A couple weeks ago I came across this article on “The Massive Gender Gap At The Biggest Tech Companies” which was an overview of this impressive looking infographic created by Ri Lui and Tracy Chou that shows how large the gender gap is in some of the post popular tech companies. Highlighted at the top is Mozilla who has the largest number of female engineers of all the companies in their list. Score! But wait, they also have the largest engineering team compared to any other company on the list and proportionally actually have one of the lowest female to male ratios of all the major tech companies. Well, that sucks.
I don’t want to focus on the politics of why there are fewer females in tech and why we are under represented specifically on engineering teams within organizations. Since this article struck a big cord with me, as an individual who works to increase female representation in the tech field, I want to focus on what I’m doing to fix this problem. Lui and Chou titled their infographic “We Can Do Better” and though I really do believe we can, my interests have always been on to share the story of “How We Can Do Better.”
Like many of you I realized a few years back how important engineering jobs are to the development of much of the online world and quickly realized I needed to grow my skills in order to adapt to the market. It’s been a slow process trying to learn new languages, which the media continually fails to mention is actually really hard. I don’t ever want to stop learning how to become more web literate but I do need to be realistic and admit that I probably won’t ever hold an engineering job. Not because I can’t, but because I have invested years of work into helping develop other skills sets that I’m exciting to continually build upon now. In plain terms, I’ve already found my niche. This is when I realized that to truly have an impact on the growth of future female engineers we had to reach individuals when they are young. I’m thinking specifically girls who have yet to complete high school. At this age individuals are still understanding how and what they want to learn, which greatly shapes the direction they take when choosing university level education streams. It’s a time when youth are susceptible to learn new things and it’s easier for them to do so. After all, leveling up my French right now has proven to be quite difficult but having been required to learn and accustom myself to the language while in middle school makes me now comfortable with speaking parts of the language and being in environments where it’s used. I don’t think we need to force students to learn to program in school but I do think it is beneficial for the creativity, opportunity and success of the students to learn the basics of how languages work for them to participate in it in the future. I often wonder whether I would have gone into an engineering program had I been exposed to the makings of the web. I honestly believe that had I known what opportunities there were to make and build whatever I want on the web, I probably would have. For various reasons we know that girls have not taken to programing as well as males and due to many misconceptions it is male dominated industry. I think if we communicate the impact girls have in the field and appeal to younger female generations we can break a lot of the barriers currently in place. But it’s not just with young girls that we need to break those misconceptions, it’s with the parents as well. My parents we’re always supportive of whatever I pursued but it never crossed any of our minds to consider a future as a web developer. In later years when telling them I was interested in learning how to program they were initially skeptical but having seen what I am doing now, the understand the importance of the web and their hesitancy is all but erased.
So again I ask you, how can we do better? For me the answer lies with identifying the audiences where we can have the most important impact and crafting a message that shows young girls and parents the importance of learning how to become web literate at a young age and how that can empower young girls to unleash their creativity, solve problems, create for the web, own their own projects and become entrepreneurs because of it. I work at helping us do better by mentoring with local organizations in the city geared towards educating young girls, I run workshops in schools for young girls in areas that often know less about the importance of the web and I vocally advocate for the education of all individuals to start learning how the web works at all ages. The more young girls can see and learn from females in the tech industry the more we can start breaking those barriers and actually do better.