Let’s try to make this post non-complainy, shall we?
But see, I am annoyed. I am annoyed that at my job I’m usually surrounded by men with hardly any other woman in sight. (This is not completely true. I know and have worked with other female developers, but they – or we – are scarce.)
What I am most annoyed with is that I don’t know what to do. I am perfectly aware of the fact that nobody actively discourages women from going into programming and IT. Yet at the same time I’m tired of hearing excuses like “Women are just not that technical” or “Well, that’s just the way it is”. Even if this is true, I still think that we should care about changing this outrageous status quo and getting more girls and women interested in coding.
See, I don’t believe that it’s a biological thing, but that the biggest reason for the big gender gap in IT is cultural conditioning. And I think I have proof for that.
When we were in Vietnam to train our off-shore developers I noticed that the female-to-male ratio in the development department there was way better than what I have seen in about every company I have worked for in the past ten years. It wasn’t 50/50, but a fair guess (without any numbers to prove it) would be that it was about 30/70 (maybe even slightly more), which is pretty good and the overall impression was that the ratio was enough to make it feel somewhat balanced.
If you look a bit into the history of programming, you’ll also see that back in the 60s it used to be foremost a women’s job, but that pretty obviously has changed.
Now, let me get that straight. I have been lucky and never have I worked in a team where the testosterone level was so high that it made me feel out of place. Most of all I am a software developer and a geek and I enjoy working with other geeky (and non-geeky) developers. But I am also a girl (well, woman, but you know…) and I wouldn’t mind seeing more female developers around. More than that, I would welcome it. Maybe with a song.
The reason I think is mostly to blame are cultural stereotypes and prejudices and the fact that nobody seems to care enough to change it. And while it’s true that any girl can decide for herself whether to go into IT or not, this is not an excuse to just throw your arms down and say “Well, so they are just not that interested. We can’t force you to.”
The truth still is that the whole IT community sometimes feels like an all boys club and while this might sound a bit lame, it’s not that easy to enter this boys club when you’re a girl and not feel weird. I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to, so I did. I was pretty good at math and took biology as a major in high school and was one of the first pupils to spend their afternoons at one of the two computers connected to the internet at my school. I have never and hopefully never will let anyone tell me what I am supposed to like or do or be interested in because I am this or that (e.g. a girl).
But I fear that not everyone is like that, and I also fear that society is still doing a pretty good job in steering boys to science and technology and girls to languages, art and humanities and encouraging girls that it’s perfectly okay to not understand a computer and boys that it’s okay not to be into learning Italian as long as they know how a car works. This, in my belief, is utter bullshit, but I don’t know how to fight it, either.
These prejudices and conceptions of what is acceptable based on a gender run so deep that it’s hard to imagine a world where certain areas of expertise are not predominated by one gender or the other. It happened to me, too, despite of what I said a few lines earlier. I never took any programming classes in school, although I would probably have liked it.
So here are some simple ideas:
- Make programming classes mandatory for all pupils in school for at least one year. I bet you’d be surprised at how many girls find out that programming isn’t nearly as hard as they imagined and – more than that – that it’s fun and that you can do pretty awesome things with it.
- Offer programming classes (in school, at university or as evening classes) for girls and women only. Yes, I know, that sounds like the wrong direction. We want to get rid of the gender gap, not feed it with special courses just for the ladies. But the issue here really is to get rid of the fear of failing for just as long as it takes to make it clear that programming is no rocket science (unless you are actually coding for a rocket, in which case, maybe it is) and that it is not magic either. We need to get over that first hurdle and this is probably easier done in a (temporary) all girls club.
- Cater to the prejudices. While they are still there, let’s make use of these stereotypes we talked about. Maybe coding is uninteresting for girls because it seems so technical. Make it look more artisty, colorful and fun. Start with building websites. While you could argue that HTML and CSS are not strictly programming languages I do believe they are the perfect gateway drug to actual full-fledged coding.
So there. Three simple ideas. They won’t solve everything, but they might be a good start and maybe other people have even better ideas.
Just personally, I’m sick of being the one girl crashing the boys club. I’m tired of pretending that I’m somehow less female or different from other girls or women because I work as a software developer. I’m not. And if I could get the support of other awesome girl geek developers out there, that would be pretty sensational.