The realization that the world needs more women in tech
A few years ago, I observed my daughter become interested in technology and coding. I bought her a book (👈 Amazon affiliate link), and she started learning Python. She also signed up for some Java development classes at DigiPen. She naturally gravitated toward programming because she wanted to work in a creative and technical field that could stimulate her creative and analytical mind. Accidentally, that is exactly what originally brought me to the world of computer science.
Over the years, she slowly lost interest for many reasons. Some of them had to do with gender bias. First, she noticed how 90% of her peers in the Java class were males. She started associating “programmers” with “men”, Furthermore, she found the topic of coding hard to discuss and somewhat stigmatized by her female friends.
Slowly she started to internalize computing as a boy’s club. For this and other reasons, she started leaning toward different creative, technically challenging, and diverse fields.
If you asked my daughter, she would probably dismiss the whole thing and say that the gender ratio wasn’t a big reason for her decisions. My father instincts tell me a different story that show a sneaky aspect of the problem. The gender bias is mostly involuntary and does not scream “get out of tech” to women. It simply repeats subtle messages over and over, pushing women away a little at the time. It is not an obvious and forceful message, but it is gentle and consistent.
My observations made me realized that the tech world is full of gender involuntary bias and micro-discrimination. The environment feels unfriendly for non-male genders, a boy’s club intimidating and “geeky-masculine”.
Stats are discouraging
While women hold more BA degrees than men, only 18% to 20% of all engineering students are women. Women represent 57% of all professionals in the workforce, but only 25% of the professionals in computing. The most troubling fact is that the trend is getting worse, and in the early 1990s that number was 31%.
Maria Renhui Zhang, Founder & CEO of Alike, now VP of Engineering at Tinder, said:
“The problem is not that women are unable to complete the requirements associated with these jobs. The problem is that women simply aren’t making the decision to.”
Why aren’t women making the decision to join the tech workforce? What is the damage to the tech world and to innovation? How do we fix this mess?
Given what I observed, I am convinced that non-males feel like they might not have the same chances as males. Also, they are rightfully concerned that they might be the minority, which can be a little scary and intimidating.
The benefit of a diverse environment
It is a fact that female developers had a huge impact on the creation of coding as we know it. The world of software engineering and computing is missing an opportunity to attract and retain amazing technical talent. Engineering teams that are diverse are more productive, the environment more balanced, more ideas and perspectives are brought to the table, and that results in better products. Diverse engineering organizations promote stronger alignment and better relations with more balanced areas of organizations such as marketing, sales, HR, customer support, etc.
A more inclusive environment and a diverse employee base brings more knowledge, perspectives, and experience to companies, and appeals to an increasingly global customer base. Diverse environments help to hire and support highly competent employees and create the foundation for survival in a competitive business environment.
Men need to be part of the solution
I strongly believe that men need to be part of the solution and help “the cause”. As a result, I decided to research, study, and understand the struggles experienced by non-males in tech, actively taking actions to improve the situation.
My current engineering organization is about 40 people strong, and counts several female engineers, mostly in Quality Assurance roles. Dev and QA work very closely together, and the environment feels reasonably diverse. I see material benefits from the diversity and immediately notice a change if a team becomes numerically too male dominated. While things are already better than in many engineering organizations, I pay close attention to anything that is or could be perceived as gender bias, making sure that there is a great balance of opportunities for everyone.
Outside my organization, I am finding opportunities to mentor and support non-male tech talent and tech leaders, and partner with organizations that are actively working to improve the gender imbalance problem in the world of tech.
Get involved. Bring your story.
I am thinking to start featuring non-males in tech on this blog, with their profile, inspiring stories, and advice they might have for their peers. If you are interested in being a featured non-male-in-tech guest on this blog or have an interesting story or point of view, please contact me using the contact form, or leave a comment on this post.