Programming is predominantly a male industry. This is not a supposition, data confirms it and we proved it in a recent blog post titled Why are there so few women in the programming world?). What do female developers think about this? How do they feel being a minority? We have put 3 tech professionals, Trisha Gee, Laura Luiz and Ixchel Ruiz*, in the spotlight and highlight their opinions about the gender gap in the sector.
According to recent data, only 11% of the worldwide developers are women. Laura Luiz, software engineer, describes that this is still a very common stereotyped situation among tech jobs. She examines her professional career and points out that “Around 90% of my colleagues with technical roles are men. That’s how it was in the university too and in all my previous jobs, so I cannot say much has changed in the last 15 years.”
However this situation can become even more unequal. Ixchel Ruiz, Java Champion, explains “my personal experience is worse than statistics tend to show”. Ixchel works in a company with around 55 employees and she recognizes “it has very talented developers”, but she notes, “we only have 2 women developers”. She specifies that there are only “5 women in the company (CEO, 2 UX, 2 Developers)”. But Trisha Gee, an expert in Java high-performance systems, wants to point out that the situation is not the same in all places,“for example, in Eastern Europe, India and other places, the numbers are very different to the UK, US and Western Europe.
Pointing a reason why the presence of women is significantly lower than men within programming sector is a “very, very complicated to answer”, says Trisha Gee. “It’s largely cultural and has nothing to do with ability”, she adds. Laura Luiz agrees with her: “I think the main reason is that girls do not feel encouraged to enroll in computer-related studies. Most of them do not show enough interest in how computers work or they simply think it is not for them”. Ixchel Ruiz also agrees and breaks down potential causes “few role models, unconscious bias, impostor syndrome and insensitivity”. They all three agree to the existence of a stereotype narrative that has a big influence within the sector. They are not the only ones holding this opinion, Unesco also supports it.
Probably that is the main key why girls are less interested in STEM subjects than boys. In Laura Luiz words “Girls and boys learn from an early age about their own gender and its social expectations, and in order to fit in, they imitate the behaviour and attitudes of their same-sex peers, which means that they will all have a high tendency to match their gender stereotypes. That is: computers are a ‘boy thing’”.
Regarding gender discrimination, all of them have seen or experienced it. “Some is overt (sexual harassment, inappropriate comments, hostile behaviour e.g. over Twitter), some is almost invisible. For example, a woman will rarely know if she is underpaid compared to men, unless she opens about her salary to peers. She will never know if she wasn’t promoted because of conscious or unconscious bias,” Trisha Gee describes. In line with Gee, Laura Luiz says “The gap becomes way more significant when we talk about climbing the ladder: how many female CTO, heads of technology, tech leads do you know? For me it drops way below 10%. It is clear to everyone that the tech sector is a male-dominated world, but it is often not so evident that the women in the industry hardly find the opportunity or the confidence to occupy a management position.”
So what would they change about the current state of women in the world of software development? Ixchel Ruiz states that “Everything! I want the next generation to be in tech and not being ignored and to be respected. I don’t want them to be considered a quota to be filled. I want them to be sought as keys in innovation and success. I want them to choose what to specialize on and enjoy solving problems and providing better solutions.” Laura Luiz tells us that “I would only say “we made it” when half of the graduates in tech-related studies are women, when half of the people in tech departments are women and when half of the management positions of those departments are occupied by women. Only then will we have gender diversity.”
The first step to change the actual state of women in the programming sector is to acknowledge it and take action. Education and training play a really important part here and like Laura Luiz says “In my opinion, our only option against it, is to break with the stereotypes. Insist to the kids that they can be anything, that the gender does not dictate who they are or what they like. Introduce them to science, dance, art, sports, poetry, crafts, mechanics… They should explore everything so that they can freely discover their abilities and interests. And do not be afraid of being critical with what you hear and see around you: in the media, at your office, at home; it is our society that keeps the stereotypes alive through little things that go unnoticed every single day”.
So when will we start making programming a more egalitarian sector?