Monthly articles with valuable info to strengthen your team force
May 15, 2018
The Role Of Women Developers: The Current Situation
You just need to enter the office of any software company and take a quick glance around to notice a vast majority of male developers, whereas the number of women developers in the room may be scarce or even nonexistent. This is a common situation in most countries even now when the benefits of equality have been brought to light by research from reliable sources. Is it really a big deal? Is it relevant if there are more women in the industry now than in past years? How can we take action on this matter?
Including women developers to the staff generates multiple benefits to companies looking for a diverse team. These advantages have a direct impact on the company’s development. Below, we mention the two most relevant consequences:
– Companies promoting diversity in leadership roles outperform competitors that don’t consider this approach in their hiring process, particularly on values like innovation and efficiency.
A research conducted by Harvard University (based on approximately 1800 professionals and 40 study cases) shows that companies seeking diversity in leadership roles have 45% more chance to grow in market share and 70% more chance to capture a new market. By creating an environment where the personal experience of different genders brings to the table unique and valuable perspectives. If those ideas are recognized and endorsed by the majority, it’s highly likely that new projects will be considered for development, thus promoting an innovation culture in the company.
– Half the users of the technological products are women.
The gender empathy during the development process is crucial to anticipate the user’s future needs. If technological products like web pages are equally used by men and women in different fields, it is necessary to consider both gender perspectives in order to take other approaches to solving problems and developing interfaces. Profiles that match the usability standards of the end consumer must analyze and test the user experience.
Besides the aforementioned benefits, if the current gender gap tendency in computer science remains, businesses won’t be able to occupy their crucial positions which consequently will cause a bigger crisis than imagined. Even nowadays research shows that there are 500,000 open computing jobs in the country and not even 10% of this demand can be met with the actual computer science graduates. If we do nothing to turn this situation around, the repercussions could be grave not only for IT companies but also for the economic growth of the country.
What Can We Do About It?
In order to hire more women developers, we first need them to pursue IT careers and this is the main problem nowadays: women only represent 18% of computer science graduates in the US.
To counteract this situation, we need a thorough plan that broadens the options of young women. If they have other alternatives to select from, there is a chance they decide to follow a path that goes against the “status quo.” After all, knowledge gives us the power to choose and act.
But where to begin? The plan should consist of two stages: education and dissemination.
The educational stage should start in their first school years when kids have not acquired the gender stigma relating numbers and science to boys, and humanities and art to girls. Ideally, children should have equal access to computer science as a part of their schools’ educational program, and learn through a playful experience that nurtures their interest and induces them to practice coding in a friendly and experimental way, just like teachers do with other subjects such as biology, chemistry, music, etc.
Nowadays, children have very limited access to computer science education in the US. Just half of the schools have a related course as part of their curriculum, even when 90% of the parents support the subject’s addition to the educational program.
Fortunately, the non-profit organization Code.org is dedicated to spreading education in computer science and has the vision to include it as a part of the curriculum in all the schools. They had been carrying out an annual program since 2009 which main purpose is to encourage K-12 students (kindergarten and the 1st through the 12th grade) to practice computer science. The last-year program achieved new commitments from 9 US states, 76 district schools and 102 worldwide organizations to communicate the importance of including computer science education in school, keeping main focus on diversity.
Another effort with remarkable results is their campaign “Hour of code” which central focus since its creation in 2013 has been the promotion of a one-hour tutorial for kids (age 4 and older). With this useful resource, children can learn how to code through the basic principles of computer science. However, the main purpose of the campaign is to encourage as many students as possible to enter the “Hour of Code” during the Computer Science Education Week. As a result, over 100 million students have entered the Hour of Code in more than 180 countries and a greater number of girls have been learning Computer Science in the last 2 years than in the 70 previous years.
Besides this initiative, there’s Scratch: a free visual programming language and online community for kids (age 8 and above) where they can create their own interactive stories, games and animations to share and comment in the community.
Scratch is used in more than 150 countries and more than 25 million users have signed up since 2008. This platform spreads the idea that through design and project programming, children learn how to think outside the box, to reason in a systematic way and to create through collaboration. All these skills are useful for children who want to gain knowledge on software development as well as the ones who don’t because these abilities are essential in today’s world where communicating ideas in various ways is key for one’s personal growth.
Within the ambit of private institutions and businesses on the field, there are multiple options to support the access to computer science education, whether they use some of the aforementioned platforms and tools or another educational resource. Also, they could conduct activities to promote the practice of basic programming in local schools (elementary and high school), this way both organizations could benefit: the students would have access to innovative information and the companies would gain the image of education promoters, committed with their community’s future.
According to several studies, one of the principal reasons why is so hard for young women to be interested in technological careers is its notoriety for representing a men-dominated environment.
Due to this situation, girls grow with the belief that the technological world it’s not interesting for them, and that is a hostile environment where their capacities aren’t probably good enough to stand out. So when the time to choose a profession comes, they tend to look first for options that make them feel more empowered and for careers that are highly popular among girls, because they seek foremost for support and a sense of community.
The dissemination stage is necessary to reinforce education and end with the aforementioned prejudices, especially taking into account that women role models in the technological field are not yet sufficiently widespread and in these days celebrities’ personal tastes set the standard of what is cool and what is not.
Although now girls have a greater number of career options to choose from, still it is necessary to strengthen their interest through the exposition and explanation of the multiple benefits a computer science career has in store for them. These advantages may be shown by bringing them closer to personalities they could look up to, celebrities who are living proof that their dreams are within their reach. Letting them know there is already someone out there who chose the same path and is succeeding in the industry.
Some organizations have already been taking action on this matter through the exposure of women as icons in technological fields, for example, the “NCWIT Entrepreneurial Heroes” initiative, which is a set of audio interviews in magazine-style that highlights the participation of entrepreneur women in the IT field. We also have the “Girls who code” association which main mission is to reduce the gender gap in the technology industry and to create a sisterhood between young women and role models who encourage them to persist and succeed in the industry.
In respect of private institutions and companies in the field, there’s a way to support the dissemination task: appointing the company’s women developers as ambassadors for this cause and visiting educational institutions to talk about their achievements and share how they overcame gender prejudices. In this manner, they can communicate and highlight the importance of their role in the computer science world.
Although there is still a long way to go to reduce the gender gap in the industry, it’s certainly encouraging to know there are organizations and companies that acknowledge this issue and play their part to actively support the cause since there are bilateral benefits: for the women and for the industry, which must perceive the efforts to increase diversity as an investment for the common welfare.