That was magical!

Women in Technology | SISCODE

The first post on Medium and I believe it to be truly special, for there are reasons that are making me blog late in night. I cannot sleep. Not for few more hours at least. We just had our second SisCode session and it was amazing, if you don’t know about siscode, you must be wondering what that is?

Sis-code is a gathering of active supporters of women in technology. It is a women hostel’s based group where we focus at talking tech, learning tech, trying it out and exploring the opportunities that exist in this domain in a much informal setup.

When we talk in general about women in technology, several themes come up. “Oh it’s so scarce”, “Support for women in technology is hyped for no reason, men deserve the same opportunities”, “girls are paid less”, “Girls actually lack interest in technology”…well these are just few notions framed from the rather redundant news articles and statistics.

Let’s try to unveil the truth, is it a hype or does there actually exists a problem with a deeper dimension to it? No doubts there has been a boom in number of opportunities and program to promote women in participating into technology. Some of them I know are Outreachy, RGSoC, Grace Hopper Conferences and there exist many other providing support at different levels to encourage women in technology. The question is why do we need them at the first place? Rather than articulating the reasons step-wise I would like to present three cases and leave on you to decide what you believe is right.

  1. “At Google, women make up 30 percent of the company’s overall workforce, but hold only 17 percent of the company’s tech jobs. At Facebook, 15 percent of tech roles are staffed by women. At Twitter, it’s a laughable 10 percent. For non-technical jobs at Twitter (think marketing, HR, sales), the gender split is 50–50.” (Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/women-in-tech_n_6955940.html?section=india)
  2. Less Pay: And at £640 per week, the median gross weekly rate of pay for female IT specialists was 16 percent (£120) less than the figure for men working in IT roles (£760) and the level of pay for women IT roles has been consistently below that of male IT specialists in each of the past 10 years, according to the analysis by tech employers body e-skills and IT professionals body the BCS (Source: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/european-technology/women-in-tech-under-represented-and-paid-less/)
  3. Some may even ponder why do we need women at the first place? There are several different aspects attached to answering this question. First is diversity, it has been well studied and accepted that the more diverse the teams are , the better and innovative solutions that can bring in. You may find it intuitively correct too, so lets not waste time and ink justifying this one. Second fact is there must not exist a gender bias in the field as impactful as creating technology itself.

Here are few more reads:

https://www.themuse.com/advice/why-we-need-to-rethink-women-in-tech

https://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2412394/why-we-need-more-women-in-tech

I won’t completely agree with all the points the above articles have. It is ironic that at times we use different set of stereotypes to fight against gender bias, not realizing that another set of such stereotypes created the bias at the first place. So when they say “women might just make better entrepreneurs than men because women are better calculated risk-takers , women are less prone to overconfidence etc.” I cannot totally support it, for we do not have a concrete proof for all that and according to me these qualities are highly specific to an individual and cannot and should not be diluted to label the mobs. But when I see low percentage of women taking up the tech jobs, this definitely makes me ponder. There has to be a problem in that. If you are able to accept it easily, let me know how you feel if I say “only 30 % of musicians are men”. Field changed, lets come to a new field like music, such a statistics will definitely make you ponder why so and at the second level we do realize that either the field is hostile towards men or men do not qualify to be at music, they lack the skills. Dissecting the second part, we can find out why do men not qualify, either they are actually incapable of learning music or they lack the confidence to believe that they can and know how to play music.

Now if you can map the analogy right, you may be able to relate to what problem exists when it comes to women in tech. Is tech industry hostile towards women? While less pay adds to it a bit, the very stereotypical mindset that STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education) courses are meant to be for boys, girls will not like it or in rather raw words, they are dumb enough to pursue it definitely adds to the situation. It saddens me that the world is not as liberal and logical as we all would have wanted or believed it to be. Here’s is an article by Jane Lansing that tries portraying some of her experiences in tech world: http://fortune.com/2015/08/08/jane-lansing-women-in-tech/

The industry is expected to become more welcoming once more women join in . As Sheryl Sandberg has said “There are less women in technology because there are less women in technology”, it is kind of recursive. Lets deal with the second reason and try figuring out a solution for that one.

To get a deeper view I believe this TED talk by Debbie Sterling will do more justice than my words.

The video sums up it all. It begins by asking you to close your eyes and imagine a programmer. Whom do you see? Follow along the talk, it is one of the bests encountered on TEDx.

It is not only the mindset of people in industry that is to be scrutinized but the mindset girls themselves have is what forms the core of the issue. It is a cultural thing. The atmosphere we are brought up in and the kind of beliefs that are reinforced time and again is what is vital in creating the bias. No program / initiative can help you if you yourself fail to acknowledge the skill set you possess.

Just to add on I would like to add one of my experiences at Grace Hopper Conference for Women in last December. There were some 30–40 student scholars invited to the conference. The first day, the host calls all of us and we started having a candid conversation. It started with asking all of us “Why do you think you were selected for the scholarship?”. All of us were mostly silent. Some said, our referrals must have been strong, others said, it was pure luck, while rest believed there would have been not much competition, everyone would have been selected! It was then the host said, “This is the mistake we all make, we fail to acknowledge our own value. Some are without referrals who are here with us, there were only some selected from hundreds of application, it cannot be luck, it was you who mattered, your profile had it and so you are here today!” This is not just another story, it reflects on one of the common traits women have they are not even aware of. We do great work but rarely it happens that we take the stand for it. Women rarely bargain for their incomes, statistics show this. If we contemplate more, we reach a point that it is not the skills/talent but rather the attitude that is at fault.

What leads to such an attitude, what creates the superficial gap that has been imposed that makes them feel alienated to technology, and they end up not trusting their own skills? The answer is mix of things, the upbringing, the stereotypes they embraced, the myths they have accepted or might be they have given up way too early. Whatever it be, it is yet to be researched, one thing I am pretty sure of that lacks (at least around me ) is “talking tech” and “working in groups”. This is what has been observed at hostel too. Hostels are meant to be places where you can work in groups for fun, hack on cool stuff or solve things together, but unfortunately the culture is not as expected. We have together failed to exploit the opportunity of being together, learning from each other and growing professionally. Girls are stretching their limits and working hard , they do achieve success but it is all by themselves and their sole efforts. It is also possible that the second person living in the next room will be having no idea what the first person is working on. Apart from the TAs, the cross-batches interactions , especially technical ones, are rare in existence. This is sad. Imagine a place where you are well-connected with like-minded people, can seek guidance from them or can guide others, you can work together, learn together, build together! How amazing it would be. Imagine the tremendous flow of energy and ideas across corridors. Such an atmosphere imbibe some of the most awestruck ideas. To encourage building up such a culture at our very own hostel, we initiated sis-code.

Until you talk tech, you make it a part of your life, you are well aware of the updates, how do you expect to be a confident technocrat? You just cannot. Rather than assuming tech as a subject that has to be learned, try making it a part of your day to day interactions. When you discuss you learn more, when you teach you become more confident. It is high time to cut the ice and induce dispersion in hostel culture. So, here at siscode we organize mid-night sessions, where people join in , purely on the basis of interest and we talk tech. The first session was on web scraping, it went good, apart from some technical glitches wrt router for wifi, we talked what is it, what purpose it serves and how can we do it. The second session that we recently had was more magical. The enthusiastic siscode volunteers organized the event where we had five girls, who talked about their experiences with varied internships (research/industrial) and picking up new skill like android. Girls interacted, started knowing each other, what people are working on around. I call it magical, time and again, because it was an abstract image within the frames of my mind that turned out into a concrete reality. It was actually happening! We all were there together working for a cause, we all can mutually recognize. It was beautiful.

Though we have realized and initiated it late, and as senior folks we just have a month more to accelerate it, we will try our best to conduct more sessions of this sort. Let’s try to bring it up to a level of self-sustenance, hopefully the juniors will take this forward :)

Meanwhile, if you have walked all this way through the post and you feel like supporting the cause, feel free to join in the Google Group we have:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/siscode

You are free to share relevant articles, news, opportunities, ideas on this group. The group welcomes everyone who wishes to be part of the initiative irrespective of gender or place.

We have a mini-hackathon and interactive session on operating systems viz linux, windows, fedora lined up next. If you have any suggestions/comments on how can we address the issue more appropriately, would love to hear back in comments. We have a long way to go!

So that was all about our proceeding with siscode, will be back with a new post soon, till then keep hacking, keep exploring!

Adieu.