Gender, race and my journey into tech

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Priya Nirmal, Developer at Erase All Kittens, on how Google’s recent sexism controversy highlighted her own journey into tech.

The sacking of Google engineer, James Damore, following his assertion that women are ‘unsuited’ to the tech industry, re-surfaced the issues I feel trepidation about as I enter that world.

If an engineer from one of the largest and well known tech companies can openly claim that the underrepresentation of women is due to “biological causes”, then it’s not unreasonable to assume that the level of hidden prejudice that exist in the industry is as unimaginable as it is intimidating. Maybe doubly so for me, as a computer science graduate and a British Asian. I’m now nervous about what lies ahead of me in a career currently dominated by white men.

After being discouraged to enter computer science by my (middle-aged white male) A-Level ICT teacher, I still chose to go ahead with it and was lucky to meet many women of similar backgrounds, with similar experiences during my time at university. This gave me a sense of comfort, as I did not feel out of place. However, this is not always the case.

In the UK, only 21% of the STEM workforce (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are women, the percentage of women of colour being even smaller. A lot of light is shone on the lack of women in the industry, however there isn’t much awareness and exposure of women of colour in technology, the struggles they face and their achievements.

There are many strong initiatives being taken by women that inspire and encourage girls who may be cautious to enter the field or feel that it’s not suited to them. I was hesitant when considering a career in computer science because it was viewed as almost abnormal for a girl to take part in and I had doubts about whether I would feel at ease in the learning environment. However, after taking the plunge, I realised there is nothing else I would rather do as a profession.

People often are unaware of the fun and creative aspects of Computer Science and the variety of jobs it can offer. Initiatives such as Black Girl Code and BlackGirl.Tech show girls what the field is all about. People of Colour In Tech focuses on uplifting accomplishments of PoC in technology, to highlight the significance of their contributions, which may often go unnoticed. It also helps us to find jobs in tech and connect with potential employers. It features many women of colour who are successful founders of their own companies and also software engineers at known tech firms.

An example being mobile engineer at Kickstarter, Christella Dolmo, who mentioned that she, like many of us, had negative preconceptions about being in the tech industry. She was unable to relate to it and therefore had doubts about the prospects of a successful career. Her views changed after partaking in meet-ups discussing diversity in tech and she was motivated to pursue a career in a field she never expected to end up in.

Another example is 20/20 Shift, founded by Ariel Lopez; it aims to initiate tech companies to introduce diversity in their workforce. The team of women have personal experience of being part of the underrepresented in their field and therefore are working towards achieving ways of minority inclusion. They also provide workshops and courses allowing those who want to enter the industry to learn new skills. Encouragement of recruiters to give attention to minority talent and providing safe learning environments are important methods of intensifying diversity in the sector.

Erase All Kittens is a game I’m contributing to, where the aim is to inspire young girls to take up coding by providing a fun platform for them to explore basic skills in coding languages including HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I felt that E.A.K. is something many young girls can enjoy and could potentially contribute in sparking an interest in the field for them. I was able to relate the the CEO, Dee Saigal, and her background, and felt inspired to contribute to the goal that the game is trying to achieve.

By providing this kind of exposure and introducing them to coding at an early age, more girls can be inspired and believe that it’s something they can progress in and consider for their future profession. So, when they enter the field, they do not have the fear of feeling inferior or uncomfortable — instead they should feel a sense of belonging in tech. Moreover, when young girls see women they can relate to who have excelled in the field, they are given someone they can aspire to. It incites not only an interest in a widely growing sector but also provides them with the belief that it is something they can prosper in.

From September, I’m going to begin my Master’s degree in Information Security at UCL. Although incredibly excited to start my venture into the field, I can’t help but feel a similar sense of apprehension that I felt prior to my undergraduate life. The anxiety of being a minority in a workplace or learning environment still lingers, which is why it is vital that we go to extents to increase minority inclusion in the tech industry.

There is no part of tech that a woman of colour or minority cannot excel in. Initiatives that contribute towards allowing them to grow in the field are so important and deserve more encouragement. By motivating young girls to take part, providing access to resources for them to advance their skills, more potential can be recognised and opportunities can be provided in a constantly developing field.

Priya Nirmal is a developer at Erase All Kittens, the game which aims to inspires young girls to code.