and autonomous vehicle systems. While working on a research project with Sebastian Fischmeister, a professor at the university, she became fascinated with recent developments in connected and autonomous vehicles, sparking a career that led her to work with and learn from automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier-1 manufacturers before returning to her roots in research. Cutulenco, Fischmeister and another colleague, Jean-Christophe Petkovich, would go on to create Acerta, using machine learning to provide real-time malfunction detection and failure prediction in vehicles. To commercialize their work, Cutulenco spent time in local incubators and attending business and sales courses before securing Acerta’s participation in the Techstars Mobility accelerator in Detroit. Just over two years later, Acerta has grown from a team of three to nearly 20, with Greta recently being named to Forbes 30 under 30 for Manufacturing and Industry, the company gaining traction with some of the largest auto manufacturers as customers, and now becoming a winner of the Female Founders competition.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to work with M12, EQT Ventures, and SVB Financial Group,” said Cutulenco. “The funding and ongoing support will bring a big boost to the company’s long-term growth.”

 Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas, trained as an architect before becoming a world-class computer scientist specializing in computer graphics. Her appreciation for, and expertise in these two disciplines inspired her to create the core technology behind Mental Canvas, which reimagines sketch for the digital age by augmenting it with spatial strokes, 3D navigation, and free-form animations. As supported by its early customers, Mental Canvas is a platform that addresses a wide and varied market, with early customers spanning a variety of industries from architecture, concept development for movies, animation and games, product design, education, and scientific illustration. Dorsey is also a professor of computer science at Yale University, and previously was on the faculty at MIT, where she held tenured appointments in the departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Architecture. She is an inventor on more than a dozen awarded and four pending patents, and for the past two years, has devoted herself full-time to her vision of enhancing visual communication by fundamentally elevating the way people draw.

“It is a great honor to be recognized in this way,” said Dorsey. “Of course, we are pleased with the funding, but even more, we are thrilled by the recognition and affirmation this prize provides. It says to me and our team that the technology Mental Canvas is developing to bring sketch into the digital age is groundbreaking and impactful. We look forward to working with M12, EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group to make our company’s vision a reality.”

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

This afternoon, I’ll join the next generation of female leaders at a forum focused on building and nurturing this community and preparing them for what’s next. While it’s a great way to welcome our winners to the M12 portfolio, it’s also an opportunity to continue this journey – one that is very personal to me – of doing our part to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

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Microsoft co-signs Human Rights Campaign’s Business Statement on Transgender Equality


Relaunched Modern Muse website helps young women find their perfect career

A website that aims to help young women find their perfect career has been relaunched with help from Microsoft.

Modern Muse contains more than 100 female role models, who share their experiences of work in the hope of inspiring youngsters to find a path to their dream job.

It was founded in 2009 by Maxine Benson MBE and Karen Gill MBE, and has now been revamped by interns and apprentices at Microsoft to mark this year’s International Day of the Girl on October 11.

Donna Robertson, a Director at Modern Muse, said: “Raising aspirations and empowering girls to make informed career decisions by showcasing a diverse array of female role models is what Modern Muse is all about.

“This website is the gateway to help girls, from all backgrounds explore all the opportunities available to them, so they can aim high and have rewarding futures. The idea behind having this tool designed by young women is in line with our unique ‘led by girls for girls’ approach and keeping girls and young women at the heart of all we do, ensures we stay relevant to our audience.

“We are eternally grateful to Microsoft, one of our founding partners, for their investment in time and resources to help us achieve our social objectives.”

Girls can use the Modern Muse website to explore subject choices and where those decisions may lead. They can also learn about the muses’ responsibilities, career paths and the subjects they studied while at school, what it’s like to work at certain companies and career opportunities at a variety of firms.

Six women and three men from Microsoft worked on the redesign, taking ideas from female students at a range of schools.

Girl at home looking at tablet
Teachers and parents have a five-year window (between 11 and 16) to grow girls’ interest in STEM before it starts to wane

Ellen Murley, a Microsoft intern who is studying for a degree in Information Management and Business at Loughborough University, was one of the women who worked on the project. She said: “In my role as Website Design Lead I’ve developed key project management skills, learned how to work with stakeholders and felt my confidence grow. I have now become a member of the Modern Muse youth ambassador board.”

The site has reached more than 1,000 young women, who have gained an insight into over 20 companies, including Lloyds Bank, Tesco, British Airways, BP and Microsoft.

Ella Cockerell, a Business Development Manager at Microsoft, was named Muse of the Month for October.

“It has been amazing to help these young women develop the new Modern Muse website,” she said. “It’s so important to inspire the next generation and I recognise from my own experience that there is a lack of role models, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM] sectors.”

A Microsoft study last year found that teachers and parents in the UK have a five-year window (between 11 and 16) to grow girls’ interest in STEM before it starts to wane. Less than half (43%) of those surveyed said they would consider a career in those fields.

International Day of the Girl is run by the United Nations to highlight the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to gain skills for employability. The organisation said that of the one billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – who will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.

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Founder and head of 343 Industries Bonnie Ross: How technology led me to the best job in the world

There are many days when I’m convinced I have the best job in the world. That feeling is compounded in moments when I’m meeting with our team of engineers and creatives, reviewing game storyboards, character designs, and what’s next for the Master Chief, knowing millions of dedicated fans are eagerly awaiting the release of our next Halo game. Or I’ll be sitting with a team of creatives, reviewing scripts for our upcoming Showtime television series, and I’ll take a step back and think to myself, “this is the most phenomenal job! How did I get here?”

I’m Bonnie Ross and I’m incredibly honored to lead of one of the most iconic and beloved video game franchises in the world, in Halo.  Our team at 343 Industries tells epic sci-fi stories, we build incredible worlds and I’ve enjoyed a more of a creative career than I ever thought possible: one where technology empowers art. I lead the most amazingly talented team of engineers, computer programmers, artists, and storytellers – all working together to bring the world of Halo to millions of passionate fans globally. Halo is a universe worthy of devotion, a universe in which you can tell thousands of stories – and technology brings all this magic vividly to life.

Throughout middle school, high school and college, my dad encouraged me to think about pursuing engineering and science as a career.  In high school, he pushed me to take the advanced math and science classes, even though I didn’t understand the “why.”  I couldn’t see the opportunities that lie ahead.  I needed that push.  I needed those words of encouragement.  I couldn’t be more thankful that my dad gave me that support.

When I graduated from college, I managed to land a job with Microsoft working on operating systems. While it was an amazing job – especially for someone fresh out of college – I don’t think I would have stayed at Microsoft or in tech, if I didn’t eventually find my passion.  At that time, I wasn’t able to connect the dots and see why technology mattered to me.  Luckily, four years after I started at Microsoft, I found video games.  For me, video games made that connection to what I could do with technology…be creative. Gaming is this amazing merging of art and technology.  Gaming is technology empowering art, creativity, and storytelling.  Gaming opened my eyes to the extraordinary things I could achieve with technology. 

For me, pursuing and remaining in technology, as a career, wasn’t something I would have done without a little help. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to inspire and encourage girls and nurture other women to pursue careers in computer science and technology. There is such a need for talent – girls and boys – in technical fields, particularly in the United States.

Girls start losing interest in STEM in middle school:

  •  Studies show that girls lose interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and computer science as time goes on. In middle school, 31% of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that percentage jumps up to 40%. By the time they’re in college, 58% of girls count themselves out of these jobs.

And yet the opportunities for girls and women have never been greater:

  •  In the next two years, there will be an estimated 1.4M jobs in the US that require some form of technical experience or degree. Based on the number of students enrolled in technology and engineering degrees today, it’s predicted we will only be able to fill 400,000 of these jobs in the US. Such a profound worker shortage carries global implications for the US and our economy.
  •  Research shows a diverse workforce brings with it diverse perspectives that improve everything from better product development to better teams to better profits. We need women engineers. And it’s not just a nice thing, it can change everything. Anatomically female crash test dummies, with associated differences in physique and physics, weren’t used until 2011 and women were less safe for it. A 2011 University of Virginia study found that women had a 47% higher change of serious injuries compared to men and a 71% higher chance of a moderate injury.
  •  STEM jobs tend to be higher paid. The lack of women going into technology or engineering or science is contributing to the salary gap between men and women. And here’s the not-so-secret secret: If you have a degree in tech, companies around the world aren’t just looking for you. They’re fighting to hire you since we’re all competing for a very small pool of qualified female candidates.

We know how to get more girls into STEM: 
Microsoft recently conducted research
 to learn more about what causes the gender gap and how to close it. We know why girls or young women either don’t go into STEM or leave. The research echoes my own story growing up. And we know what girls need to stay in STEM. It’s also what I personally needed.

  •  Connect the dots for girls. Girls often leave STEM because they don’t understand the potential and opportunities a technology or engineering degree can provide. 91% of girls say that they’re creative and 72% say it’s important that they have a job that helps the world, so I’m sharing my story to show that they can achieve both of those goals with a STEM qualification.  As a parent or educator, you can do the same. Seek and tell the computer science story. When girls learn about real-world STEM jobs, their perception of the creativity and positive impact of STEM double. Coding is the fabric our modern lives, built on and technology, and continues to shape and improve our world. Let her know she can define, drive and be that change. 
  •  Be a mentor. Girls need encouragement to stay in STEM. I was lucky to have my dad and I’m convinced that without his encouragement of my STEM education, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  65% of middle school girls who are encouraged by a parent say they’re likely to study computer science in high school, compared to 36% who haven’t been encouraged by either parent. With mutual support from parents and teachers, girls are twice as likely to consider studying computer science in high school, and three times more likely to consider studying computer science in college. You don’t need to be an engineer to encourage girls to pursue STEM and inspire their confidence in math and science. Just help them imagine their future with a computer science education.

This summer, I had the privilege of spending the day with 11 amazing young girls to work on a project for the Ad Council’s latest communication campaign, to encourage more girls to pursue careers in STEM. These girls are our future.  They were surprised and enthused to discover how math and science can be creative and can lead to a career making video games.  We talked about what games they play, what experiences and stories they want to create, and I made sure to tell them that they could achieve that and that would change the world.

Technology is the most powerful and the most creative tool we have today to create impact; to change and improve the world. Join me in raising the next generation of world-builders and world-changers. Connect the dots and be a mentor for the girls and young women in your life. Please share your story, my story, share the #SheCanStem videos and inspire the next generation. #MakeWhatsNext.


Microsoft UK Chief Executive Cindy Rose: Taking Pride in being an ally for the LGBT community

By Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK

This year’s London Pride Festival will be held on Saturday, July 7. I see this annual event as a great opportunity to celebrate the diversity and inclusion that makes the capital – and this country – such a great place to live and work.

Hundreds of Microsoft staff will take part in London Pride, with thousands more joining similar celebrations across the world, including Cambridge (August 11), Manchester (August 25) and Reading (September 1). These can be a beacon of hope, and I have loved reading about our employees in Scotland, North America, Brazil, Japan, Poland and elsewhere joining Pride events to embrace who they are as they do what they love.

This is why Pride and being an LGBT Ally is important for everyone at Microsoft.

Many of those taking part are members of GLEAM, Microsoft’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee resource group, which has a strong following globally. Microsoft has a long history of diversity and inclusion that continues to this day, and I believe it is one of our strongest assets. In 1993, our company was one of the first in the world to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners; while last year we hosted our first LGBT leadership conference, in Ireland, featuring leaders from more than 20 countries.

This year I want to do more for our LGBT staff, partners and customers. I am delighted to announce that Microsoft Rewards users can now turn the points they earn into cash and donate it to Stonewall, an LGBT equality charity based in the UK.

Stonewall has been supporting the LGBT community for 29 years, working to transform institutions and change hearts, minds and laws so people can feel free to be themselves. I am proud that Microsoft is helping people support this cause to change lives for the better.

Find out more about Microsoft Rewards

To get involved, sign up for a Microsoft Rewards account and earn points by using the Bing search engine, completing online quizzes and buying certain products via the Microsoft Store. You will then be able to give these points to Stonewall in the form of cash.

Microsoft and Stonewall share a mission: to empower individuals. Whether it’s empowering people to achieve more or make change happen, the goal is the same – to help everyone be the best they can be.

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How to ‘come out’ as an LGBTQ+ ally at work

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I want to help my coworkers feel respected for who they really are. But sometimes I’m not sure what to do or say to show that I’m an ally, and I don’t want to mess up or hurt anyone’s feelings. How can I be a better ally?

Answer: The first step to becoming a better ally is wanting to be one—so you’re on the path already! There are many ways to be an ally in your professional realm, including connecting with coworkers to learn what they face and care about, stepping in when someone isn’t being treated with respect, and educating others. These Microsoft employees, who are all allies or members of the LGBTQ+ community, have some advice.

Know what an ally is and why you should be one

An LGBTQ+ ally is someone who respects equal rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ social movements; stands up for members of the LGBTQ+ community; and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Allies increase protection, safety, and equality.

“Coming out” as an ally in the workplace sends a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBTQ+ employees, which can help them feel more respected and able to do their work.

Spend a little time thinking about why you want to be an ally—and think about why allies are needed and how you could make a difference, said Andrea Llamas, a senior human resources advisor.

Often, the motivation to be an ally comes from personal stories and connections.

“Everyone has a friend or family member that is part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Llamas said. “To make the world a better place for the people in that community, [we need to get to the place where] sexual orientation or gender identity is not important.”

Once you know why you want to be an ally and what you might want to accomplish by being one—whether it’s as simple as making another person feel comfortable or as big as becoming a vocal advocate for change—you can figure out how to do it.

Set out to learn more

Many people feel unsure of their role as allies in part because they aren’t familiar with the experiences or realities of LGBTQ+ people. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a term means or if you aren’t familiar with an issue. Research is where to start, Llamas said.

“If you don’t have the information you need and if you are curious, ask,” she said.

If you do ask a coworker who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, make sure that you pose your question in a respectful way and perhaps in private. First and foremost, communicate your openness and desire to learn so that you can support.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing to LGBTQ+ coworkers—such as using the wrong pronoun—respectfully ask them how they prefer to be addressed or how you should refer to something. You might also ask how they would prefer that people address mistakes when they happen, suggested Michael Tan, a Microsoft manager of a transgender employee.

But don’t rely on LGBTQ+ people to educate you on everything; do your own research. Morty Scanlon, a business program manager, suggests using resources from Straight for Equality, The Human Rights Campaign, and Outstanding to learn more.

Members of Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft, have helped create resources and workshops for coworkers who want to be allies. Find out whether your company has similar resources, suggest that they be created, or even help compile them, said Scanlon, cochair of GLEAM.

“When people have resources at their disposal, they can see a path toward their own allyship to materialize,” he said.

As you do your research, look at your own assumptions. Take the opportunity to recognize and move past bias. Use these questions as guides:

  • What assumptions have you made?
  • Do you know if they are true?
  • How could you find out?

Show support and speak up

Some gestures by allies might seem small, but they can mean a lot. For example, Llamas said, “Don’t hide any relations you have to someone in the LGBTQ+ community, such as friends or family members.” Talking about your gay brother or transgender cousin the same way that you talk about any family member or friend shows that you value people equally regardless of their identities.

You can also communicate your support in simple ways, such as by putting stickers on your computer or signs at your desk, by attending LGBTQ+ support events, or by joining an advocacy effort. These actions show people who have faced challenges or who have previously not been accepted for who they are that they have your support in little and big ways.

“Remember that there are many ways to let people know that you are an ally,” said Llamas, who serves as the GLEAM Mexico lead.

Being an ally also means speaking up when some voices aren’t heard, when someone is excluded, or when something harmful is said. Listen fully to others’ ideas, contributions, and stories. Intervene when someone is being discounted or ignored or if harmful language is used. If someone has been treated with harm, approach them to see what they need and offer support.

And people who need allies themselves can also be an ally to others, Scanlon said.

“In the same way that allies are essential to the LGBTQ+ community, we also have a responsibility to be allies for others. The lessons I’ve learned in working to be a better ally to the transgender community are lessons that I can apply to evolve my allyship beyond my own community and apply more broadly to the workplace: examining my assumptions, listening to understand, identifying and addressing my blind spots, and being brave.”

Let empathy lead

When Michael Tan, director of strategy, learned that a member of his team was transgender and would be transitioning, he set out to determine how he could help.

“My first role was trying to make sure that the work environment would respond appropriately and that people were respectful,” he said.

But he didn’t immediately know how to be an ally.

“I was in the camp initially where you’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I saw other people also so afraid of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong pronoun that they took the path of least resistance and didn’t reach out at all.”

Tan invited the Ingersoll Gender Center to talk to his group. The speakers shared firsthand experiences, background about the transgender community in the workplace, common challenges transgender employees often face, and guidance on how to be supportive.

Listening directly to people’s experiences sparked empathy, Tan said. However you can, seek out others’ stories—they will help you feel connected.

Try to understand the emotional journey that someone else goes through, he said. It’s a powerful display of support “to find out, and then do, what they need to feel comfortable.”