Over the last few months, each Iron Yard campus held a movie screening for CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap for our students and communities. Released in 2016 with critical acclaim, the movie talks about three huge gaps in the tech industry—a gender gap, a race gap, and a pay gap—what causes them, and how to start working through them.
The first programmers were female. Women such as Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton and Grace Hopper were all featured in the film. Some of our classrooms across Iron Yard campuses are named after them. These women were some of the first pioneers—not only the “firsts” in their field—but also the “sheros” of people with similar backgrounds like Kalpana Chawla and Katherine Johnson.
Yet, advertising and other media representation pushed women and minorities away by messaging around tech as a tool for suit-wearing businessmen. Almost 30 years later, we’re starting to see TV shows and movies provide strong female leads in tech roles, such as Halt and Catch Fire and Hidden Figures, to name a few.
The more women and people of color we see represented in tech and developer roles on TV, but also in real life, the more we can change toxic stereotypes that currently exist with being a developer and person in the tech industry.
The meritocracy vs. access problem
In the movie, Tracy Chou, the former senior engineer for Pinterest spoke about the issue with the current state of making jobs available for all backgrounds. With a meritocracy system, the best developers would presumably get the best jobs because they meet the qualifications. And for a lot of the tech industry, this makes sense as an end goal.
What Chou brings more light to is the idea that not everyone can reach the job, because while the qualifications are the same, the starting point for many developers and designs from a diverse background is not. Exposure, for example, is a big part of this. In one way, exposure to technology plays a big part in someone experience level with it. In low-income communities, access to those devices can be a problem, so the playing field is already unleveled.
Exposure to those people who do represent a more diverse population is also a big part of this. Exposure to opportunities, to education, funding, problem-solving skills, etc. all are critical too. We cannot fully say the tech industry can be a merit-based industry until we level the playing field and increase exposure to opportunity for all, not just those already exposed.
According to various women in the movie, and a reality of our industry, mentorship needs to improve in various stages of the working world. From education (access to technology, access to funding education, and access to soft skills training) to the workplace (hiring, recruiting, and retention), there isn’t enough mentorship and support.
Mentors are needed just as much in the early phases if a computer course as they are in the first few months of a new role. Navigating technical, business, and social parts of the tech industry can be daunting and lead to feeling like an imposter or fake, known as the imposter syndrome. Having a mentor who has been through it, and can help developers overcome some challenges can be extremely helpful.
We need more mentors in the form of developers in various stages of their career and with different passions outside of development. We need mentors to help find common ground and help break barriers and uplift those that did not have a standard path to development and design. We need to provide regular check-ins or mentorship sessions with developers who don’t fit the stereotype. This can be done at work with regular check-ins, code reviews, and feedback loops.
In closing, the tech industry is becoming more aware of how to improve on inclusion efforts with the diverse communities. Our work, our empathy for our team members, and for the users that use our apps are all greatly enriched by the inviting everyone in. As I’ve heard over and over, diversity is inviting everyone over for dinner, inclusion is inviting everyone to the table to break bread.