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Responses to “Hi, I’m a software engineer” and why they need to change

After telling people what I do for a living, I usually get one of the following responses:

a)You actually write the code?

b)Are you sure?You mean you are a product manager right?

c)Really?NO WAY!

The reactions received concerning my introduction have got me rather worried. I have been in several situations with male peers where I got a “WOW!You must be really smart” but a male colleague in the same role got an “okay”. It’s a bit strange for me to be considered intelligent ,whilst a male counterpart is simply recognized as a human being-FOR DOING THE SAME JOB.

Let‘s think through this together.

It’s a known fact that STEM(Science, Technology,Engineering and Mathematics)is not a glamorized field for women.

I mean, look at a few examples of what the media and pop culture have been feeding our generation:

Exhibit A -Barbie commercial where Barbie is a computer engineer but cannot complete her game until her male colleagues come to save the day https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/19/-sp-barbie-can-be-a-computer-engineer-but-only-with-help-of-a-man

Exhibit B -These scenes from Mean Girls where :

a girl is portrayed as the obvious least intelligent competitor in a Maths competition http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qscPswsNzpw&t=2m50s

a girl clearly knows she’s great at Maths but pretends not to be in order to get her “dream guy” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DcW-xdkPz4

Exhibit C -The power of a stereotype i.e. evidence to show how hybrids of Exhibit A and B can influence . This short video shows that children have already defined professions as male or female https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qv8VZVP5csA

If the media tells people that they should expect not to be good at something, then go figure, people start believing the media and subscribe to the narrative.

It’s a huge problem to have such an influential industry like Technology lacking in diversity. Diversity of thought and diversity of perspective is super important, especially when a field is meant to be shaping lives and paving the way forward.

Let us highlight a few issues that have come to light due to the lack of women in the technology industry.

Auto-saftey for women has been compromised for so long because crash test dummies were designed as males.How scary is that? If there were more women in the engineering teams at car manufacturing companies, surely this will never have slipped past anyone’s radar. http://leevinsel.com/blog/2013/12/30/why-carmakers-always-insisted-on-male-crash-test-dummies

That awkward moment when Voice Recognition is great but not so great when you are a woman.Should one attempt to speak a few decibels lower than usual? http://www.dailydot.com/debug/google-voice-recognition-gender-bias/

When it comes to technical design and programming, one has to remember- you are not always going to be the end-user of your product. If technology teams aren’t diverse in gender and race, how will all basis be covered after defining the problem and programmatically working through a solution?

And here is what makes this puzzle even more interesting…

History tells us the first programmers were WOMEN! Please google ‘Ada Lovelace’ and check out this article http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/10/06/345799830/the-forgotten-female-programmers-who-created-modern-tech

So let’s fast forward to present day.

Women make up roughly 14% of the United Kingdom’s STEM workforce*.It seems like numbers are up from previous years but this number is still shockingly low. *https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/resources/2015/09/women-in-the-stem-workforce

The not-so-great part about all this is despite the existence of the pipeline of talent, the number of women that are senior leaders in Fortune 500’s Tech companies is still very low (http://www.forbes.com/sites/elenakvochko/2016/01/04/women-executives-in-tech/#38a4ed644d16). Guess what this means?Retention isn’t great either.

Ever heard the phrase “People can’t be who they can’t see”?

This is exactly what is happening in the industry. Lack of female leadership means women starting a career in technology have no role models and eventually leave the field before their 10 year mark. You may think, “We are all adults, who needs role models?”- but trust me, we do. Climbing the career ladder and basic self development will prove to be a major chore. The entire spiel of “the first woman to ever *insert achievement*” should not be the story everyday.

Just a take-away thought: some of Silicon Valley’s finest have boardroom meetings with only 1 or no women present.

So here is what‘s happening to close the gender gap and stop people from being in awe of the fact that female software developers like me exist.

Organisations like STEMettes, Black Girls Code, She Can Code,Girls who code and CodeFirst:Girls (to name a few) are pioneering the way forward for young women to gain early exposure to Technology. By hosting meet ups, mentoring sessions and hackathons, girls are encouraged to study STEM subjects at A-Level and hopefully pursue STEM degrees at university. This will eventually grow and maintain a steady pipeline of female technologists and assist with retention of talent in the industry.

Speaking from experience, I am pretty confident that one of the reasons for the subsequent lack of interest in technology from the female population is due to lack of exposure and a slither of nerd/”brogrammer” culture.This comes from a girl whose peers in university, all started coding when they were 10 years old. Therefore, it should be expected that most women will be intimidated and not bother with exploring the Technology field, if most of their peers have a head start.This should not be the case. I am convinced that introducing early exposure will revert this notion.

But there is hope

Did you see the Goldieblocks commercial during the 2014 Superbowl?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8ZGw_hDncA

Here is a brief version of the back story:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8x8FdEvt6w. Isn’t that just amazing? With the rise of more initiatives like this, “Hi, I’m a software developer” won’t be a unique introduction any more 🙂

One more resource for you all, I drew inspiration for this post from this documentary(and other links I had handy in my favorites).For anyone passionate about all things WIT(Women In Technology) or just the Technology industry in general-you will absolutely love this.

CODE documentary | Debugging the Gender Gap

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