HIDDEN HILLS, Calif.,— With the prominent role that women played in the Velvet Revolution, and as gender equality becomes a global issue, the American University of Armenia continues to be a leader in the advancement of women. Through its “Yes! Armenian Women Can!” campaign, up to 100 women each year in perpetuity will be able to study Computer Science and Engineering at AUA, once the University reaches its goal of establishing a $2.5 million endowed scholarship fund.
On April 28th, a fundraising event was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Vahan and Liza Bagamian in Hidden Hills, California to raise awareness and funds for the “Yes! Armenian Women Can!” campaign. To date, nearly $500,000 has been raised of the projected $2.5million.
AUA was honored by the presence of Mr. Armen Bairboutian, Armenia’s General Consul in Los Angeles, at the event. After welcoming remarks by the hostess, Liza Bagamian, Nelly Der Kiureghian welcomed the guests on behalf of her husband, AUA president Armen Der Kiureghian. She also introduced the overarching goals of the university emphasizing the importance of attracting more Armenian women to the degree programs in Engineering and Computer Science.
A panel discussion followed, which was led by Dr. Shakeh Kaftarian, Psychologist and Women’s Empowerment Consultant, as well as Fulbright Scholar at AUA (2016 – 2017). Her efforts have been instrumental in the development of this campaign, along with the CEOs and Founders of some of the most successful technology companies in Silicon Valley and the dubbed “Silicon Mountain” based in Armenia.
The conversation began with Dr. Yervant Zorian, President of Synopsys Armenia, speaking about the need for more qualified talent and the existing gap between available jobs and skilled candidates in the technology sector in Armenia’s labor market. “High tech has grown fast in the last decade, from only two companies in 1992 to now over 850 companies, employing over 15,000 employees throughout the country. But there are shortages in the industry and many companies struggle to pull resources and find qualified talent. At Synopsys, we are proud that 35% of our employees are women, while in Silicon Valley that number drops to about 9%,” he remarked.
Hovhannes Avoyan, CEO and Founder of PicsArt, spoke about the important role women are playing in their product design. “At PicsArt, 45-50% of women are engineers, including the Head of AI and our Head of Engineering. The majority of our end-users are women, so we want to make sure women who are representing our customer base are also designing our products,” he said.
Al Eisaian, CEO and co-founder of IntelinAir, highlighted the importance of the command of the English language for potential candidates seeking employment in the tech industry. Mr. Eisaian recommended that AUA explores partnerships with Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages to encourage students majoring in foreign languages to take computer science courses and enter the field of information technology. Over 85% of the student body at Yerevan Brusov State are female.
The discussion went on to explore how to inspire more young women to embrace STEM. Several great ideas were shared among the guests, such as making resumes name-blind, so as not to reveal the applicant’s gender, a tactic Sevag Ajemian at Globanet is implementing. His company is also offering paid maternal and paternal leave to promote equally shared family responsibilities between parents. Nishan Majarian, CEO of Agrian, Inc., spoke about the importance of creating flexible work opportunities and how this could be advantageous to women raising families.
Vahe Kuzoyan, President and Co-Founder of ServiceTitan, who just raised $165 million in the latest round of his company’s fundraising, spoke about the need to source female talent and create a pipeline of seasoned managers by offering skills training in specialized areas, such as negotiations, where women may not be as aggressive as the job entails. “It’s also going to take a societal level shift. It can’t just be businesses, it has to be everyone working together to make changes happen in the country.”
AUA has already played a pivotal role in preparing Armenia’s next generation of female technology leaders through the Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering. The University already boasts inspiring examples of women who have graduated or are currently enrolled and will soon enter the field. One example is Anush Ghambaryan, an early graduate from AUA’s Computer and Information Science program who now heads the Artificial Intelligence department at PicsArt. Another is Anahit Serobyan, who graduated with a Masters in Computer Science in 2013 and went on to join VMware in Armenia.
Currently, around 40% of students in the College are female, however, research shows that by 2025, the need for computer programmers in Armenia will triple due to the ever-increasing innovation in the country’s tech sector. This grows the market demand for even more women to enter the field and set new records, even outpacing that of Silicon Valley. The visionary initiative of “Yes! Armenian Women Can!” will ensure that Armenia continues to uphold its “Silicon Mountain” status while crossing new milestones and setting new standards for gender equity in the technology sector.