Debugging the Gender Gap

Being here at Turing: School of Software & Design, the staff pride themselves in a deep commitment to social change and a mission of activating human potential through an unprecedented blend of teaching and programming expertise.

Huge in part to why Turing outcomes have been so strong — to why Turing School consistently delivers mid-level developers is its social justice mission. The team believes in empowering people through programming as a means to social change by increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups.

To pay tribute to this vision, I feel the necessity to share more about what I have learned during my time exploring topics on equality and social equity.

As I’ve seen myself, a diverse background of outlooks, attitudes, and approaches to problems is key to any demanding collaborative initiative. However, there appears to be something missing in a larger context of the tech world.

In a report on diversity in high tech, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that “despite rapid transformation in the field, the overwhelming dominance of white men in the industries and occupations associated with technology has remained.” What can we see as indicated by this trend?

Professional trajectory is intrinsically connected to educational background and cultural origin. Whether this path is able to push the current boundaries of a historical trend toward a type of ‘monoculture’ in tech depends greatly on foundational learning in the classroom.

Educational curriculum today, spanning from elementary levels all the way up through a college level, has become increasingly ‘technology-rich’ but ‘curriculum poor.’ By this, I mean that although technology has been available to all, it has not been necessarily accessible or appealing for girls and women.

Largely in part to this fact is limited pedagogical approaches and resources in schools. Unbalanced gender makeup in computer science and engineering classes doesn’t help, nor do attitudes toward failure or the quality of welcoming women into new environments that are heavily male-dominated.

A lack of coding access for women and other minorities trickles into nearly every segment of our global economy now that software and computer technology is so ubiquitous. It affects people from walks of life all over the world.

As mentioned in the the Debugging the Gender Gap, ‘4 times fewer girls than boys take the advanced placement level exam for computer science.’ Why is this? How much does social identity play a role?

Undoubtedly, a preference for social outcomes is a factor in subject focus and career orientation, but the way we are able to redefine our stereotypes in a larger societal view can redefine and reshape potential academic success in careers that are predominantly left-brain heavy.

So what else prevents women from joining, participating, and growing into an educational or professional role in software? Could it be that companies are too busy to accommodate greater diversity initiatives?

Clearly, there has been a lack of motivation based on gender presence, but there is a deeper, underlying level to this picture that has an impact on the future of healthy cultural settings within the software industry.

Through a genetic lens, neuroscientists verify that nothing about our biology prevents a woman from having an equal opportunity or potential for success as a programmer.

As evidenced by academic results and outcomes, women have measured equally to men in performance. Unconscious cultural biases may be preventing us from pushing for more inclusivity in tech.

Forbes Magazine highlights a culturally-related bias toward lack of diversity in tech: On average, women represent around 1/3 of the workforce in top tech companies in Silicon Valley. Even tech giant google is trailing behind.

A long history across all sorts of professional fields conveys a similar trend. In 1967, 30–50% of computer developers are women. Marketing and media targeted woman to feel empowered in a computing role because demand of computer engineers was high. This field desperately needed more numbers to expand and fill its potential.

Marketing shifted a focus onto men in order to pull in greater numbers for the industry. Meanwhile, marketing efforts on the part of other industries leveraged a difference side of the coin. Efforts to focus on luring girls to imagery of young princesses, ponies and pop-stars didn’t help. A gender role was being redefined through popular media.

With time, we have seen what has been lost by a lack of varying perspective in developmental stages of technology. For instance, in the documentary Debugging the Gender Gap, car airbags were developed by white males who designed and implemented safety features for one of their engineers. It turns out that these features resulted in the loss of many lives that did not account for varying degrees of stature.

If more women were present, could they have accounted for a broader range of edge cases? Regardless, having more conversations in various industries about a diverse spectrum of users is essential, beyond a focus of usability.

As a developer, there is a bottom line: ‘you are not your user.’ A designer and engineer cannot possibly account for variables outside of his/her subjective experience and limited point of view. Diverse and wider perspectives are imperative in guiding the innovations of tomorrow.

Perhaps foreseeing any potentially devastating unseen consequences of new innovations can be minimized with a wider spectrum of experience and perspective.

Clearly, any perceptual lens we use that defines a particular group or individual’s abilities — regardless of gender — is a great inhibition to results and progress of our socio-cultural, economic and political growth. The way we limit our potential may be greatly reflected in a collective perception of gender and cultural roles.

However, change is happening. A greater network of empowered leaders is emerging even here in Denver at ‘Girl Develop It’.

Building software is fun and cool for anyone of any age! Despite its perceived difficulty to learn, anyone can learn how to do it, and women are certainly not excluded here. Both men and women have n ability to use logic and translate real world problems into a machine’s language — this is the task of a software engineer.

It’s not that hard to get woman into computer science — we simply need better intro classes that are appealing, not portrayed as overly difficult, and that contain supportive environments. As more men encourage this idea and entice others to join, we can achieve these goals much sooner. As a fellow student, Matthew Kaufman, proposes, let’s get more women to code!