Updated: Dec 20, 2019
When I first moved to Austin in 2003, I was looking for organizations to volunteer with and chose GirlStart. I supported after-school robotics for girls in a local middle school and wonder what those kids are studying now, whether STEM or another field. While I think the pipeline problem is important and needs to be addressed, I think an equally significant and perhaps bigger problem is post-graduation, with retention of women in technical fields.
This weekend I volunteered at Chicktech High School to support high school girls in an IoT workshop, building and coding a Micro:bit watch. The workshop teacher worked at Microsoft philanthropy training computer science teachers. It was very exciting to meet the ChickTech leadership team and fellow volunteers and mentors. All the women had their own stories of how they were introduced to computer science or resisted it because it was their parents' choice of discipline for them. I met the woman who brought ChickTech to Austin four years ago and really enjoyed her story. I also met teachers, software developers, and technical writers. We talked about how more women are needed in development and sales engineering, and how women tend to be in customer success or professional services such as training or consulting. While their presence and voice adds badly needed diversity to tech leadership, we still need women in the more technical domains . Women need to be recognized and respected for their abilities to design algorithms and write code, otherwise coding is still mainly for men.
I think what contributes to the lack of women in development is the lack of women in development. We don't see people that look like us on software engineering teams, so it is easy to feel isolated and lonely if you are female. It also takes a certain personality to have longevity as a developer, rather than branching out to other areas of a software company that are customer-facing. Unfortunately, because developers are mostly men, their leadership is men as well, which makes it hard for women to feel like they belong and feel like they have a voice.
For this reason, I applaud organizations like Women Who Code whose purpose is to create community among female coders. However, the challenges are great, as female developers will not see many fellow women on their development team or at development conferences. I think there needs to be more support at the corporate level and more leadership training and mentoring for women. The organizations supporting and growing the pipeline of girls and keeping them in computer science are doing a great job, and now the professional community must unite to recognize the challenge that female software engineers and sales engineers face and help them navigate and succeed in their male-dominated teams.