Breaking Barriers: Whitman Alumni Are Redefining Workplace Roles, Leading Through Innovation and Technology and Carving Out Diverse Paths to Success
Marketing Management/Public Relations
I really do believe that everyone, particularly those in my generation and younger, is going to work in tech at some point in their careers. Geek Girl is going to continue to be a part of closing the gender gap.
Whether it’s educating its students and faculty on issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion; fostering new ventures through research, innovation and entrepreneurship; or tapping into the experience, generosity and leadership of its vast alumni network, the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University is working to break barriers every day with a campus culture that continues to evolve, advance and promote its students with the support and skills they need to not only succeed in the business world but become leaders that are truly making a difference.
Steering Young Women Into Careers in Tech
Sandhya Iyer ’20 (WSM/NEW) didn’t used to think she’d ever be interested in tech.
“Coding wasn’t interesting. Tech was not for me,” she says of her high school mindset. “But then I realized I needed to stop thinking that way. Tech is everywhere, and there are a lot of career prospects in that sphere that woman can combine with other interests to be successful. The reality is that most people’s interests are going to intersect with tech at some point in their careers.”
To foster that change in mindset, Iyer is now CEO of Geek Girl Careers, a platform to help young women discover how their professional interests and personalities might align with opportunities in the tech industry. “I’m very passionate about female empowerment, sustainability and helping those in need, and at Geek Girl I get to combine all three in my current role,” she says.
The idea for Geek Girl originated with her father, Sundar Vanchinathan, who had worked for several decades in Silicon Valley and noticed the lack of guidance afforded to young women, as well as the shortage of women pursuing tech careers. Iyer used the tools of Geek Girl herself to help tie together her own interests, which led her to pursue a career in marketing communications. Together, father and daughter laid the groundwork for an initiative that would open more young women’s eyes to the career potential within technology.
Iyer took the idea with her to Syracuse University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree as a dual major in marketing management at Whitman and public relations at the Newhouse School. She continued to work on the idea, using resources from both Whitman and Newhouse, but it wasn’t until she graduated that she decided to pursue Geek Girl Careers full time. Today, she runs the company, while her father has stepped back into an advisory role.
Geek Girl Careers is the world’s first online career counseling platform that empowers women to discover their dream careers in technology, according to Iyer. Through an online personality assessment, skills development tools and career exploration, users are connected to career options that align with their particular interests and skills, as well as the knowledge they need to pursue those areas professionally. Geek Girl has also created tech-and career-related advice through a blog and weekly newsletter, as well as a regular presence on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.
In June, Iyer launched a pilot program for Geek Girl with university partners that included Syracuse University, Georgia Tech, American University and Loyola University Chicago. Female high school students spend a month learning virtually about engineering, data science, design and business and what careers might look like in these areas of tech. The pilot allowed the young women to network with faculty and alumni from the participating universities and explore their interests more closely.
“They were all so excited to brainstorm together,” says Iyer of the pilot participants. “Seeing their questions and how eager they were to learn was awesome.”
Iyer credits her time at Syracuse University for giving her the courage to create a career around something she is truly passionate about. “Whitman provided me with the confidence to pitch myself and my ideas, and to build relationships that helped Geek Girl Careers to grow,” she says.
“It gave me real-world-skills, like how to build a business plan, that I was able to use right away. I wasn’t intimidated because of what I had learned there, and it gave me the confidence to reach out to people for partnerships and not be afraid to ask for what I wanted.”
She also credits the experience she gained as part of Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad Future Founders 2021 Summer Fellowship for helping her further her startup’s goals. There she learned about raising funds and pitching to the media, while also interacting with others figuring out their own ventures.
Iyer has already seen the beginning of what promises to be a successful career; Geek Girl Careers has already helped a number of young girls, opening their minds to opportunities they might otherwise never have considered.
“I really do believe that everyone, particularly those in my generation and younger, is going to work in tech at some point in their careers,” she says. “Geek Girl is going to continue to be a part of closing the gender gap, so that women have equal opportunities and greater representation in the tech space.”
By Caroline Reff