When North Creek High School student Caitlyn Widjaja took her first coding class, she thought it was interesting but found it difficult to see herself pursuing it as a career – mostly because she never really saw people in the field who looked like her.
“I didn’t feel like I belonged in the classroom, because it was really male dominated,” Widjaja said.
It wasn’t until she participated in a virtual, all-women coding camp last summer that she realized it was something she was passionate about. The experience got her thinking that she likely wasn’t alone in her experience.
“I realized other women like me were also feeling the same way,” the high school junior said.
To address the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math – known as STEM – Widjaja founded Girl STEMinist in August. She and her team of about 25 directors, all of whom are high school or college students, host workshops, showcase women working in STEM fields on social media, and publish regular digital journals. The journals aim to expose girls and young women to different careers, featuring women professionals and sharing resources and tips. Each issue focuses on a different industry within STEM.
Widjaja works with young women from all over the country and some outside of the U.S. Early on, she created an Instagram for the organization and began reaching out to other groups with similar goals, seeking people who were interested in joining.
“From there, it really just accumulated into this really amazing group,” she said. “I think that social media is such a powerful tool. I genuinely was not expecting that many people from all across the world to find out about my organization.”
Widjaja manages her directors, who are then in charge of teams focused on editorial, creative, writing, research and outreach departments.
Widjaja said her organization differs from others because of its focus on career exploration.
“We emphasize showcasing professionals in STEM and different careers women can pursue, which ties back into how important representation is,” she said.
Girl STEMinist’s Instagram has approximately 1,570 followers and is filled with tips and resources in addition to serving as a platform for account takeovers from different industry professionals.
For Widjaja, she’s interested in the intersection of technology and biology and neuroscience. She’s not exactly sure what career she wants to pursue, but she has varied interests and likes that many STEM fields are interdisciplinary.
In addition to running Girl STEMinist, Widjaja is a part of organizations such as Miss CEO and TechTogether, both of which have helped her form connections with “a lot of amazing women in STEM," she said.
Another important woman in the formation and continuation of her organization has been Widjaja’s mother. At the beginning of the process, Widjaja was struggling with self-doubt and feelings that she wasn’t the right person to pursue this endeavor.
“But she really was there to just support me and remind me that, if this is something I’m really passionate about, to just go after it,” Widjaja said of her mom.
In all, she estimates she’s probably spent at least 300 hours working on the organization and its projects. She said it was difficult to manage her time at first, but she’s adjusted and it’s gotten a lot easier. It’s also easy to dedicate so much time to it because of her passion for the mission, she said.
“I definitely have had a lot of fun doing it,” she said, “and met a lot of amazing young women through it. I definitely wouldn’t trade that 300 hours for anything else.”