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Here’s Why We Need More Women in Coding

Here's Why We Need More Women in Coding

Robin Hauser Reynolds’ “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” made its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 19. Following the screening, Reynolds was joined by Qualcomm chief learning officer Tamar Elkeles, GoDaddy chief people officer Auguste Goldman and Etsy engineering director for infrastructure Jason Wong for a conversation about the lack of American female and minority software engineers and what needs to be done in order to solve this problem.
Here are some of the key points made during the discussion:

Why they’re passionate about this issue

“I’m passionate about this issue number one because I’m a woman, and number two, because I’m a mother. And because there’s a huge need in the world for more coders,” said Hauser Reynolds. 
“I’ve been working in technology for almost 25 years. Yes, I started when I was five, so let’s all get that clear,” joked Elkeles. “I’ve been in technology for a long time and there’s really two big issues. One is pipeline and the other is what we’re doing within organizations to really make a safe environment for women. In 1995, I did my doctoral research on stereotyping of women in engineering 20 years ago, and here we are in 2015 talking about this issue. So to me, it’s is definitely something that I take to my heart and really live with on a daily basis.”

The danger of coder stereotypes

“It’s a culture problem. Our stereotypes in the United States–and not just in the United States, but predominately here–is that you have to be a geeky, antisocial person in order to be a coder. I think that’s what we tried to show. There’s some amazingly cool jobs that you can have a coder.”

Why the educational system isn’t helping the situation

“The problem is that technology is moving a lot faster than our educational system,” said Hauser Reynolds. “Our educational system is really lagging behind, and it’s got to catch up. We have to get technology, we have to get coding and programming into all the different classes.”

The importance of female role models

Several times throughout the discussion, the need for girls to have women role models was emphasized. Elkeles explained, “I think the biggest thing is role models and examples of women who are very successful in the organization. Making sure that they fill the pipeline and mentor other girls and provide coaching as well. Qualcomm is very committed to lots of different programs as I said to increase the pipeline of women in those fields. The big piece of the organization is making sure that we have role models for them to work for and they can aspire to.” 
She continued, “For girls, you can’t be what you can’t see. So if you don’t see software engineers in an organization, you’re not going to want to go there.”

Removing “unconscious” bias

When speaking of “unconscious” bias, Goldman was interrupted by Elkeles, who objected, “I have to stop you on ‘unconscious’ bias because ‘unconscious’ bias is really just bias. Be it unconscious or not, it’s just bias, let’s get real.” To which Goldman responded, “Love it. Let’s talk about bias. Just straight bias.” 
“This is something that we all need to tackle, the actual bias. Look at performance reviews. There’s a lot of different things we can look at to look at bias in the workplace. It’s not just about the pipeline and brining people in. You’ve got to take away the bias.”

Work and family

“The other big elephant in the room is childcare,” said Hauser Reynolds. “I think in order to retain women, I think it’s really important to improve the childcare system within the corporations just to make it easier for women to be able to. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but for now women are the only one who can have children.” 
She continued, “So I think it’s really important to find a way to support them also on a cultural basis. To make it acceptable for maybe the father to be the one that’s at home with the kids and to not make that such a stigma as well.”

A general lack of diversity

“I think it’s really hard to ignore the fact that there are also very few people of color in this space, so that was really important to us to show that as well,” said Hauser Reynolds. “I think that people of color, socioeconomic diversity, people that are typically marginalized from the tech industry, that’s a really big problem. If we’re missing half of the population, as Cornelius says so well in the film, this is an issue.”
“By the year 2020, there are going to be one million unfilled jobs in coding in the U.S. alone. So if we don’t pull from people from color, if we don’t pull from different socioeconomic groups and if we don’t pull from women, then we’re not going to be able to fill those jobs.”

On moving backwards throughout history

“It interesting that women have sort of been written out history, right?” asked Hauser Reynolds. “I love what Gloria Steinem says, that they have always been an equal part of the past, just not an equal part of history. I mean, that’s kind of scary.”
Goldman added, “I think what frustrates me is that we were getting some really good participation in the ’80s and we saw this amazing close to gender equality. And then this–I don’t know if it’s hacker culture. I don’t know what took over–but all of a sudden you see this decline. It’s very frustrating.”

The business case for female programmers

When asked by an audience member to speak about why more diversity would benefit companies from a business standpoint, Goldman responded, “Great code is from a mosh pit of ideas. It’s from a small, agile, self-determined team, and if you have everyone thinking the same way, you’re not going to get good product.”
Wong’s response was from a much more anti-capitalistic standpoint: “I don’t want to add diversity to my team because of a business case. Like I said, I’ve done all sorts of things in my career. I don’t remember any of the work I’ve actually done, I remember how fond I was of people I worked with. I think creating that rich experience is what motivates me.”

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