I clearly remember the first time that I realised that I was considered differently as a female within our team of developers, when introduced to a new male developer within the team, who commented “Wow, you’re a female developer. You must be really good!”
For the record, I was no better or worse than my male counterparts, but I thought this comment, although innocently spoken, was very telling in the perceptions of female programmers.
The surprise in this person’s voice made me realise that not only was I in the minority but that perhaps I was judged differently than my male colleagues.
It didn’t always feel so obvious. Although in my class of 25 studying Computer Science at university there were only 3 females, during earlier days in my programmer career in the UK there were more female engineers.
As the years went on and fresh new developers joined, I noticed fewer and fewer females in the ranks. These days, upon those rare introductions to other female engineers, I have to resist the urge to comment on the rarity of being a female in the IT field.
According to Girls Who Code, women today represent only 18% of all computer science graduates. In 1984 they represented 37%.
Even early achievements of women programmers in the 1940s are being largely forgotten, such as the team of 6 women who built the first digital computer.
Sexism is also a problem in the IT industry, highlighted by a recent social media campaign. OneLogin Platform Engineer Isis Wenger received a barrage of backlash after appearing as part of the company’s campaign to recruit more engineers. Although the image was one of several the company used, there was much negative attention over Isis’s image and suggestions she was too pretty to be an engineer.
Isis responded to the criticism by facing it head on starting a social media campaign on Twitter #ILookLikeAnEngineer to send a message that you can be an engineer despite your external appearance.
According to GenderGap, a dynamic visualisation of female board room members worldwide, the IT industry ranks 2nd worst in terms in terms of female board directorship, with Silicon Valley having only 7% female board directors.
Studies have shown, however, that gender diverse teams can actually be more productive, with different perspectives bringing better financial results.
There is a movement to encourage more females in the science and engineering, and it’s slowly growing momentum. Organisations such as Rails Girls aim to introduce more girls and women to programming via workshops.
In the corporate world efforts are also being made to encourage more diverse companies.
Recently IBM announced plans to partner with Galvanize – an organization dedicated to encouraging growth for underrepresented groups in tech - to help support diversity in data science and engineering.
Apple recently more than doubled its female and minority employees, although CEO Tim Cook acknowledged there was still a long way to go.
Thoughtworks has a gender hiring quota and a Women in Leadership Development program, helping women to set high goals and overcome potential barriers such as lack of confidence.
MYOB has also been making efforts to encourage more female programmers into the workplace via hiring policies and interview techniques. Product Delivery Manager John Sullivan recently presented at a workshop discussing why diversity is good for teams and how companies can go about encouraging it.
Ways to determine how female-friendly a prospective employer can be found by asking some probing questions during the interview phase. Questions such as “How do people ask questions?” can show how much of a support structure is in place, particularly for women who tend to worry about how they are perceived.
Promoting gender diversity in the workplace is still very much a work in progress and there is a long way to go. Surely diverse teams – both in gender and culture - make for a better workplace, and is simply the right thing to do in a fair and equal society.