I’ve been working with developers for over 8 years now. First, as a Java developer myself, then, as community manager here at CodinGame (as some of you know me today). As you can imagine, I have worked with more men than women in this industry.
This article is about women in tech, but more generally about the programming community itself. It concerns every developer. Inclusivity should be a major topic of discussion these days.
Because things are not right.
Taking a Necessary Step Back
A few months ago, in May, we held the community contest “Code Royale.” The creators chose to support the Girls Who Code non-profit organization. It created a bit of turmoil in the community. You might have read the forum thread; some people complained about the “bare discrimination” against men that this event embodied.
I did find it a bit suspicious that the thread’s author created their account only a few days before. However, several known members of the community reacted, too. Even someone who introduced herself as a woman found the event “incredibly patronizing.”
A few years back, I might have reacted in the same way. I was a young man, new in the tech industry, quite naive and full of ideals. I still am a bit naive, but I’ve learned a lot about the tech environment and the tech community since.
Today, this complaint thread, even if I understand it, saddens me. Because it seems to me that some people prefer to argue and complain instead of working together towards solutions for a better situation.
I reckon having beliefs is great, whatever those beliefs are. Standing for your convictions reveals a lot about you. I find it courageous and respectable. I value more, however, those who try to put themselves in others’ shoes.
And people who try to look at the big picture.
The Tech Industry Is Not Inclusive Enough
That is the big picture.
Even if the atmosphere in your class, in your university, in your school, in your team or your company seems gender-friendly, that doesn’t mean it’s fine everywhere.
Maybe you have female friends who aren’t interested in tech at all. Maybe you know more women fascinated by tech than men. That doesn’t make it a reality for the entire community.
Below is the testimony of a CodinGamer who suffered from gender discrimination in her life as a developer.
I have had two defining moments in my career which to me were very poignant – both relating to the current state of women in tech.
I have a very comfortable sense of fashion (tech shirts, jeans, hoodies), but for Christmas parties I like to dress up and wear a dress or something. Nothing too dramatic or revealing. Every Christmas party, my male colleagues would treat me completely differently. They’d say, “Sorry, I can’t take you seriously looking like this,” or “You have nice legs.” It didn’t feel like complimenting, it felt like they were seeing me as an entirely different person (maybe not even a person, just some boobs and legs) who didn’t get the same collegial respect as when I was wearing “gender neutral” clothing.
A week after I got married, I interviewed for a company and it went pretty well. They told me I was a good fit to the team and asked me to come back for another more technical review of my machine learning projects. My husband went for an interview, too. And on the same day, they uninvited me. Turns out they decided to a) go against our agreement and b) offered him the job without him having to show them any projects. The truth of the matter was that he didn’t have any ML projects; he helped me out with mine, but they still had more confidence in his skills than mine.
I think that men can’t imagine what it feels like to be a woman in tech. It’s that simple. We can’t. So, let’s not try to imagine how we’d think, how we’d react as women in our industry. We’re not women.
Instead, let’s acknowledge the facts:
There are very few women in the tech industry, possibly even less by the day. Additionally, a lot of people, not only women, don’t feel welcome in the programming community.
Supporting and Encouraging Change
As a kid, I really liked math, and when choosing a high school branch between sciences (math, informatics, chemistry) and literature (grammar, languages, economy), of course I chose the first option. My parents tried to influence me to choose the latter one, arguing that languages or economy are easier to study for women or find jobs for. I was really stubborn in my decision and went with sciences, and I’m happy to say that I never looked back. I got passionate with programming.
Throughout my years of study, the percentage of women was around 20%, so I got used to this male-dominated industry and it didn’t feel that strange to me. I was lucky not to have felt discriminated against besides the occasional comment: “Wow, a woman who actually codes!” It actually made me feel powerful, like I can actually make things with my own hands.
But I could see their point of view: women in tech are quite rare. Maybe a lot of them don’t get there because they are not encouraged early on, or even worse, discouraged by family or friends, fearing they are not good enough or that they won’t be able to compete with men.
My take on improving the gender ratio in tech would be to encourage girls early on through coding hubs, free courses, coding that involves graphics…but promoting women in tech shouldn’t completely ignore males – otherwise they’ll feel discriminated. After all, we’re in this together, right?
I’m happy that Tzupy, one of the creators of the Xmas Rush challenge, was stubborn enough to continue in sciences. I think that any attempt to introduce more people to the world of programming, like what Girls Who Code do, should not be rejected, but supported. After all, everyone deserves the chance to see how incredibly fun coding is!
Also, I’m pretty sure most programmers are aware of the gender bias. Without realizing, though, we have all been excluding people from joining at some point, and not only women. By ego, by lack of sensitivity and diplomacy, or by laziness.
I’m not trying to blame anyone or make them feel horrible. I’m guilty myself. I just want us all to be more mindful of how we act, of what we say, of what we laugh at…
A Tribute to Women in Tech
Things are definitely improving. In my country, there is a community for women called Codette that aims to teach them programming starting with high school. They organize presentations, promote women entrepreneurs, and go to international conferences.
In my company, there’s also an ERG group for women that tries to guide them in personal growth and in advancing their career (it’s pretty new, so it’s not that developed yet), but I like the extra attention! 😅
I’m proud of the CodinGame community. With all sorts of contributions (coding games, puzzles, articles, playgrounds and more), CodinGamers put knowledge-sharing, mutual aid and sheer fun of coding above competition and disagreements. Every day, I do my best to ensure it stays that way.
Before I conclude, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary women who participated in the creation of Xmas Rush, and more generally the women of the entire CodinGame community and the programming world: Thank you for being here; you’re most welcome, and having you here is awesome.
We’re building the software world of tomorrow with AI, Machine Learning and so on. It already suffers from gender bias. Let’s turn the tide.
For any controversial debate, I believe it’s beneficial to refrain from reacting with passion. As a community manager and in life generally, I try to listen, then assess the situation. Only then do I allow myself to take action.
If you want to react to this article, please do, but since it is such a sensitive issue, be sure to think first about what you’re going to write and the effect your words may have on others.