Women Who Code is a global organization with local chapters for women who write software as part of their jobs or hobbies. Women Who Code’s main purpose is to inspire women to excel in technology careers. It works to support this generation in being and becoming leaders and role models in the tech industry. A few months ago, Erin Spiceland and Charlotte Ellett started the Huntsville chapter of Women Who Code, and already membership stands at more than 100 members and is growing rapidly. We invited Ellett and Spiceland to inform our readers about this initiative, why it’s important and why we should all be supporting it. Here’s what they had to say.
In college, I looked for a professional organization for women who worked in computing. I very nearly joined the Society for Women Engineers but was talked out of it by classmates who weren’t women and who didn’t see the value in an organization specifically for women. At the time, I wasn’t well-informed on its necessity, either. I just had a sense that women needed to stick together. We were fewer, and we were doubted more. I haven’t forgotten how male classmates who were planning their theoretical future startups all wanted to find cofounders on campus, but they refused to work with women, voicing doubts about our abilities. Women have always had to form our own groups, whether we had intended to make them women-only or not.
Why does this happen? Why are women underrepresented in tech? Why do those few of us in the industry experience alienation by some men and have our work and experience doubted and even denied?
What is Women Who Code, and Who Should Join?
Being a member of a community with so many smart, technical women is a huge change for many women who have worked for years without having a woman coworker.
Women Who Code aims to bring women in tech together, a necessity for those who are in male-dominated workplaces where they may not meet others like them. Where women have been discounted in a broader startup community that mostly favors men, networks for women present an opportunity for them to work together and form their own startup ecosystems if necessary. After all, women best understand what issues are keeping them out of tech and perhaps can pioneer the solutions themselves. Many women used to facing stereotyping in performance reviews or being talked over as the lone woman in meetings. Some find a community that is not overwhelmingly male to better foster women’s ideas and talent. Just as being stereotyped can be inhibiting at work or school, seeing women in great positions can bring out the best. Women encourage and embolden each other to not hold themselves back. By being the face of startups, they also present a message to the wider community about how women can lead progress in tech.
Our outreach efforts are not confined to women who are computing industry veterans. Our chapter in Huntsville wants to bring in students who may be majoring in STEM or thinking of entering a tech field, as well as any woman who wants to learn to code, regardless of experience. We hold workshops and hack nights that are free to anyone who identifies as a woman, and we welcome them to bring guests. We understand that work and family responsibilities can be a hurdle that keeps many women from continuing professional development, and we want to do what we can to make coding accessible to women who experience unique barriers to enter tech fields. We try to secure venues that are appropriate for us to offer child care. We provide an environment where women of all races, classes, religions, and gender identities are welcome.
Why Should Women Care about the Startup Community?
In the rapidly expanding field of computing, startups can present unparalleled new opportunities for innovation. Being a co-founder gives women a chance to change the status quo and shape the future of the industry for everyone. Recently, women’s voices have been underrepresented in tech, and they’ve been a largely unrecognized part of it since the beginning when women programmers were common. Myths circulate about why women are underrepresented in tech: they’re risk-averse, they lack the will to compete, they’re not natural leaders, or they’re not interested in investment. None of these appear to be true of the women who have sometimes passionately chosen the harder path just by being in the tech industry.
However, this choice is made with good reason: although women in tech may make less than men, they still earn more than the median U.S. worker’s income, even at the lowest rungs. This is important to women for another reason: improving their earning power can help to bring more equality, as it reduces their economic disadvantage in comparison to men.
Why Should the Startup Community Support Women Who Code?
If you’re not a woman who codes, it may be unclear why Women Who Code should matter to you. Startups often seem reluctant to hire diverse teams, preferring to go with people who are similar to the founders. This is sometimes an accident rooted in choosing applicants from a person’s own network or founders hiring people with more in common with them. Numbers of women founders remain low. Crunchbase found that the number of funded startups with at least one female founder doubled from 9% to 18% between 2009 and 2014. This is a “promising” increase, but still a discouragingly low number for women who seek parity in one of the fastest growing industries.
Why should startups want to work with more women? Vivian Hunt in her article “Why Diversity Matters” notes that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to perform in the top of their industries’ companies. Furthermore, The Anita Borg Institute states that Fortune 500 companies who employ three or more women in director level positions have seen returns on invested capital, sales, and equity increase by 66%, 42%, and 53% respectively. Karina Govindji writes in her Business Journal article “Having More Women Leaders Is Good for Business” that women managers keep employees engaged better than men, and that engaged employees are less likely to leave their jobs. In turn, companies with higher engagement and more accepting cultures tend to have a much easier time hiring new employees.
Outside the work environment, improving the economic opportunities of women has positive effects for the entire ecosystem, and Women Who Code is an organization focused on those goals. It brings women together to network, learn and collaborate, lifting each other up and improving the tech industry in general. When women make more, they reinvest 90% of their income back into their families and communities, thus creating a virtuous cycle or multiplier effect for supporting women to earn more overall.
Women who choose to work in tech are often amazingly smart and dedicated, sometimes having to fight social forces and do more than their male peers to advance their careers. Discounting the reasons why they decide to leave the industry is disingenuous, as is claiming that they simply can’t compete in merit-based hiring. There are about twice as many women and minorities who have studied STEM as there are currently working in tech fields, and this works to the detriment of the industries. This is where the startup community can present a chance for change, by disrupting the status quo of hiring and giving women and other underrepresented groups more opportunities to form our own companies and affect real change.
How You Can Help Out
Find out about chapters of Women Who Code in your area. There are 42 networks currently operating in North America, and many more worldwide.
Women Who Code is a registered non-profit. Donations will help with funding thousands of free events for women all over the world. To direct your donation to one particular chapter, write the chapter location (“Huntsville, AL”) in the “What motivated you to give?” field of the donation form.
Most importantly, connect with women in your area and show them your support however you can, whether it’s through mentoring, hiring, teaching or collaborating on a project. Women Who Code is just one way of making women more visible, and helping to achieve their goals.