Stepping into STEM
<p>When Julie Averill ’95 looked around her computer science classes at SPU, there were no other women, save one female professor. </p>

“At that time, we didn’t really talk about it,” Averill said of the absence of women pursuing computer science degrees. “I don’t think we had the words. I just wanted to be equal, so my thoughts were, Don’t talk about the fact that I’m different. I’m here, so let’s just move on.

Averill did move on, and up. Today, as executive vice president and chief technical officer at athletic apparel retailer Lululemon, she oversees a global team of 700 and helps the company make the most of its technological centers, data intelligence, corporate and planning systems, and more. And she uses her position and experience to empower the next generation of women. 

“I do a lot of work now with women and girls and STEM, and I’m so happy to see gatherings of women in technology supporting each other,” she said. “But it’s a new thing, and I always encourage young women to look around and appreciate that environment. It represents change. The right thing to do is to hold equal seats at the table together, and men are helping us, and we’re helping each other.”

Among her volunteer pursuits, Averill is on Washington STEM’s board of directors, a statewide nonprofit seeking opportunities for students most underserved and underrepresented in STEM fields. She is also a strategic advisor for IGNITE Worldwide, which addresses the skills and gender gaps in STEM careers by reaching girls in grades six to 12.

As executive vice president and chief technical officer at Lululemon, Julie Averill oversees a global team of 700 and helps the company make the most of its technological investments.

Such investment is needed. While 57% of bachelor’s degree recipients were women in 2017, only 19% of them sought computer and information sciences degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Department of Labor reports just 26% of professional computing occupations in the U.S. workforce are currently held by women.

Computers were new in homes when Averill was a girl. At 10, her father, noting her interest in technology, enrolled her in a coding class for adults. 

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool! I can interact with a device, and I can solve problems.’ I remember making a little video game that was really no fun to play but really fun to make,” she said. “I think you have to get kids young to make those light bulbs go on.”

When Averill was in high school, her father helped small businesses implement computer systems, and she would train their employees on how to use them for word processing and creating spreadsheets. 

“Inspiring girls to pursue STEM careers is hard work, but as someone who benefited from an adult who did that, I can say it has amazing impact,” she said.

Averill previously served as REI’s first chief information officer. Then, as vice president for selling and marketing systems at Nordstrom, Averill led innovations like shipping products directly from stores to customers.

“I’ve gotten to work with great brands that have integrity, commitment to customers and service, and great products,” she said. “I want to work for companies whose values align with my own.

“I love retail because it’s so close to the customer, and you can implement something and see if it works immediately. If you do something to your website that the customer likes, they’ll reward you. And if they don’t like it, then you better undo it really quickly, because they’ll tell you with their wallet,” she said. 

“You can go into a store and see how customers are shopping and what their friction points are, and then you can imagine how technology can help. It’s both complicated and simple at the same time, and there’s a tremendous amount of technology required.”

Averill credits SPU with giving her confidence to navigate the technological topography. “I could not sit down today and code. But I’m not afraid of it,” she said. “SPU gave me a really broad understanding of how all the technology works and how the pieces fit together. When you understand the whole landscape, then nothing’s going to scare you.” 

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