Before we get this party started, I should tell you that I’ve only been working as a developer for a few months. However, my interest in this career was piqued a few years ago, and when I began to research the field I noticed there was more than a little discussion around the topic of gender in tech. It didn’t take long for me to learn that, by all reasonable accounts, women often get a pretty rough deal when it comes to pursuing a tech-related career (stay tuned for more).
I feel incredibly fortunate that I’m starting my career as a developer with RocketBuild. There are so many reasons that I hoped to join this company, and one of them was that as a woman I felt more respected, welcomed, and included here than anywhere else I considered. In my first conversations with my then to-be colleagues, that insidious emphasis on “you” that I’d heard so often from others was never there when they asked “How did you get into coding?” I was the first woman hired on at RocketBuild, it’s true, but when you consider that that also made me only the seventh person in the company, that’s a definite improvement on the statistics (again, stay tuned). And since I started, another awesome woman was brought on in a leadership capacity, so we now stand at two out of nine. In an ideal world there would be four and a half of us (huh?), but hey, I’d say we’re off to a much better than average start, especially for a company focused solely on development. Our fearless leader Matt often reminds us that we’re shaping RocketBuild’s culture every day, and I couldn’t be more proud that our culture from the get-go is one that respects and welcomes women and values our potential equally. It’s my hope that our culture can influence others in the tech community, because the unfortunate truth is that my experience as a female developer is the exception, not the rule.
The huge, not-so-secret problem in tech— fair warning, I’m about to use a buzzword here— is diversity, or rather the lack thereof. Fact is, the overwhelming majority of the tech workforce is still white dudes (who are most likely also cis, straight, and able-bodied). But why? That’s a big and knotty question, and one I could never adequately address on my own, let alone in one blog post. But I am qualified to address one component of that question— why are there so few women, and why does that even matter?
What does a developer look like?
To start, if I told you to close your eyes and picture a developer/programmer/engineer/whatever, what kind of person does your brain conjure up? Go ahead, give it a whirl.
I don’t know who you’re picturing, but I’m guessing that the person you’re envisioning isn’t a woman; they’re probably some variation on one of these guys. It’s not surprising that those are the stereotypes that spring to mind when you consider that while women make up more than half of the US workforce, we hold less than 30% of jobs in the tech industry. Breaking it down a little more, we claim only about 15% of technical jobs, jobs with a title including words like “developer” or “engineer.” Now I’m no math whiz, but those aren’t very proportional numbers. Those numbers should make it easy to see why many girls and women feel discouraged from pursuing tech career, but if you’d like me to elaborate, I’m happy to oblige.
Tell me more…
To begin with, many young women just don’t realize that a tech career is an option for them, since so few schools offer computer science before college and when they do, classes are overwhelmingly male. For young women, seeing few or no relatable peers in a class makes it incredibly daunting to enroll in (if it’s offered at all). And let’s face it, our culture as a whole still views anything computer-y as “a guy thing,” although there’s really no logical reason for this. Even if you make it past these early barriers, study to be a part of the 12% of computer science degree holders who are female (not that you need a computer science degree to work in the tech industry, but I digress), and manage to jump through the correct hoops to land a job in the field, chances are you won’t feel happy or comfortable enough stick around, and there are many reasons for this.
It may be because in almost any job you manage to land, you’ll be one of very few women on your team— or the only one. On top of feeling lonely or isolated, there probably won’t be women in higher positions to act as a mentor or role model. Without that, it’s hard to envision yourself being successful and continuing to climb the proverbial ladder; unless you’re satisfied staying on one of the lower rungs (and who really is?), then what’s the point of sticking around? And looking at the bigger picture, those young women I discussed before? If they want to pursue a career in tech, they’re probably happy to persevere through school despite the lack of relatable peers, but when there are so few women in the industry as a whole to look up to, particularly in leadership and technical roles, it’s hard for young women aspiring to a tech career to imagine themselves thriving there. You know the term “vicious cycle”? I’d say it applies here.
Or it may be the “boys’ club” culture that is still pervasive in too many parts of the industry, in which all the cool (read: ridiculous) major obstacles working women confront in virtually every profession— you know, the wage gap, lower chances of promotion, harassment, all the greatest hits— still exist; in addition to that, all kinds of super fun (read: infuriating) microaggressions like mansplaining and tone policing are more likely to abound in companies still stuck in this kind of culture. If on average about 8 out of 10 people in the room are guys who may find it hard to imagine that such obstacles exist for others, how likely is it that they’ll prioritize removing those obstacles? In so many cases, the answer is “not likely at all.” And should women trying to succeed or even just get by in the industry have to deal with these obstacles in the first place? Absolutely not.
So what’s the big deal?
Why does this even matter? Well, it should be obvious that it’s just plainly unethical that women are pushed out of the tech path at every step of the way. If ethics for some reason don’t matter to you, then let’s look at it from an economic standpoint: it makes zero business-y sense to exclude women when you consider that at least half of the people using the products tech companies are churning out are likely to be women— if you want to appeal to that massive market, wouldn’t it make sense to include that perspective in the process of creating products to sell to it? If you need even more convincing, there is overwhelming evidence that the more women there are in a business, especially from the beginning, the more profitable it becomes and the more the economy as a whole benefits.
Don’t give up…
Are you annoyed yet? Maybe even a little… angry? Me too. I could go on, but I trust that if you made it to this page, you know how to Google it. The good news is that there is… well, good news: many signs point to some serious improvements already happening, even if they’re moving slowly. For one, people are talking about it— that Google search I know you did a few moments ago turned up countless articles, studies, and think-pieces devoted to the topic. That’s a start: the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, right? Of course, even in my short time in tech, I’ve had conversations with others in the field who still believe that it’s a pure meritocracy in which anyone can get the job and succeed. But the growing visibility of the issue is a guarantee that the barriers women face in tech will start to crumble. It may just be because companies want to save face, but hopefully it will be because more people will buy into the wild theory that women deserve equal treatment and opportunities in the workplace and that girls are equally intelligent and capable humans who deserve the same encouragement that boys get from a young age to pursue tech careers.
…Seriously, don’t. We can do this!
Thankfully there are many ways to reach a solution. As I said earlier, I chose to accept a position at RocketBuild because it was immediately obviously to me that the culture wasn’t a boys’ club culture, but one that was happy to welcome me and never treat me as less-than. The adoption of this kind of culture in all tech companies, a culture in which women get the fair treatment and opportunities at work that they deserve, is a vital part of the solution. In such environments, women are more likely to stick around and flourish… which means that younger girls will feel more encouraged to give it a shot and stick with it, which means more young women pursuing training and computer science degrees (this is already maybe kind of happening), which means more women qualified to enter the field, which means that younger girls will… you get my point. That’s a way better cycle, isn’t it?
That also means that it’s our collective duty to actively encourage girls to pursue their interests in computer science (and other STEM fields of course) early on. Schools around the nation are slowly embracing opportunities to inject some code into their curriculum, which means that more girls (and other underrepresented groups) are exposed to tech as a viable career path. Social media campaigns like this one and this one aim to combat stereotypes about who belongs in tech and make women in tech more visible. And so many awesome organizations have sprung up to help get that better version of the cycle I just talked about going— groups like Girls Who Code and Girl Develop It (among many others) offer girls and women interested in coding more opportunity and encouragement to learn and a community of peers to offer support and encouragement. Because the more women there are in the tech industry, the more we all win, and that’s something we should all be willing to work for.