Suz Somersall of KiraKira has created an online platform for girls to develop their 3D modeling skills by creating free courses and curriculum for 3D print STEAM education. KiraKira provides lessons and projects that ignite and inspire young girls to work on projects in what is widely a male dominated area of learning. As students of today grow and come to understand that over 86% of retail purchases are done by women, it’s key to understand what women want to buy and to design with them in mind.
Suz Somersall is the founder of KiraKira and is somebody that, we learned in this interview, we have a lot in common with. She is a fellow Providence Rhode Islander. She went to school there, studied at Brown Art and Gender studies and then studied at Industrial Design Metalworking as well at RISD.
Her website, KiraKira.com, is an online education platform that allows young women to quickly learn and make virtual products and 3D products. It’s about 3D modeling, which is fantastic. I know there’s a lot of people, even a lot of our listeners who are out there working on curriculum in one form or another for their schools they work for or trying to find things to help their kids learn or themselves learn. We really did not know there was such a dedicated website to providing “free” courses, real courses in design.
We’re not putting air quotes because it’s free but it’s not really free, no. It’s free. I’m trying to emphasize, this is completely free because it’s really part of their mission. You’ll learn when we talk with Suz that it’s part of their mission to make sure that the 3D print STEAM education courses are free. They’re trying to democratize the education of 3D modeling and the arts, the A in the STEAM we talk about all the time. It’s really important to us. They’re trying to make it accessible to everybody. Let’s hear it from Suz.
Listen to the podcast here:
Engaging Girls in 3D Print STEAM Education with Suz Somersall of KiraKira
Hi, Suz. Thanks for joining us to talk about how KiraKira is engaging girls in 3D print STEAM education.
Of course. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to speak with you today.
We are excited to talk about design in general, and the intersection of design and technology is our favorite subject here and we know it’s yours as well. Love the idea of empowering young women and girls to adopt 3D printing and start joining. What gave you the idea for starting KiraKira?
It actually started probably a little bit a long time ago. I studied metal smithing and also industrial design and 3D modeling at the Rhode Island School of Design. That’s where I first was introduced to essentially engineering tools using programs like Solidworks, Autodesk products, also using engineering tools like 3D printers, CNC milling machines, laser cutters. I was using these programs that I never really thought I would be interested in but I realized that these engineering tools and 3D modeling tools specifically allowed me to create anything I wanted to. They were really exciting and fun for me.
I used that knowledge to start an online retail company. It was essentially a jewelry company and I would 3D model all of my designs. Then I had the opportunity to do a program at Darden UVA’s Business School. They had an incubator and I went to that incubator for my other company. While I was there, I kept having these UVA undergrad female interns that were really excited to learn about 3D modeling. They would come to me and they heard that I knew about 3D modeling and so they wanted me to teach them. I didn’t really have time to teach them so I asked if the head of the UVA Mechanical Engineering.
I said, “Hey, is it okay if these girls go and take classes on campus?” He was thrilled because as everybody knows, this is a huge problem, the lack of girls in STEM, specifically in engineering and even more specifically in mechanical engineering. Only seven percent of mechanical engineers are female in the US. They started taking the classes. They went to the lab and started taking intro classes. Pretty quickly, they all lost interest. I was pretty shocked. I was like, “Why is this happening?” I went over to the lab and I started taking the classes and I realized pretty quickly that the classes were just really boring.
They were teaching them how to make things like wrenches and auto parts. The way that the classes were being taught was just not creative. It was not the way that I learned 3D modeling in art school. I started creating my own classes that were more visually engaging, more fun alternative content that was more compelling to my audience, which were young women. Teaching things like how to make an iPhone case, how to make a skateboard, stuff that they were actually interested in. I found that both through having female role models teaching the classes as well as having relevant content just really was a much more successful way to engage young women in 3D print STEAM education.
This is exactly why we started the podcast too, because we thought that it wasn’t just so much that it was not engaging to women in general, but that it was not engaging to your average person in general. It was more of, you had to be a tech geek and you had to love 3D printing and want to talk all about all the technical aspects of printing in order to just get any information at all. We just thought, “You know what, we need to help people get in to it and not walk away,” because it seems too complicated, too hard or too, just overly technical when it’s unnecessary for it to be an opportunity for you.
Demystify it. Something that we found also both with … We’ve been working with Intel and their education network and selling … Actually our product is free, so we’re not really exactly selling our product, but giving our product and making awareness that our product exist within school systems. We found that there are a lot of teachers and students that were scared about 3D printing, that they thought it sounded really cool and they wanted to do it but
either they had a bad experience with a 3D printer or it seemed too technical. Something that we’re playing with also is encouraging schools to purchase 3D printers and encouraging them to do it on their own. If they’re intimidated by that aspect, to at least get their feet wet by 3D modeling, creating their virtual products and then letting us 3D print the pieces for them. If they’re not ready to invest in a 3D printer yet, that shouldn’t be a hurdle, that shouldn’t be a stumbling block. We can take care of the printing.
I so agree. 3D modeling should come first anyway. The art and design and thinking about what you want to make before you just start running a printer. One of the things that we talk about pretty frequently here is that people are always asking us, “What printer should I choose?” Instead our answer is, “How much design do you know, how much design and modeling do you know? What do you want to make?” Then I can answer your question. If in fact the school doesn’t even know yet what their students are going to be interested or what classes are they going to want to incorporate, buying a printer is a little premature.
Totally. I think you have to just get started with the modeling and then that second piece comes later. Also, there’s just so many different printers, depending on your price range, depending on, like you said, the type of things that you’re printing, what resolution do you need, how big are the pieces. I think that that is something that I want to have more information on our website that gives some clarity and gives some direction if people are really interested in purchasing a printer. But the learning happens with the 3D modeling. There is the excitement with the 3D print.
Because you’re holding it. It’s very exciting.
Exactly. That’s the thing. We realize that gamifying learning … Kids on KiraKira, for every class that they watch and every design they create, they get points. It really encourages them to be excited about learning and making and then they can click a button and then they can 3D print it. We found that that 3D printed tangible reward is a very unique value proposition and something that kids get really excited about, creating physical products. It is a part of the loop that we want to offer. We don’t think that it should only be about the 3D modeling. There’s a balance of, like you said, which is more important, at which stage should you be emphasizing which piece. It’s been interesting to explore that.
I’m curious, as you go through these classes, are you focused on a particular CAD platform or are there various ones that you teach? Can you tell us some of that?
Sure. We started, because of my initial work with the University of Virginia, we started with Solidworks. Some of our initial classes were 60 plus minutes long. As we started doing more research about our audience, we started realizing that in order to really combat this drop off in STEM learning amongst girls, we needed to be reaching girls in middle school. Creating 60 plus minute Solidworks classes was not going to be the avenue that we needed to go.
They just don’t have the attention span for that at middle school, girls or boys.
Even adults. We had some adults that were like, “This is intimidating for me. I am not a middle school girl. I have no idea how my daughter is going to navigate.” We then quickly started working with, when I moved out to San Francisco, Autodesk, who’s been an awesome partner. Something I love about Autodesk products as well, as there are a lot of other products out there that are free, but all of their products are free for students. We started working with the TinkerCAD team as well as the Fusion 360 team and started creating classes to introduce girls. We’ve had girls as young as five, but really we have both boys and girls taking our classes. Although we have a focus on curriculum that’s geared towards young women.
We have a lot of TinkerCAD classes that are geared towards middle school age, fifth through eighth grade. That’s where the STEM drop off, it’s between fifth and eighth grade, over 80% of girls lose proficiency in math and science. In fifth grade, they’re on par with boys and then something happens in middle school. That’s why we’ve really been focused on TinkerCAD. It’s just such a fun easy program, the UI, UX is very intuitive. Kids that have no experience dive in and start making cool stuff and then they get their confidence up and then I think after a certain level, then we encourage the students to start exploring a program like Fusion 360 that’s a better gateway into more sophisticated programs.
I want to make sure that we clarify here. You do have some classes and things that are for even younger kids and then you do have a program for young women who are college aged or at high school.
Yes. A lot of our classes really speak to a pretty wide age range. We have introductory classes for kids but we have fashionista series, we have an organic jewelry design series and we have young women that are in their 30s and 40s that are interested in 3D modeling or interested in learning about fashion design, learning about jewelry making, learning about product design that take the classes. You try to have a balance of both gender neutral and also age neutral content. We’re not being exclusive to any one customer.
I think you’re filling a really big gap that we have been talking about for quite some time. In fact, we were just debating something about it this morning. There’s a big gap between learning how to digitally design, which there are a lot of school programs out there. While there still is a gender gap there, there’s a growing audience who head into that. You have less and less students heading into that more product design, industrial design, that more of traditional design fields because there’s just not as much work there to be honest with you, and it’s a lot harder to find your way and to build a business and to break into that. But there’s been this gap between what’s being taught in CAD digital design and what you and we learned at RISD about art and design about building good products and the process of design. That’s actually missing in some of these digital design classes. They head to engineering and they head to specific and they really don’t talk about what you’re making, how you came up with your idea and started building that.
Design thinking, exactly. By the mere fact that you’re providing that, you’re actually filling a gigantic gap in the education system overall.
I feel like there’s been this trend more recently in education to more project based learning and really a focused on the importance of innovation, the importance of design thinking. Classes are so much different than … I’m sure my parents said this and their parents, but we had science class, we had math class. We didn’t have imagineering class, we didn’t have programming, we didn’t have the range of robotics classes that I see in schools, both private and public schools today. I feel like a program, having some more content though that’s geared towards young women is something that … We still see a lot of boys getting excited about these classes but not as much the girls. Having some content that’s encouraging girls in the design thinking process. Also ultimately, I think entrepreneurship is something that’s really tied to this, that we’re teaching kids how to make their own products and also I think there could certainly be more targeted education for empowering young women to become entrepreneurs and thinking about that from an early age.
I think that’s fantastic. We’ve been discussing some of this recently because our daughter who’s seven years old came home from second grade with this document from school, which she had drawn on and written on. It said, “Growth mindset versus fixed mindset.” It goes into all of these various things about the different mindsets. That if you’re in a fixed mindset, you’re afraid to fail, and if you’re in a growth mindset, failure is an opportunity to learn.
That’s awesome, cool.
I was like, I literally fell off my chair when I saw it. I go to the teacher and I say, “Who did this? Who put this in the program? Did you do this?” She looked like I was going to be one of those parents who was going to like flip a lid over it. Instead, I was really excited. She was like, “No, this is a district wide mandate.” We’re in the Irvine Unified School District here in Southern California. I was like, “I totally want to meet the person who decided that this was a good idea because it’s a great idea.”
It’s awesome. Wow.
Now, we just have to also add into that though, design process and design thinking, just like we learned the scientific process, like hypothesis to testing.
Because art is so missing in our school district and school districts across the country, it’s a missing link where there just really aren’t the right teachers and the right mix of people to push for it, for people to understand that, for administrators to understand that it’s necessary. We, from the outside, have to do a little bit more pushing to get that through.
Totally. I think that, like you said, art has been losing its footing a little bit in certain school districts. I think in terms of funding, I’ve heard it’s been, often it’s a program that gets cut. I think when you think about the bigger picture of design thinking, creativity and art and design are so much a part of STEAM, the whole STEAM versus STEM. As long as schools are approaching that in the right way, it’s not just like art class, it’s design class, it’s design thinking. I think gosh, if I had access to 3D printers and 3D modeling at a younger age, it’s just so exciting and to see what kids are creating with just a little bit of encouragement and like you said, empowering them to fail and getting that mindset of failing fast, failing forward, the more you fail, the more opportunity you have to not fail.
It’s so different from the way I think we were taught, which was always to avoid failure. It’s really remarkable how things are changing.
I really do think that that’s a great thing. One of the early lectures I ever gave in the 3D printing industry here a couple years ago was a talk called Makers Making Profits. The idea that you actually had to think about the pricing of your product that you’ve designed when you started making it instead of it being just an aside is like, “Ooh, everybody loves this so I’ll sell it for 20 bucks.” That’s not how it works in the consumer product world. Let me give you a little bit of insight into thinking about your pricing structure and having for the design you did, for the work you’ve done. There’s a value in that. Just flipping that thinking on its head was just this big a-hah at that moment that, yeah, makers might want to make some money out of this.
I think that real world tie is really important, not only in terms of pricing and stuff like that but also I think that’s something that teachers see the value of … 3D modeling is important but then the actual 3D printing and making a physical product is so valuable in terms of thinking about this product in real life. How much is it going to cost to make? How big is it? If it’s a box, does the lid work? It’s all of the functionality aspects that I think are often lost in curricula that it’s that end piece of incorporating them into real life. I feel like that’s this really special thing about 3D printing and instant prototyping that kids can make things and see them immediately.
Then you can just see the potential of what’s next. Do I want to make it a business? Do I want to give them to all my friends? What is next? Once you hold it in your hand, it has a lot more tangibleness than it does when it’s just sitting there in the computer.
You get to play with it, you get to see, “Oh, it’s broken. This doesn’t really work. Oh, I was wrong. I thought that this piece would fit perfectly but let me iterate, let me change a little bit.” So much happens, so much of the design thinking process I think culminates in that 3D print. I do think if a school can afford to have a 3D printer, it’s worth having, even a less expensive one that just does a rough prototype. It’s just a really exciting moment for the learning process.
I think it’s also really exciting what you’re doing, getting more girls intentionally into these disciplines. When I was at RISD, the industrial design department, I probably could count the number of women in the program on the fingers of one hand. I think that’s a real problem when the majority of consumer products are actually influenced or purchased by women. I really would like to see those numbers change. I know they’ve changed since then somewhat but still not enough.
You would think that it would have changed more just in the past few years. I know Melinda Gates spoke recently about, at least for computer programming, that this gender discrepancy really became more apparent. I think she said around the early 90s when this whole culture of the nerds started happening and games became less gender neutral and more focused on guns and tanks and stuff like that.
There’s something that’s happened more recently that is impacting the decisions that girls make when they’re in middle school and high school and their interest level in pursuing things like in 3D modeling specifically, animation or 3D modeling, learning 3D modeling skills and engineering ultimately. I feel like if more people are focused on creating a solution, there is a huge audience for this. I think that’s something that as a female founder, I run into sometimes skeptical, “Boys are the low hanging fruit. They’re already into this stuff, why don’t you create a product geared towards boys? It would just be more successful. You would have a wider audience right off the bat.” I was like, “That’s the easy thing to do but …”
In our prep talk, when we were going back and forth on it and we’re talking about what we were going to discuss today, it was mentioned that, “Do we need to have boys not feel left out? What are the thoughts on that? Do we need more male teachers for lessons?” I absolutely think you should have diverse teachers, male and female. I think that’s always a good thing because some daughters look up to their dads. “He’s my business role model and there isn’t someone I would rather learn from than him.” I think having that is a great mix and it also helps with making sure that you’re filling all the skill bases. Of course, still making the curriculum very relevant to the girls that are being taught.
The problem that I thought about was I’m not big on exclusionary things either but when we have a shift of balance happen, and that’s what could happen to you if you were to mix your curriculum and then over time you head into where there’s more deeper interest or it just starts to overpower the balance and it becomes more boys and male and less female. Now, you have a balance issue. Unless you’re going to control that from a management and how you’re building it and how you’re structuring the curriculum and not allowing an imbalance to happen at any time, that could be dangerous. We see that shift happen all the time.
We used to give a talk about gender blending design, how do you get design that’s not pink and shrunk but is a value to women and doesn’t offend men? How do you get that balance going when you’re going to be making something in the mass market? That’s what we do. We used to talk about that a lot and the biggest problem was that it wasn’t so much that the design ideas weren’t there, the good products ideas weren’t there. It’s that they were getting killed by a team that was out of balance. The gatekeepers had nothing to do and no relationship with and no real understanding of who the consumer was. Also the team within itself was self-silencing the women within the group because they were so out of balance. There was like one or two, if you were lucky. Why would they point out that they were women in this group of a very male dominated engineering group or product design group?
It got to the point at which those ideas just didn’t come to the surface. That’s what can happen when you have a curriculum that’s built by students. We see it happening when we look at the Thingiverse libraries and things like that. There’s a reason so much of that is unappealing and it makes actually 3D printing seem not marketable. It’s because it’s not done by a good mix of gender, a good mix of ages. It’s not done in that blended way.
I totally agree. I feel like something that we’re working on right now is to have a curated STL library that is more art and design focused where students can download open source, have access to STLs that speak to modern architecture or organic patterns. Something that’s an alternative to when you look at other STL libraries and it’s like dead zombies, a lot of dead zombies and guns. That’s not what 3D printing’s about.
It can be a lot more than that, please.
It can be a lot more, exactly. Diversity. To speak to that, I think your point, having male instructors, I think there is something also to thinking about diversity beyond just gender. I think that we should have male teachers like you said and that’s something that we are working with some male designers right now. But also just like you said, diversity of thought. Having a whole array of technical backgrounds, animators, architects, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers, so many different disciplines. I think to have the more variety that we have, the richer the content will be.
I also would like to suggest to you, just as a thought, that maybe bringing in also some non tech classes. There are lots of non tech jobs that are coming up in tech companies. We talked with a couple of people over a few podcasts about this. There are a lot of non tech support jobs, like sales jobs, market research jobs. Various parts of that are critical to tech organizations. You want them to have a good tech understanding but exposure to those other things maybe aren’t there as well. Having some of those in the mix as well might really build that more entrepreneurial spirit and help other startups in the future.
I agree with that. I think that would be awesome. Definitely, I hope that as we grow, we can offer a lot of different types of curricula into support even in the spaces of blog and connecting different professionals to a younger generation, to get them inspired. I think for us, almost an equal part to the free online classes that we have is the community, the connect page where design leaders can create profiles and then younger designers can create profiles. We’re working on the backend right now to allow them to network and communicate with each other directly through the website, messaging within KiraKira.
You’re sponsored by Intel, Autodesk. You’ve got some sponsorship going on. What is your big challenge moving forward into getting more classes and getting more teachers? What is your big challenge there?
I think the biggest challenge is just getting word out there. Promoting the classes, I think we will continue to grow as long as our community of students grows and our community of content creators. Getting the word out there both to recruit new talent to make classes and then also just to get kids online on the program learning. That’s why it means so much to be able to speak with both of you today and talk about KiraKira and talk about our mission, because we’re very mission driven. Just to get girls to just try taking the classes and then see all of the cool things that they can make and just spark that creativity and that excitement and then everything else follows after that.
Fantastic. I’m really excited about your mission. I’m glad to learn that your site exists. I think it’s going to be great for my girls as they grow. Because we’ve been getting them, one of them anyway, the one who’s old enough, to throw her into the pool and try and help her swim a bit. There’s a whole more to it than that. I think having some real curriculum established that they can really relate to is going to make a huge difference. I think it solves the challenge that a lot of parents have and that you found over time.
That, look, we have an interest in it, we have 3D printers running here in the house and in our office. She sees them and she’s interested in making things. We don’t always have the time to sit down at the computer, teach her things, teach her what she needs to know. She’s not yet at a self-sufficient way of running the CAD or modeling in any way so she can’t really completely run it without supervision or assistance. Being able to get her into your program and start looking through that and finding places for herself there, that’s ideal because it helps us. We’re there to answer questions but we don’t have to find the extra time that we maybe don’t have in a busy weekend or a busy evening.
Sitting her down if she wants to explore. We’re going to also have, you can sort pretty soon by skill level. You can look at the classes down and see beginner Tinkecad. I think some of the beginner Tinkercad classes are less than five minutes. You can make a little cactus plant. It’s like a two minute class, which obviously it’ll take them a little bit longer but watching the class and going into Tinkercad, watching it again, making it. Those really really short classes so it doesn’t get boring. It might sound crazy that we’re doing classes that are that short but really for newbies, you need to keep it super short, super easy.
I love that. It’s quick reward too.
It’s really important.
That’s what 3D printing is supposed to be. Except that’s the misnomer, that it’s so instant. It’s not Star Trek here. It does take time to print them. But they’re having fun when they’re watching it print. At least there’s some amount of that when they do get to see it.
The excitement, “Oh my gosh, it’s printing.”
Good. We hope we can get the word out. We will have all links to you on the blog post and other places. We’ll have Lannea, our seven year old, run through one of your classes and we’ll do a video to insert into the blog as well.
That would be awesome. I’ll email you, make some suggestions for fun ones for her.
Perfect. Great, thank you. That sounds great. That way we can help get the word out and spread the word, because this is critically important to us as parents of three girls, two that are young and one that’s older. This is an interesting, when you’ve got this age demographic, I was thinking about it, our daughter Alexandra who is a chef, she’s a pastry chef and she’s been working really hard and studying there. She’s expressed interest in some of these sugar 3D printers or chocolate. For her, she studied nutrition and health and wellness in college. She didn’t study 3D modeling, engineering. She didn’t study any of that. It’s pretty daunting to go, “I love the idea of this. If I were to have my own catering service or my own bakery, I could do this. But where the heck am I going to learn this and to have it not take forever for me to learn it?” You offer that opportunity for her as well. That’s going to open a lot of doors.
We have a lot of the people say, “You should be charging for the classes.” We’re very adamant that we believe that democracy of access, everybody should be able to access the classes, watch them and learn, that that’s not something that we ever want to be profiting from. There should be no stumbling block, no hurdles to learning. Hopefully, people can start learning and take classes and then maybe they might want to make their own classes and upload them. That’s the goal.
I love it. Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today, Suz. We really appreciate it.
Thank you. This was so fun. I love speaking with you. I will reach out soon with some classes for your daughters.
Thank you so much. That’s fantastic.
Engaging Girls in 3D Print STEAM Education – Final Thoughts
Every time we have another interview, I keep thinking, “All right, one of these is going to be a dud. One of these is going to be boring.” We do so many interviews. This is 401, episode 401. I get surprised more often than not that that was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. It’s not even about fun though. What I’m really excited about now that we’re hitting 401, which seems like a big deal. It is a big deal, we should be really proud of ourselves and really thankful to our listeners out there. I just realized 401 is the area code for Rhode Island. I forgot about that. Here we’re talking about someone who went to RISD and we went to RISD too. I just realized that.
Now what I feel is so great, before when we were interviewing people and it was really early in the podcast, we were learning. We didn’t have as much capability to help. We were helping through publicizing and making this information out there and getting those things. We really didn’t have the circulation that we have right now. I’m just so amazed at how many downloads we have of every episode. You guys listening just, it keeps us going and gets us excited.
Here, we also now have tons of people to network her with. She said that her biggest challenge was getting the word out. We can help do that now. I feel empowered and capable of doing that and this podcast has given us the capability of that. That makes me really proud and excited, because now I really feel like every time we have a conversation, we’re making new connections and we’re getting people to know each other within the 3D print industry. With that, we’re creating a network of power to be able to really help 3D printing grow the right way.
Really that’s the whole point. We believe in this industry and we want to have it move forward in the right way. We have our vision for what we think that means. Not everybody agrees with us, I know and that’s fine. There’s enough room for all of us in this industry. It’s such a fun thing to be a part of and to be able to help an organization like this.
This is the thing, I know we’re going to get a lot of criticism back and forth about the whole male-female gender splitting and whether or not you should have cool learning environments and all of this. We have three daughters. Tom is outnumbered severely. We have three daughters. There is this drop off that happens when the environment gets too male dominated or too aggressive or too oriented towards things that interest them.
Our daughter’s teacher had this great a-hah moment with her in a parent-teacher conference where she came back and she said, “Wow, Lannea just whipped through this project. It was completely amazing. Sometimes I have to really push her hard to get her to finish her project.” I sat down and I asked her, “Why did you finish this one so quickly? Why were you so into it?” She said, “Because I liked it.”
When we can give kids, girls, especially when they’re outnumbered in a lot of the curriculum in terms of things that interest them, when we can give them something that does interest them and it ignites that fire for that project, wow. Do we really care what kind of environment it came in? In a single gender only environment or not? I don’t care. If it gets my daughter working on STEAM, if it got my son, if I had a son, working on STEAM, I would be thrilled at whatever method that happened.
Certainly KiraKira.com is focused on engaging girls in 3D print STEAM education, and women too, into learning CAD because they are very underserved I think. I think that a lot of the tech industry is wrongfully so skewed against women really learning. I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to say against, it’s just skewed away. It’s not like they did it on purpose. I’m not placing blame. I don’t think it’s offensive to say it’s skewed against women. Or maybe a better way to say it, it’s male dominated is maybe another way to say it.
I think that’s the reality of it. That was always true even in art school, which we went to for college. Even my department, which was an art design discipline, industrial design was dominated by men as well. It had to be 90% men in my class probably or close to it. Here’s the thing, whether you are a girl or a woman or have a daughter or someone that you know would be able to immediately take advantage of these classes on KiraKira.com for who they’re intended for or not, one thing as makers in this world …
This is calling all makers, calling all designers, calling all engineers, anybody’s who’s involved in this 3D printing industry, whether it’s in a casual way or in a serious professional way. Here’s the reality of America. I know we have listeners in other countries so forgive us if this doesn’t apply to you. I’m not going to claim to know the cultures and dynamics of what’s going on in other countries. In the United States of America, the vast majority of anything that is consumed, bought by people in this country is bought or influenced by women. 86 plus percent or purchases are bought or influenced by women.
Whether you are a woman or not, you better get to know and understand them because that’s the path to business success, at least in retail America. I know some listeners are going to say, “I’m in a commercial field. I’m business to business.” Like Honeywell that we interviewed is doing aerospace stuff. I’m sure there are legitimately a lot of companies out there that their profitability, their livelihoods do not in any way depend on what women think about or care about or buy. That’s valid, but if you are in any way involved in retail America or in a B2C, business to consumer type of business, you got to understand women or have people on your staff working for you who do. You need to encourage and foster that kind of understanding in order to succeed.
I want to tell a story about my dad that I just heard this past weekend when talking with him. I knew this. My dad worked for a very large engineering and construction company called Fluor Corporation. They were bought out or merged at one point and they were called Fluor Daniel, which I still think what they might be called today. Or it’s just Fluor now. I think the Daniel part either got sold or dropped or something.
Anyway, he worked there for most of his career. Very early on, he developed a project management training program, a project manager training program that was focused on bringing women into the project management system, that they didn’t have enough female project managers. He felt that was a great miss in the program and he wanted to bring more in. But they didn’t have the access to the education required or the mentorship that was required to get through and become that in a normal course of business and school.
He set out to develop a program and they involved every department within the company, from accounting to sales to engineering and every single part of it. They sought out and got each department head to recommend a woman in their department who would be eligible for the program. He also got them all to agree to do portions of the training over the course of it. It was like a many many week course. There would be some kind of class and then you would have some kind of project or mentorship training or some kind of project that you worked on for a period of time.
They would go through that and at the end, they would not only be great project managers, but they would be cross trained in all the different departments and networked into all the people within those departments, which he felt very strongly that the women did extremely well, built relationships really well there. He and a woman who is still doing this over 20 years later, 30 years later almost, because he started when I was in high school, over 30 years later, they’re still doing this.
Brenda, she facilitates this program and still makes it happen within their organization. To me, that says a lot. When you have a big very very male dominated field, oil and gas, you can’t get bigger than that. They have to work still hard today to equalize. They have a program and invested in it year after year after year because they see the value of it. What does that say? The biggest thing that he said to me personally is that my dad said, “I have daughters. They didn’t choose to go into my industry but that doesn’t mean that those other women aren’t someone else’s daughter and I ought to do something for them.”
Certainly, that makes a lot of sense. But actually what that really shows is that even if you have a B2B company, which Fluor definitely is B2B. They’re building oil refineries, you don’t get much more B2B than that, that they recognized the value in helping women be more involved in what they’re doing as a company. It makes a lot of sense. Anybody who’s involved in making or creating any kind of product, if it’s going to really sell well for the majority of products out there with few exceptions, the majority of products, it’s got to appeal to women.
You’ve got to get very comfortable with trying to, and not saying you ever will completely because I think women are a great black hole of a mystery in many ways. You got to really do your best to try to understand what makes them tick, what makes them buy, why they are going to buy, what they would appeal to. I think even if you’re not going to take any of these courses or you’re not an appropriate person who would take a course at KiraKira.com, go scope them out. They’re free. You can check them out and you might learn a thing or two.
One of the things that, because I recently gotten involved in an organization that is trying to match me personally and they came to me because I was a woman, me personally up to be on a board of advisors, boards of directors, boards of advisors for a company. Not completely startups, but some that are funded and beyond startup. They’re looking to match that up because they want women and designers actually, they want both because it has a lot of value for what they’ve profiled and they’ve studied and they’ve figured out that those two things add tremendous value to the mix on your board. Lots of boards are being asked to have gender diversity.
I was sitting here thinking and racking my brain, have we interviewed, in all 400 past episodes, have we ever interviewed a female CEO of a 3D print company? I know we’ve interviewed women artists and designers and women who’ve worked in, like Nora Toure who works for Sculpteo, women high up in the company. I think we’ve interviewed one or two women that’s a founder of an organization. It may not be a big corporation. Kiki Prottsman, works at Code.org, and Deborah Wilcox has this retail store chain in Colorado that sells 3D printing. I don’t know if she’s CEO, maybe that’s her title. But it’s her company. She’s the owner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek out more, we should.
But that says a lot. If the only one we can think of is Deborah Wilcox in all the time that we’ve doing interviews, all 400 episodes, wow, this is the next one that’s a CEO founder level. The 3D print industry itself is really skewed. We’ve got to do something about that. I think that’s something that’s going to be generational and evolutionary. The way to make that happen is what we’re doing, educating our own kids and all the people who are listening to podcast, who are involved in education in any which way. Look, don’t get me wrong guys, I’m not saying leave guys behind. That’s not the point at all.
Let’s catch women up if that’s the case. I think it just makes everyone stronger. It’s why I actually love working with Tracy, because we make a much better team doing things together than certainly I know than I would be as a designer or a business person on my own.
We’re about headed into the end of our year of working together on this WTFFF?! Podcast and 3D Start Point. We’ve had a really great year. I’m looking forward to next year. I’m very excited about what’s happening next year. We have a lot of great things coming, starting with some new products of our own that we’re developing. That’s a little tease. If you haven’t listened to episode number 400, which is yesterday’s, go listen to it because we’re giving our 2017 predictions and previews of what we think is going to come up and what we’re going to be working on. We’re looking forward to sticking with you into 2017. Comment below, send us a message there or you can go anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint.
About Suz Somersall
Suz Somersall is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for building companies at the intersection of arts and technology. She’s the founder and CEO of KiraKira. She created KiraKira to encourage more girls and young women to pursue careers in STEAM with an easier path than she experienced as a young woman.
Suz studied visual art and gender studies at Brown University and metal and industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). After founding her online retail company SuzSomersall.com (featured in WSJ, Harper’s Bazaar), she became inspired to share concepts of mechanical engineering and 3D design with women everywhere and has always been passionate about women in engineering and entrepreneurship.
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