As developers what can we do to improve the gender diversity in the tech community?

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Gender gap is a well known problem in this male-dominated programming community. Can we developers collectively do something that can improve the overall gender diversity and inspire more women coders to join the tech community?

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Natasha's photo

I can't speak to all women but from my experience what has made me feel valued and actually like my work environment is:

(1) Having a team that works together, having a culture of competition amongst team members feels counter intuitive. Having team members that you can lean on and lead is pivotal to personal growth and super helpful if your team lead is 'too busy'.

(2) Be or have a team lead who is patient and willing to mentor and answer questions. The team lead should be the person setting the tone for the dynamics of the team. When they seemed annoyed every time anyone asks them a question, has a harsh tone with every code review comment, basically seems like they don't have time for a core part of their role as a team lead it leaves those reporting under them feeling less enthused to want to work with them.

(3) Listen. No really, stop talking and just listen. If someone reaches out for help, let them explain the problem before you speak over them (it saves time backpedaling your assumptions on the issue). This goes across the board, other women can totally be offenders too. Check yourself, and let others speak.

(4) Growth opportunities. This is universal as well, not gender specific but I've seen this happen way too often with women. Companies will hire out rather than promote within. It's easy to obfuscate the decision to a 'company decision' but really it's individuals, individuals that we interact with daily that don't believe we can do the job.

(5) Inclusivity. Others have mentioned this one and it's definitely something that I've struggled with in the past. Sometimes it's easy to just keep to yourself if you're one of the only or the few in a group it's easy to feel like you don't belong. I tend to push myself out there even though I'm very introverted. Others might not, so it's important to meet people where they are and reach out or try to plan events with everyone in mind. While some people may love drinking, others might not, so instead of a bar maybe do an activity where everyone can participate but you can byob or there's a so it's a happy balance.

There's probably more but these are the top items I can think of at the moment. Would love to see other ladies' perspective!

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Nishant Agrwal's photo

But this doesn't seem specific to women in any way.

Natasha's photo

01101000 01101001

Nishant Agrwal - The question was how to improve gender diversity and improving the general atmosphere will help with that, as a happy byproduct it will also help improve the atmosphere for men and the existing community. Tech is largely male dominated and depending on the community it can be very toxic and opinionated (to the point of belittling those who are deemed not as well versed in a given topic). I can tell you in my experience that these issues I saw happen more to myself and other women starting out than it did to my male peers.

Tommy Hodgins's photo

As individuals: we can be welcoming and supportive to people in all varieties, treating everyone with dignity and respect.

Some ways an individual can do this are:

  • respecting people's choices
  • mentoring newcomers to help them get established
  • including everybody in your events, organizations, and projects

I think tech, especially the open-source community, has a long history of being welcoming to people of all kinds - young, old, educated, uneducated, able-bodied, disabled, from every language, culture, religion, and class you can imagine. Let's keep that tradition alive!

Ivan's photo

Biological evidence shows that on average females are less interested in technological roles than males. See the James Damore memo for more info. There is no point in trying to change that as it is just human nature. Men are always going to be more interested in tech on average.

Some organizations are going too far and discriminating against men in the process - eg. some coding bootcamps are giving scholarships to women JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN. This behaviour is wrong and everyone should be given scholarships (and jobs) BASED ON MERIT.

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Jack Greenhalgh's photo

Rolling the boulder up the hill, one day at a time...

I hear you on the biases. To me, women not jumping onto the tech wagon as eagerly would prominently be down to certain societal biases biological influences or not.

Mark's photo

formerly known as M

@Ivan If you want to stop biases, then backing up your statements with facts would be a good start.

j's photo

.... who cares? You put in the work you get the job.

There are a lot of women out there .... how about asking them .... because they are actually the ones who count. Not some men rambling about our interpretation of their feelings and motivations

go to railsgirls.com ask them .... I cannot speak for them ... hell I cannot speak for women I actually know in tech ... and I don't want to ...

I call this hole discussion pointless as long as the party who actually should be involved is not participating .... this is like the catholic church talking about abortion ....

Show +3 replies
Todd's photo

Software Security TechLead

The other thing to note here too is that what women say doesn't necessarily reflect the true actions needed for change.... And this isn't an attack on women, that is true for men too... I'll give an example:

I know several women who say they are attracted to a nice, generous, warm, hardworking man. Yet, they always end up dating mean, condescending, lowlifes over and over who are terrible with finances. This is also an issue with dating profiles because people will say they want one thing, but in reality, that is not at all what they are attracted to. This creates dates based off of a false perceiption of attraction and then the person wonders why they can't find anyone they like.

For example, I've dated several women who have flat-out told me that I was "not their type" but when they met me, they decided to try something new because they just happened to like me. However, if you were to ask them, they would have told you they wouldn't date someone like me. Get it?

By the same token, I myself may not know what is actually best for me and what I really want. This research would have to go deeper than just querying women, it would have to record realities as well. That's about as much as I have time for lol... Complicated stuff.

j's photo

Todd well g I would not pull this line of argument in front of a classic 3rd wave feminist. But yes women tend to include more than just superficial factors in their choice of partners :D

And here's the next thing :) shouldn't we ask specifically people who didn't pick our career path why they didn't pick it? because those are the one we wanna have? Because the women who are in tech are useful to improve the status quo. But they are already interested in the field.

But than this discussion will lead to statistics and I don't want to argue about statistics in a written form. Esp since this topic is not about 'what is' but about 'what should be' and connotations and a lot of how we choose to perceive things.

Marco Alka that's why I didn't reply to our argument below. But I hopefully have time this weekend to write a full response.

Marco Alka's photo

An interesting fact I see here is that people, when discussing gender, only seem to talk about male and female and want to get more women aboard. Those are sexes, not genders, but as for genders, there are a lot more. I'd even say, that there are as many genders out there as people exist. Everyone perceives their gender role differently, and it is important to understand and accept that there are more than two genders. If we really want to improve gender diversity, imho, the first step is to accept this fact and live with it. It's natural, it's happening and it's ok.*

Having said that, I think, that the tech sector is especially far ahead of the pack. In no other sector have I seen so many people coming out, openly discussing gender, and fighting for gender rights. Go check out some Twitter profiles, like Laurie Voss, who is a co-founder of npmjs and LGBTQ in Tech and Quil, who blogs lots of interesting stuff! In order to spread gender awareness, you don't have to read their posts and agree with everything they say, but you should now and then demonstrate where you stand. A simple tweet or shout-out is enough to show support ;)

Also, I know a lot of people (most of them female btw), who are into tech, but they don't openly speak about it. Why should they? It's just a job or hobby. So I sometimes suggest going public with their projects. It does not have to be something as big as what Naomi Wu tries to achieve, which is spreading opensource and women-in-tech in China and is one big source of inspiration. It can also be a small 2D pixel adventure game (a friend of mine is working on one, but she is a bit shy about it :D). Get them to talk about what they love and that way show other people that everyone is welcome in the tech sector and anyone can shine here (no matter their gender).

So, what else can one do in order to respect and improve gender diversity? Well, another good tip is to upgrade your speech patterns. I see a lot of people here talking about "he/him" or "she/her", when they ideally should be neutral and use "they/their", which is the correct form for gender neutral speech. However, for the confusing part, if someone explicitly states their preferred pronoun, use it!

Something, which might be interesting for people organizing an event or renting conference rooms is to make sure, that if there is a single stall restroom to make sure it does not only say "man/woman", but is marked as an all-gender restroom. People, who come out and take pride in having a different gender, want to be respected and treated like everyone else, duh.

All-Gender restrooms can be used regardless of gender by anyone

Also one more problem we have is, that girls and boys are often raised on a gender-basis. Girls wear dresses and skirts and play with puppets. Boys wear trousers and play with cars. Why? There are skirts for men, too. Boys also like to play with puppets. Girls also like to wear trousers and often also prefer to have fun on a pirate's adventure. We really should stop setting gender standards and let kids decide how they want to live while they grow up. Why should gender decide a person's life from the moment they are born?


*Btw, if you have trouble understanding gender diversity I recommend reading a book about it. Even if you are not that much into Manga, you might want to take a peek at easy to read experiences. Especially lately, I see many Manga portraying every-day life situations and explaining a lot. Maybe pick up The Bride Was a Boy or My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness or Wandering Son. In these books, the authors talk about their lifes and how they deal with their (or their family's) gender issues. They are awesome reads!

Show +4 replies
j's photo

Marco Alka Now I got time to answer :)

you cannot change the nature of a thing just by wishing you have to accept it as it is.

And just to clarify adding 37+ genders to an equation is adding complexity and has no particular value besides an emotional one.

if we got 37 gender dimensions + 195 countries + n ethnic groups + y cities .... we could just go for there are no similarities.

I follow the non-binary discussion in about 4 states for months now :).

Where I always end is to remove genders from the equation. Lets just keep the biological markers for medical reasons.

Simplicity not complexity.

Marco Alka's photo

Software Engineer, Technical Consultant & Mentor

j

adding 37+ genders

They have always existed. It's just that we start naming things and understanding them, while exploring our nature further. We might not need that many genders, though, but a better system of categorization. Just like we don't find a new name for every combination of skin, eye, hair, etc. color.

has no particular value besides an emotional one

There is no greater value than emotional value imho ;)

we could just go for there are no similarities.

Similarities exist, but most of the time, there are differences in the details. Ideally, we can find a way to instead of having 7 billion genders form a few groups of similar people, though. But to be honest, I like the current system, with categorization into genders, cultures, ethical groups, religions, etc. They are different things, and sometimes one belongs to one group, sometimes one belongs to the other group.

remove genders from the equation. Lets just keep the biological markers for medical reasons.

Then let's also remove religion. It also only has emotional value and has always led to trouble and wars in history. It is not necessary for medical reasons. And let's remove culture. We don't need culture. It would be a lot easier, if we were were all the same, doing the same thing, learning the same values. No differences -> same language -> no misunderstandings -> no wars.

The world is not that simple. Please do not over-simplify complex processes and structures. If you need a programming reference: Devs use enums instead of ints and created typedef for a reason. You cannot make something the same when in effect it is not. Also, in JS, when a var can be anything (any type), it is called "Oddball". Odd, as in strange and not normal. There should be differences and not having any is unnatural.

Simplicity not complexity.

Don't lose verbosity, though. I am not uniform with the rest of humanity, and I never will be and I never want to be, and it is important for me to express just that. And I am not alone. While it is easier to just go with the flow, many people don't feel comfortable there. People fall into a depression and commit suicide because of that (because of "just emotional values"). Is simplicity worth lives?

Sonia GarMar's photo

I'm a woman and a software engineer. I love coding and many other technical stuff. I have always been curious about how things work and attracted by anything with wires or gears on it, and I have always felt weird because of that. You know why? Because girls rejected me because I liked "boys stuff".

I have always tried to encourage other girls to give a try to coding with almost no luck.

I have been a web development teacher in a renowned master in Barcelona combining technical subjects with business subjects, and even there. most of the girls had no or very low interest in the technical subjects.

So, maybe there is nothing we can change. Woman seem to prefer other careers, and I don't see a problem with it. The important thing is being able to choose, and they are and chose other fields. Why that insistence on changing it?

A very different thing is treating women that have chosen a technical career with the same respect you will treat men. This is a must.

Anuj Sharma's photo

Have a look. girlswhocode.com

Manoj Mahalingam's photo

Start at the lower levels. Teach coding at schools in whatever way you can and make it fun. I once did a robotics coding session with Python as the programming language. The kids loved it, and they had tangible output they could see.

Dennay Bedard's photo

Front End Web Developer

Python programming for a robot is how my husband introduced me to programming about 8 years ago and ignited my love for code! I think this is a brilliant idea.

Emil Moe's photo

Only way a programmer solves problems is by algorithms.

int male = 1;
int female = 1;

if (male === female)
  print('gender equality');

But that likely raises some other issues

Marco Alka's photo

Software Engineer, Technical Consultant & Mentor

Unhandled Exception: gender not in list.

Emil Moe's photo

Software Engineer & Consultant

You must be using the swedish version

Sébastien Portebois's photo

First, diversity is not only male vs female, but also ethnicities, languages (native vs not-natives English speakers), cultural background, ....

In short, as an individual, the bare minimum is to keep an open mind. And soon you'll realize that the more diverse the better, usually this brings new ideas, perspective, kind of thinking out of the box. Sometimes the cultural differences might be challenging, but you'll gain much more than you lose.

Then, as an individual, there are a few extra steps you can do (but to be honest I haven't done them, not enough time... :-( ) Initiatives like LadiesLearningCode have chapters in many places and look for mentors/teachers quite often. You can help there.

But on a daily basis, the more important thing is definitely the attitude and open-mindness. To be fair, I'm very demanding, but I am as demanding with white caucasian developers that with the fellow developers I worked with, no matter if they were native US/Canadians, or from Iran, Brazil, China, Spain, Cuba etc (to name only a few origins of people I worked with), as long as they are professional and show we can trust them to work on solving problem, I do respect them and help them. And if they are not trustworthy, then no matter their genre/origin, I have little patience (nobody's perfect, but my flaws affect everyone equally ;-)

Paddy McCarthy's photo

Flexible working and a more diverse board room. It's not a handout, you are crippling yourselves!

Vishwa Bhat's photo

I really don't know why people really look into irrelevant factors when it comes to providing solutions using technology. I never saw a need where a particular problem can be solved by MEN only or WOMEN only, atleast in the field of Technology.

The most important factor I support is the talent, the one who's better at it is the one who does better at it regardles of any gender. Infact, that's one of the primary reasons why not everyone has equal pay within the same Gender with same experience level.

Anupam Chugh's photo

Start cooking more often! On a serious note, give incentives to them. And by incentives, I mean shopping vouchers etc. for taking part in competitive programming.

Ghua's photo

In my opinion it should be skills that grant a job, I don't understand why people want to improve gender diversity from key.

Amanda Fitch's photo

Coder. Writer. Sometimes Cat Herder

The buzz in the industry is that teams with women on them do better financially than teams without. So, it’s this financial decision that drives lots of companies to want to stock their ponds with a few more females.

Hasen's photo

Doing this for its own sake is not a worthy goal, but here's a super easy way to do it: say you have a team with 10 women and 35 men. Just fire 25 men and you will have a team with 10 men and 10 women. Here, perfect 50% balance. Now, why would anyone think that's a desirable goal? I don't know.

If it is true that there are many women who are interested in technology but don't pursue it for cultural reason, we should be open to listening to them.

However, just looking at statistics and complaining about not having 50% female participation in the industry is irrational.

The industry has far more serious problems than this.

Todd's photo

This is a highly-subjective and can be a sensitive topic. However, I'd like to take a stab at it because I myself have some experience with "discrimination" in other areas and I've successfully been able to avoid it for most of my life.

The problem can reduced to 3 subproblems:

  1. Interest in the profession from women
  2. A "normal," unhostile work environment
  3. Fair treatment at work (promotions, raises, value of opinion)

The reason I reduced it to these core issues is because when many people look at this problem, they choose one of the subproblems to address and not the others.

If #1 is not met, it is not possible to accomplish the goal of gender diversity. If #2 or #3 are not met, women simply won't want to work in tech and the word will spread.

However, if women are interested in the actual profession in a genuine fashion (not because it pays well, but because they actually like coding, for example), they are treated like normal workers, their opinions are valued, they are given the same career opportunities, etc... Then there is no logical reason as to why women could not make up more of the workforce.

Before we even discuss possible solutions, allow me to first state that the first step is identifying the relative weight of each of these subproblems. For example, is #1 a current challenge at all? Maybe there are in fact plenty of women who are interested in coding to the point where if subproblems numbers 2 and 3 were addressed, there would suddenly be a 50/50 balance in the workplace.

Subproblem 1 is relatively easy to address, and frankly with groups like "Women Who Code" and "PyLadies", as well as some recruitment efforts, we are doing a decent job with this one. We also have to consider whether this is even a realistic expectation. For example.... There exists plenty of other professions, such as "hair stylist" and cheerleading, where the opposite is true and this must be for some reason. I've personally never been interested in cheerleading and I do not know any men who would be. Does that mean that men who are interested in cheerleading are weird, dumb, or anything else? No. It just means, point-of-fact, we're just not interested in it and I am not a sociologist or psychologist so I couldn't explain why. It is possible that part of this applies to women and their relationship with tech or programming. I don't think programming is as "gender-typed" as dancing, cheerleading, or hair stylist for example, but these are all speculations... What I'm getting at is, we simply may never get the majority of women ever interested in tech simply because aren't interested in it.... Much like we probably wouldn't get the majority of women interested in digging ditches on a construction site.

Subproblems 2 and 3 will need to be addressed on an employer-by-employer basis. You have no idea if my work environment is hostile toward women and I have no idea if yours is... #3 is hardest because it is very difficult if not impossible to actually prove.

I think the solution is to address the problem just like any other interpersonal work problem: If you are at work and you routinely see colleagues or even managers being abusive to an individual (to include verbal, physical, but also softer abuse like not given opportunities), be it based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever... Follow the proper channels, speak up, don't stand for it, and leave if you have to. The most pain the bad people face for their actions, the less likely they are to continue those actions. For example, I'm completely impartial to women at work and what I mean by this is that if you do an outstanding job, whether or not you are a female or a male means nothing to me... I will enjoy working with you, I will praise your work, I will recommend you, etc...

Now, if I saw a manager who CLEARLY de-valued the best person on the team's opinion simply because she was a woman and instead went with some moron because he's a guy, that would become obvious and that makes the manager a fool. Why? Because ultimately the manager's job is to look out for the company's best interests and by devaluing the opinion of a better-quality or smarter employee, this is actually hurting the company. Not just that, it does in fact hurt the woman's career too and I'm never for that. Personally, I find it awesome when a woman is very smart and contributing. An example of this in my space is twitter.com/hasherezade . She shares a similar belief of not wanting to be acknowledged for her gender, but rather her WORK ONLY. This is why for a long time, she remained anonymous online and sometimes wishes she still did, because since she's revealed her gender she has apparently been offered extra opportunities which she does not want.

By the same token, guess what? If I am working with a woman who has no business touching a computer, well, then she's the same as a man who has no business touching a computer in my brain and belongs FIRED.

This to me is gender equality. Gender equality is the non-acknowledge of gender whatsoever in any decision-making process at work. Again, gender equality in the workplace to me is the complete non-acknowledgement of gender whatsoever in any decision-making process at work. This goes both ways though...

Unfortunately women who are probably frustrated with the behavior of certain disrespectful men at work, often take to social media and blast men, and get vocal about women in tech. The problem with this is that for men like me who had actually never made a workplace distinction of women, this type of behavior starts to actually push my mind subconsciously towards discrimination at work because the women themselves are in fact discriminating their own gender by constantly bringing it up.

For example, I'm half black... There aren't a lot of half-black people in tech... But I don't go on Twitter and talk about being half-black every day... My approach, which has worked for my entire life now in every setting, has been "I'm going to ignore my race, ignore the race of others around me, and if there is any concern whatsoever, I can prove that I am worthy by simply going the extra mile at work and setting an example." In my experience, simply setting an example speaks volumes more than complaining about a problem... The saying "actions speak louder than words" has been true in my experience.

Now, I've had people bring my race up before, I've been treated badly due to it before, and I've even had someone say "the n word" before around me. But, I chose instead of flipping out to behave and it's always paid off.

You will notice that I took this explanation to a microscopic. personal level rather than provide a general high-level solution. That is because with social problems, high-level solutions aren't solutions. A solution takes each and every person at each and every work place to actively change behavior... This is because the problems we are discussing are coming from individual people and we can't simply hit a button and poof the problem is solved for everyone... It takes work from individuals everywhere.

Steve Taylor's photo

Software Engineer

I have a couple of rules for dealing with the lack of female coders:

  1. Deal with everyone professionally.
  2. Don’t give a shit about gender ratios.
Jayme Edwards's photo

After 20 years of working with 30+ companies, I'm sharing the healthy ways I learned to develop software. 🍃 💻

This is a complicated topic with a lot of reasons I don’t fully understand, but I do wish there were more women in tech.

I did a video on my YouTube channel last year where I talked about my experience with bro culture and how I was part of the problem.

I sure can’t solve this one myself but one thing I think men can do is think differently about the culture in many companies and have a longer term view.

I read a short passage from Brene Brown’s excellent book “Daring Greatly” that I feel captures some of the pressure men are under to keep up “bro culture”.

youtu.be/oZvO4FL_0Cs

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