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I am more than a little uneasy at the potential for the "pipeline problem" narrative to dominate people's attention to the point of deemphasizing the broader systemic issues which inhibit minority participation. There is of course a pipeline problem, and we're not going to see the makeup of the industry/subculture accurately reflect the rest of the population without fixing it, but it's equally true that a pipeline drawing diverse students into an unfriendly or less accommodating culture isn't sustainable.

Most of the problems the tech industry faces in this regard aren't unique to it, and many (but not all) have as much to do with economics as with gender, race, and so forth. Women who leave the workforce to raise a child will also be sacrificing future earning potential on their return. Applicants with non-white-sounding names have a harder time finding work in the US. These and problems like these discourage women and minorities from entering or staying in the industry now.

 

Based on my experience in the regular corporate software development world (as opposed to purely tech companies), I expect to continue to see women pushed out of hands-on coding, either up into management or laterally into roles like "scrum master" or "product owner" (aka "project manager" or "business analyst" for non-Agile environments). This isn't a good fit for some women (men too for that matter) because they prefer coding but women tend to get pushed into those roles for one reason or another.

 

Aren't the challenges and opportunities equal for everyone in coding world? ;)

Jokes aside, I still think that lots of women see programming as a nerdy, boring profession (that's very subjective and I'm saying that from my own personal experience) and that the biggest challenge would be to break this thinking barrier.

Opportunities? Same for everyone I believe. People who work hardest, are usually the luckiest ones.

 

I've seen that impression before, although my last dev role was almost evenly split male-female, and all except me were considered senior or lead for HR purposes. Even there, though, some told me they wanted to change careers to do something more interesting.

I remember a woman also telling me in college that coding was a low-paying and unrewarding job. (She and I are black, and I think this impression is why you see fewer black Americans in software engineering jobs.) Many people and websites say that this is false, but my own experience (and the hidden notes from devs in video games) suggest it's low paying and unrewarding. Those challenges supercede the "bro culture" as the barrier to entry.

The opportunity is there, though my cynicism says that hard work isn't the (only) factor in who gets the opportunities. That same team I mentioned above is full of hard workers who can't avoid the rabbit hole they've fallen into, and they're stuck in their career. Their options are to retire early or career-change and try to get an entry-level job.

 

Yeah, hard work will not always get you there, but I believe this is important part of the formula to succession.

There are a lot of other skills needed to succeed in your career. I probably need to work for more companies to see a wider picture because where I'm now, it's not really an issue, at the very beginning we had very few ladies doing development but as the team has grown, more women got hired just because they did better during the interviews and really wanted the role.

 

So, this is a true story:
Years ago I worked for a corp that is an industry giant. My manager (a man) was outwardly very supportive of my work. I decided I wanted to improve my skills and so on my yearly eval I answered the "what do you anticipate doing to improve your skills in the coming year?" question with "I want to learn C#". My manager read it and told me that it wasn't a good choice because it's a compiled language - outside of my skillset. I replied "I know its a compiled language - that's why I want to master it. As for my skillset; maybe you should see my engineering degree!" I went on to learn that and get my Windows Dev certificate that year.

What's my point? NO ONE tells me what I am (or am not) and what I am capable of mastering. The answers to changing and reforming are inside of each one of us. It is not my mission to try and change how patriarchy is engraved into society. I can, however, take every opportunity I can to teach and mentor other women and ask them to pay it forward. Specifically offering tools, experience, networking and advice on how to be so valuable in your job you cannot be replaced. Together we rise...

I own this responsibility toward other women and have incorporated it into my work life for the last ten years.
Namaste!

 

Perhaps I'm biased because of my background in the "hard sciences", but if you look at fields like Physics, Chemistry, and Biology I think you can get a good sense for how things will progress.

Forty or Fifty years ago, it was fairly uncommon for women to be involved in science, and even when they were they were frequently maligned or mistreated (read some of the history around Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin, for example). Eventually, after a long time, the ranks of women studying in these fields at an undergraduate level rose, to the point where I believe they now outnumber men in the three specific fields I mentioned (possibly not in Physics, but I don't have any actual numbers handy).

However, even after parity was (mostly) achieved at the undergraduate level, there was still a gender gap in graduate school. Sometime around the late 90s that started to melt away, but there remained a significant gap for faculty positions. Eventually, more women were granted faculty positions, but there was still a gap in tenured positions and department chairs. Even today, while gender parity has been achieved throughout most of academia, the number of male University presidents far exceeds the number of female presidents.

Now, you could chalk some of this up to the need for gender parity to work its way up the career ladder, and there is some truth to this, but I recall a few studies that showed this is not sufficient to explain the persistence of a gender gap at higher levels. In particular, IIRC, the gap in tenured positions has lasted far longer than one would expect. Most likely this is because, while Universities have figured out how to attract and retain female students and address the issues that forced them out before, they are still really bad at making accommodations for being a parent (which typically overlaps with the time in an academic's life when they'd be pursuing tenure).

So, if we take a cue from the sciences, I think the two key lessons are:

  • Focus on the start of the pipeline. It is a lot easier to introduce newcomers to an equitable culture than it is to change the minds of those already entrenched in a biased environment.

  • Pay attention to "bottlenecks" in the pipeline. We won't reach parity at all levels at the start, and with a lack of familiar roll models in higher positions, the pipeline will "leak", but if some step along the usual career path remains unbalanced too long it could be a sign of an as-yet-unaddressed issue.

Classic DEV Post from May 13 '19

What cool ideas have you seen for integrating new team members?

I came across this tweet from a couple days ago and it really struck a chord with...

Jess Lee (she/her) profile image
Taiwanese American. Co-founder of DEV.

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