“We have to make our own opportunities, because men aren’t going to do it for us,” Alicia V. Carr from Atlanta declared during her keynote the first morning of Women Techmakers MTL. She should know – at 51, she taught herself Objective C, and used it to build an iOS app to combat domestic violence. As far as she knows, she is the first African-American Grandma to have taught herself to code. After being invited to Apple’s prestigious World Wide Developers Conference, she applied to work as an iOS developer and was surprised to run up against the same thick glass ceilings that have limited the opportunities for women everywhere.
This difficulty getting hired or even getting an interview was compounded by the systemic racism (most tech companies are still dominated by white cis men) and ageism (“How are you going to keep up with all the latest developments in tech as an older woman?”- obviously not a problem for her).
Statistics are cited in tech “diversity” studies ad nauseum, and anecdotes about sexism, racism, homo- and transphobia, ableism, and ageism flow at networking events for women in tech faster than the Pinot Grigio. We all know there’s a problem; even the white cis men that dominate the field know it. The overwhelming theme of Women Techmakers MTL 2017 was “What can we do to get more marginalised people into the tech world?”
Cassie Rheaume, head of the MTL chapter of Ladies Learning Code, suggested that early mentorship for young women learning code can strengthen the tech community by bringing people together across all ages and levels of actual coding practice, as well as increasing the “survival rate” of new developers. Heidi Waterhouse, Technical Writer from Minneapolis, MN, talked about increasing the flexibility of learning and working environments to accommodate those that have different needs, such as family demands, for those that are neurodivergent or have other health issues and working styles.
At a panel discussion, it was suggested that firms inspect their websites and other marketing materials for cues that they are not as inclusive to marginalized people – photos that do not show women, queer/trans people, or people with disabilities, no explicit diversity statement or photos of the beer fridge and ping pong tables (funny but true) can all let potential employees know that the workplace is white-cis-male-centric. A workplace culture that perpetuates unexamined prejudice against minorities fails to put women in leadership roles and does not offer a listening ear for women and others to point out bias when it rears its head. According to comments made during the roundtable discussion, news of an inclusive workplace culture does travel fast, and that culture requires the participation and openness of all managers and employees to actively making it happen.
It’s clear from the calibre of technical talks and smart-as-a-whip attendees at Women Techmakers MTL that skill, work ethic and passion is not an obstacle to women working in the tech field. We all know there’s a problem, and the solution is likely hiding right in your own workplace. All you have to do is ask questions, be ready to listen, and then act to disrupt the status quo in favour of marginalised people. It’s time.