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F5s Kara Sprague: Closing the STEM gap for girls of color

F5's Kara Sprague: Closing the STEM gap for girls of color

 November 11, 2020

Across the United States, National STEM Day provides an opportunity to create more understanding around STEM industries, inspiring others to pursue STEM as a career path.

For National STEM Day, Kara Sprague, Executive Vice President and General Manager of F5’s BIG-IP, reflected on how she was exposed to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at a young age, and discussed how a number of ways to close the gap for women and girls of color in technology.

Childhood passion for computers 

Kara explained how, as a young girl, she was lucky to be exposed to computers through her grade school lab and the family x86 personal computer her Dad brought home when she was 10 years of age. Her first exposure to programming was spending many hours typing out lines of basic commands that, when run, produced images of fractals.

"I learned how small tweaks in the commands could change the colors, the shapes, and the number of recursions," she adds.

By middle school, Kara was dialing into bulletin boards to join online multi-player games that would play out in sequences of ASCII characters. In high school, while she never lost her affinity for computers, her interests turned more to the arts and social sciences.

"So much so that by my junior year of high school, my career ambition was to be a lawyer. I was convinced that I had an illustrious career ahead of me—majoring in Political Science in an East Coast school, acing my LSATs, becoming editor of the Law Review, and dominating the highest courts in the land. Ahh, youth," says Kara.

An industry with female under-representation

Kara considers herself fortunate that her path into law became less appealing, following not securing a position with the college of her choice.

Instead, she went to an engineering school just down the road from her first-choice school, where her passion for technology was nurtured and she was able to open doors that she never thought existed.

"That is part of why I attribute my resulting career in technology to sheer good luck. No one told me—an ambitious high school student with good grades—to go into science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). It was assumed I leaned towards the liberal arts. If it had not been for the idiosyncrasies of college admissions, that is where I likely would have ended up," she says.

"Because while I enjoyed every advantage and privilege, the fact remains then just as it does today—that girls are chronically under-represented in STEM. And the situation, I am sorry to say, is getting even worse, and most especially when it comes to girls and women of color. Over the past decade, the percentage of students receiving computer and information sciences degrees who were Black, Latina, and Native American women fell by nearly 40%." explains Kara.

F5 is committed to addressing the gap

Girls who code

As a board member of Girls Who Code, Kara has witnessed this trend firsthand, and watched with alarm that the path she took through the tech sector is becoming more exclusive and less inclusive.

"For an industry that prides itself on relentless improvement, this is hardly the direction we should be going in," reminds Kara.

"These alarm bells have been going off at F5 too. In 2019, when we launched F5 Global Good, one of our very first steps was to join the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, a coalition of 17 companies committed to doubling the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women receiving computing degrees by 2025," Kara explains.

"As a result, we have focused our Global Good efforts in STEM education specifically for women and girls of color and committed $1.5M in U.S. grants over three years to support programs whose direct beneficiaries are at least 50% women and girls of color."

For F5’s 2020 STEM education grants, Kara detailed how the company granted $550,000 to fifteen nonprofits organizations across eight countries where employees live and work—including the United States, South Africa, France, Israel, India, Mexico, India, and Singapore.

F5's U.S. nonprofits had geographic focuses in Seattle and Spokane, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles, as well as organizations with a national reach.

The company funded across four different areas of need to increasing access and representation for women and girls of color in STEM which included education reform, digital equity, instructor development, and retention, as well as student access and development.

Additionally, it prioritized supporting organizations that are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) led.

"While such grants are not going to reverse the most alarming declines in STEM representation alone, F5's commitment is a step in the right direction—as is evident from the amazing organizations around the world that F5 is proud to support," Kara concludes.

Work for a company making a positive difference 

F5 is committed to being a force for social good.

The company's passion for giving back has been at its heart since inception. It is also the sheer dedication and grassroots efforts of employees that have driven the “business of doing good” at F5.

Keen to be a part of this positive agenda, search for a job with F5.


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