By Jared Karol
“A little change in approach can impact a lot,” says Lucienne Gigante, Co-Founder of Access Latina, an accelerator program for Latina women in Puerto Rico and the United States that is pioneering entrepreneurial growth for women in the areas of STEAM, social innovation, and agriculture. The change she is referring to is in how we go about investing in — and creating opportunities for — women so they can have successful careers in STEM industries.
Lucienne is a seasoned entrepreneur. In addition to Access Latina, she is the founder of Animus, an innovation summit designed to inspire women to reach their highest level of personal and professional development. “What we’re trying to do is see how can we invest and create the space for more Latinas to dive into the STEM industries,” Lucienne says. And it is through efforts like hers that change is happening. “What we’ve seen that we haven’t seen before is that women are choosing to learn and to grow in the space instead of just falling there for some reason or another.”
This is great to see of course, and it all comes down to intentionality, an encouraging theme that many diversity and inclusion leaders are emphasizing in their work. “Imagine how this change can increase the number of Latinas and women in the STEM space,” says Lucienne, “and result in their economic development and growth in the community.” By bringing a specific focus to supporting the growth of Latina women in STEM industries, Lucienne and others are helping to close the gender gap.
The barriers that have created that gap are real, and Lucienne is well aware that for Latina women trying to grow their businesses, more than just hard work and skill is required. With Access Latina, Lucienne is providing access to meaningful connections, key networks, and capital. “[You need] people who can open doors, key connections that can really take you to the next level.” It takes people who have been there before to “help you pivot and really grow from those early years into a company that can scale. We all bootstrap, but what about that angel fund? What about those investors that can take you from a startup to an early stage profitable company to scale?”
In addition to accelerators and alliances like Access Latina and Animus — and of course conferences like Tech Inclusion — Lucienne emphasizes that STEM education has to start in early childhood at school. “I don’t see that yet to the degree that it should,” she says. “This needs to start from the beginning. I have an eight year old and she’s already in coding class.” How would learning coding and other tech industry skills in schools change and impact an economy? According to Lucienne, “That’s where we’re really going to see the needle move.”
Lucienne also thinks that a change in marketing strategy for big companies could make a big difference in empowering women in STEM industries. “Imagine if we start changing the way we market, the way we talk,” she says. “Investing advertising dollars in communities instead of saying how good we are.” In her previous career in the banking industry, she led an effort that did just that. “Investing in [women’s businesses] was a direct effect in the P&L and women’s economic development.” It also provided growth for the country.
Knowing that there are women like Lucienne out there creating opportunities for women, one can’t help but be optimistic that change is on its way. Bringing the intentionality of exposing young girls STEM skills, and implementing subtle but important tweaks in the way big companies market and invest their dollars in women’s business communities, we will begin to see a shift.
And, as Lucienne says, that little change in approach will impact a lot.
Listen to the full podcast below or here.
Access Latina: Lucienne Gigante on Creating Opportunities for Women in STEM Industries