Early in its evolution, Software Programming was heralded as an excellent occupation for working women. In the 1960s, 50% of all programmers were women.
A 1967 issue of Cosmo magazine included an article explaining the many reasons women were ideally suited for coding. It read: “Now have come the big, dazzling computers—and a whole new kind of work for women: programming. Telling the miracle machines what to do and how to do it. Anything from predicting the weather to sending out billing notices from the local department store. And if it doesn't sound like women's work—well, it just is.”
By 1985, the number of female programmers dropped to 37%. Today? Only 17% of all programmers are women. During the relatively brief lifespan of coding, it has transformed from an occupation for everyone, to one in which we have to actively work to encourage and enable women’s participation.
Although it would be reason enough, increasing the number of women in technology isn’t just the right thing to do. The expected deficit of one million technology employees in just a few years makes increasing the number of women in this industry a necessity.
Fortunately, we’re seeing a huge push to improve the pipeline. More organizations are focusing on encouraging girls to code, like BitCamp and Girls Who Code, both of which we’ve hosted right here at CQL. Companies like JewelBots and GoldieBlox are teaching girls about coding and engineering to get them interested at a young age.
But the pipeline isn’t the only problem. We can’t wait for the next generation of coders to grow up and cross our fingers that the implicit biases affecting women today have resolved themselves by then. There are plenty of things we can, and must, do in order to make programming a desirable and comfortable field for women to work in right now. The pipeline is just one part of the problem, and there are ways tech companies can start solving those other parts today.
Here are concrete things your company can do to be an ally to women in technology right now.
If you’re trying to create a a gender-diverse workplace, you may need to take a look at the first thing prospective employees are going to see: your job descriptions. Avoid using masculine pronouns and choose gender-neutral ones instead.
For example, instead of “we need a developer with experience leading his projects,” try “their.” Instead of “IT guy,” use “IT professional.” You may be surprised how often unconscious bias or assumptions sneak into job descriptions. While these kind of differences may seem subtle, by not being clearly inclusive in your job descriptions, you may be turning off potential talent from your company.
For further help, try using Textio, a site that analyzes job descriptions to determine whether the language is more appealing to male or female candidates.
This strategy is two-fold. First, it’s important to actually have a policy in writing so prospective and current employees know that, if they have a child, there is a plan in place. Second, this strategy is far more effective if it extends to both men and women.
In a survey of more than 700 women who left the tech industry, over 10% cited their company’s maternity leave policy as a major factor in their decision. Many of the women said that motherhood alone wasn’t the main factor that ended their tech careers, but inflexible arrangements regarding leave and returning to work after.
By having a policy in place, and in writing, employees know from the beginning what to expect should they need to make arrangements for leave when a new child arrives. If we want to attract and keep women in the field, this is a critical step.
Creating a Parental Leave Policy, rather than a Maternity Leave Policy, is important in creating a gender-equal work environment. First of all, we’re no longer living in the Mad Men era; the expectation that women will stay home and raise a family while men are the primary breadwinners is best left in the past. There’s no longer any reason to expect that a man wouldn’t want to spend just as much time with a newborn as a woman. Why wouldn’t we allow male employees to enjoy this important life experience just like female employees? Men shouldn’t be forced to miss out on those moments because of gender expectations.
But such a change also helps women. By eliminating the expectation that only young women will possibly require leave after a baby is born, you also reduce some of the implicit biases against hiring them. When both men and women have the opportunity to take time off to welcome a new child, the possibility of making necessary adjustments for leave isn’t automatically attached to only female candidates. Following this strategy can eliminate some unfair biases and make your hiring practices more equal.
Unfortunately, inequality doesn’t only exist in hiring, it extends to pay as well. Women earn between 60-85% of what men in similar positions make, depending in large part on their race. Part of this is because employers tend to offer less money to female candidates. It’s also because women don’t tend to negotiate as hard for themselves. A University of Texas study showed that women asked for $7,000 less than their male counterparts in job interviews.
But salary shouldn’t be based on gender, race, or negotiating ability—it should be based on merit. To counter this, some companies choose to list salary expectations right in job descriptions as a way reduce the potential for bias on their part and ensure that employees are paid fairly.
In the same study of women who left tech, many expressed a desire to return to work but said that the pay was insufficient to cover childcare and other expenses. If potential for pay disparity is reduced, this problem may no longer be an issue and more women may be willing to enter and stay in the tech industry.
Eliminate the possibility for unfair treatment and apply the same rules to everyone. Employees should know the requirements they need to meet in order to advance and earn rewards, whether that means promotions, raises, bonuses, etc.
When performance is evaluated based on metrics that are quantifiable and transparent, it’s more likely that employees receive fair, unbiased reviews and the rewards that accompany them.
A recent study showed that women are 15% less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts. Some of this can certainly be attributed to bias and socialization. For example, women tend to prefer working collaboratively but are less likely to claim credit for their own work, particularly when they work with men. Additionally, when it’s unclear who did the work, men tend to receive more of the credit.
Women are also more likely to be judged based on personality than men and receive more negative feedback in performance reviews, regardless of the relative quality of their work.
In order to reduce gender-related bias in evaluations and rewards, it’s important to make sure employees’ work is being judged fairly and equally in ways that can be quantified and not attributed to bias.
Making changes in the industry today is critical and these are only a few ways to get started immediately. Of course, that doesn’t mean the importance of community involvement, mentoring, and inspiring the next generation is in any way diminished. There are endless opportunities to be involved in supporting and inspiring female coders.
Organizations like BitCamp and Girls Who Code, which we’ve worked with personally, inspire and encourage girls to find an interest in software programming. There are plenty of others working with girls and women which could also use support like sponsors, donations, teachers, and host companies for field trips. Girl Develop It, Black Girls Code, and 100 Girls of Code, are just a few of these organizations, but there are plenty more.
Alternatively, you could look for opportunities on college campuses to support these efforts. Calvin College, for example, has a 50 Percent Initiative in their Computer Science department that, along with community supporters, strives to increase the number of women in their program with scholarships, funding to the Grace Hopper Celebration, mentorship, and more.
Whatever method or organization you choose, get involved in shaping the future of this industry in a positive and equal way.
The conversation around diversity in tech recently has been inspiring. It would be hard not to look at all the incredible things happening in this industry and not feel optimistic about the future. But this is a problem that can't be solved by words alone.
If you want to create gender quality — you can't just talk about it. You need to act.
Photo via Flickr