WHERE ARE ALL THE FEMALE PROGRAMMERS?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80% of software programmers in America are male. In the UK, this stat is echoed. In the world of work, 17% of tech jobs are held by women, and in the classroom, only 7% of computer studies A-Level courses are taken by girls.
It's stats such as the above which grabbed my attention. Out of curiosity, I scoured my LinkedIn connection pool for front-end developers and coders to get a feel for the gender make up - and yep, I mostly found blokes. The trend was certainly holding true. I tried to uncover more numbers, and I read:
3% of UK programmers are women
This is a stat from 2014 - but have things really moved on in the last four years? I decided to reach out to some women working in the field, and see what they had to say:
REBECCA SOLL, Designer and Developer
IDA HEDDING WERNER, Senior Web Designer and Front End Developer
STELLA CHATZIANAGNOSTOU, Front End Developer
Do you think this is a genuine industry issue?
(Rebecca) Becky: "Absolutely. I think in any industry, if there's a clear majority/minority (whether that be with gender, race, etc.), there are going to be issues. How many women have lost interest in, or confidence to pursue, a web development career because of their experiences being in the minority? We could be losing out on ground-breaking ideas and contributions - simply because not everyone feels welcome. The more diverse an industry is, the more diverse the accomplishments and advancements can be."
Stella: "Women in tech is an intriguing topic - because there's not so many of us; or at least as many as we'd like. So I believe that the issue is real - there is a lack of women's presence in the industry - however, I realise that more and more women are studying and entering work in the field. During recent years, I've worked with other females in similar positions and had a really positive experience. I would like to believe that, in a few years time, we won't be talking about it in the same way."
Ida: "Traditionally it’s been a very male dominated profession. I wouldn’t consider this an issue - perhaps instead I find it quite puzzling. I’ve never worked with another female developer. Though I’ve recently come across a couple of younger girls at college that have taken up coding. So maybe the trend is changing. I hope so - the industry needs more girls!"
When you were starting out - in training / education - did you notice anything about the gender-split back then?
Becky: "Oh yeah. Starting out, there are so many points at which you can become discouraged. My degree is in graphic design, so like many, my web development knowledge and skills have been entirely built up by self-teaching, learning from colleagues, experience, and lots of Googling. Strangers on the internet can be so helpful, and so discouraging...
"When you’re starting out, browsing stack overflow and discussion boards for answers to your questions, it’s not rare to stumble upon an innocent question-asker being ripped apart, criticized unfairly, or told “you’re wrong” instead of “there’s a better way to do that” - by more experienced developers. They might not be saying these things directly to you, but if it’s a question you’ve had yourself, it’s still going to feel that way. Over time, you become so afraid to even ask, and you just accept that you can’t figure something out. But how else can you learn the right way to do something without first doing it wrong? It’s all part of the learning process.
"I’ve also personally experienced a lot of discrimination dealing with internal IT departments - being spoken to like I’m computer illiterate, while my male counterparts are instantly assumed to be smart and capable and trusted to know what they’re doing. I’ve had a similar experience calling tech support, particularly with hosting companies."
Stella: "I believe that there is indeed hesitation towards women in such roles. There is a tendency to believe that men are better in maths, technology and sciences in general - however from personal point of view I can't really say I've had such confrontation. I've always been treated with respect by my fellow students and professors when studying, and then the same again in the workplace. I must admit though, when I started my first job, I always felt that I had to prove myself from day one. So perhaps that was a bit of underlying insecurity - related to my gender."
The 'gender pay gap' is still very topical. Do you believe THAT pay INequality MAY EXIST IN YOUR FIELD?
Ida: "It's difficult to say, as I don’t know what my male peers are earning. I also work part-time as I’ve got a young daughter. (So my earnings are less because of this anyway.)"
Stella: "Although I'm not aware of the salary other people gain, for some reason I imagine that it's very possible for a man in a similar position to be paid more than myself. I'm afraid women, until some years ago, were not raised to be able to negotiate hard and to learn how to demand and get what they want. Conversely, I believe some women were raised to accept what we're given, not to question much, settle for less, and consider it very natural for a man to be earning more than we do."
Becky: "100%. It just takes one job to under-value you early on in your career. So many jobs ask for your previous salary, and base what they offer you on that. One discriminatory hiring manager can affect the outcome of your life, and your career, for years and years to come. (I’m so grateful to NYC, my hometown, for making salary history questions illegal during the hiring process)."
Lastly, what do you think it would take to even up the balance of male > female developers?
Stella: "We need to teach our daughters not to accept being treated differently to men, and that they deserve to have and achieve what a man can achieve. Education.. education..education is the key factor for me. Encourage girls to study, pursue their dreams and be independent. Build confidence and succeed."
Ida: "I’ve noticed that younger girls are taking up coding. So perhaps we will see a lot more girls in the developer profession within the next few years. Also, with more girls in the industry, this will most probably encourage and inspire even more females to follow the same career path."
Becky: "It’s going to take time, but there are so many little things we can all do to help along the way.
"BE VISIBLE! It can be scary but I put in a lot of effort to just make myself seen in online communities I’m a part of. I try to answer questions I feel confident answering… I figure every time I help a male developer solve their problem, I’m also potentially helping some future female colleague of theirs get a little more respect. It feels good! And it makes me more confident.
"Encourage daughters who show an interest in STEM to pursue that interest! Encourage sons to view girls as their equals.
"Encourage colleagues to look at a broad candidate pool when hiring.
"Call people out when they are being discriminatory. We have to nip these stereotypes in the bud. Companies should look at the recent Stack Overflow blog post on the subject - this is how to evolve, how to be introspective and how to be better.
"I have so much respect for them for admitting that they’re part of the problem, and it makes me hopeful for the future."