When I was in middle school, I had my first contact with a coding language. It was called Pascal (seems it is still used today – see here) and I was coding in Borland Pascal for MS-DOS (or that blue screen that made your eyes hurt). I remember that it seemed so cool to me that I was able to print anything I want on the screen or do some fifth grade calculations that soon I started going to local competitions. Back then it wasn’t something unusual being the only girl in my class doing this, maybe I even felt special for this. Then, in high school, the passion for coding grew even more, switching to C++ and sometimes leaving the Borland C behind for Emacs in Linux. This time I felt like a cool geek, because I wasn’t just the only girl in my class doing this, but the only person in my class.
Soon it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career in IT and that I will go to obtain a Bachelor Degree in Computer Science. Just an year before finishing high school, when everyone was picking their colleges and taking advice from our teachers, it was the first time something hit me: “a job in IT is not for a girl”. This was what every teacher, except the computer science one, were saying to me almost on a daily basis. It felt at some point like I was in an intervention where they need to convince me that I should be a doctor or journalist or any other job but one where I should spent my days in front of a computer. My biggest surprise was when one teacher even contacted my mom to convince her to not let me to go Computer Science Faculty. Still to this day, I don’t feel I completely understand what made them think that. Fortunately, I did not change my decision and here I am, with a degree in Computer Science and being a Software Developer for almost 6 years.
In this 6 years since I have been working, I can say that for 5 of them I was being the only girl in a team of boys. I still am today and probably going to be for a while. And this sometimes makes me wonder ‘why?’. Why are there so few girls in tech and why do people think this kind of job is not for girls? A few stats about this can be found here http://observer.com/2017/06/women-in-tech-statistics/, the most important one being the fact that now, girls hold only 25 percent of computing jobs.”
“Do we really want to hire a girl?”
With every new job I had there was this feeling that, even if the interview I gave have been great and I have demonstrated that I am good for doing the job, I still had to prove myself. Of course, this is available for everyone in a new position, but I found that in the same scenario the boys were given more credit at the beginning. When people from other teams asked me something, even though I had the answer, they still needed confirmation from my male team leader. One time, after starting to work with a new company, my new team of only males told me they were really nervous to have a girl in a team because they don’t know if we are more difficult to work with or not. Other time, when the team was looking for another member to join, a heard at some point “Do we really want to hire a girl?”.
We see cases like these everywhere: in IT colleges the girls in a class can be counted on one hand; when girls working in a software development company count mostly 30%; when a girl gives an interview for a company and the interviewers are surprised by her experience or even when watching the popular tv series Silicon Valley where all the main IT characters are men. Here you can find a set of slides by a women in tech explaining why is this wrong: https://www.slideshare.net/terriko/how-does-biology-explain-the-low-numbers-of-women-in-cs-hint-it-doesnt.
Thinking about all of these stories, I can say that they are happening because of one thing: perception. The perception of a girl thinking that because there are more boys in this industry it will be more difficult for her to join or the perception of a boy thinking that fewer girls in tech means they have less talent. Once this perception is changed, more girls will have the courage to be software developers and the companies will not be inclusive just because HR department says they need to, but because the girls deserve the job.
How do we change the perception?
1. From where it starts, in school.
If you are passionate about tech, show your parents example of successful girls in tech and explain them what being a techie one means. Do the same with your teachers who think the same as my teachers above. Start a club for girls who like to code or are just curios about it and make it look cool. Encourage other girls to do the same.
2. In college
If you are in college, join a volunteer program and be a mentor for one or more girls in high school who like to code, but think they don’t have what it takes. Or go to an event for students dedicated for coder girls, to find ways to improve yourself. In Iasi, Romania, from where I am, there is the community called “Girls who code“ (https://iasi.girlswhocode.ro) and they do have interesting learning events. The last one was powered by Amazon, with the series “Supergirls in tech”: https://iasi.girlswhocode.ro/supergirls-in-tech/.
3. In companies
At a bigger scale, if you are a company, you should encourage more girls to apply for the open positions or you should offer more internship programs dedicated to them. Build you own female engineers. Also, the company should be prepared to change its culture. The teams might have an established dynamic and they might expect all the new members, especially a new girl in a team of boys, to adapt to their way of working. This kind of dynamic must be capable of doing this the other way around also: the team to adapt to the new member. Diversity makes teams better and when its members learn to communicate with people different than them, the product becomes better.
If you are a conference organiser, acknowledge the low percentage of girls in tech and create a special track for them. Or invite more women as speakers, while creating a psychological safe environment for them to present. A special shoutout to WebSummit (https://websummit.com) who have sold tickets to women at a lot lower prices than for men to encourage their participance.
5. Start a conversation about this. With women or men, ask, discuss. Share a story or your story.
Are you a girl in tech? If yes, do you have a story?