Tag Archives: interview

Why gender diversity isn’t enough in tech

Photo:Flickr/Michigantechcoe

Diversity in tech usually focuses on gender equality, but to be truly inclusive, the industry’s efforts can’t stop there. 

Lola Odelola, founder of the Black Girl.Tech community, talked to Project Ada about why looking at gender is not enough:

Race and gender are not separate. I am both black and a woman and there aren’t days where I can choose to be one over the other.

Intersectionality is the concept that different identity categories like race, gender, sexuality or class are interrelated, not layers that can be peeled away one by one and looked at separately.

Colorless diversity

Silicon Valley giants have been racing each other recently to lead diversity campaigns and release workforce diversity figures, but critics say tech diversity focuses on just one identity. Slack engineer Erica Baker coined the term “colorless diversity” in a Medium post, pointing out that the Grace Hopper conference for women in tech had no black women at all as headline speakers – but managed to make room for two white men.

Lola agrees it’s important to be more specific about diversity. When the conversation is largely about gender, she says, it “can only really go so far”.

“The conversation is led by people who don’t have to think about race. In that sense, they’re privileged and when you’re privileged, it’s very easy to miss the effects of your privilege on others,” she says.

Black Girl.Tech is a community looking to take that conversation further. Describing itself as “a space for black girls and women to explore and learn”, BGT is now nearing its second birthday. Lola, who taught herself to code after attending a bootcamp, started it to address what she discovered when she began looking for a job in tech:

I heard the word ‘diversity’ being used a lot, however black women were missing from the conversation and from the teams I was seeing.

Black women entering the tech industry face specific challenges, according to Lola. Finding a job is the first hurdle. She has also experienced microaggressions in the workplace, as well as getting treated differently from other employees.

Better hiring practices

“People’s implicit bias comes into play a lot,” she says.

“The difficulty is knowing if this is due to racial bias, gender bias, being a junior or all three.”

To combat this, Lola wants to see tech companies improving their hiring practices. Introducing practices like blind hiring has proved effective to improve diversity in tech. Lola adds that being intentional about diverse hiring is important, to avoid racist undertones about applicants with minority backgrounds lowering standards:

Many people say they ‘hire the best person for the job’, but that implies that by actively seeking out black women or people from other minorities the bar is somehow being lowered, which implies that those people are not as qualified or intelligent.

Suw Charman-Anderson: Why I founded Ada Lovelace Day

Suw Charman-Anderson (Photo: Paul Clarke)

Ada Lovelace Day on 11 October is a day to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM, and shine a light on inspiring role models in an industry long dominated by men. As the date approaches, we caught up with founder Suw Charman-Anderson to learn how it came about.

She tells Project Ada she founded the day in 2009, “fed up” of going to tech conferences and seeing few women on the speaker lists – or even none.

“I knew loads of women in the industry, but so few of them seemed to get conference speaking slots,” she said.

Suw, who was working in the tech industry at the time, recalls the women in tech community online discussing the issue, in blogs, social media and comment sections:

“People would name women who they thought should be on stage, but that never seemed to move the dial.”

“No one else had that imagination”

It was this frustration that gave birth to the idea of a specific day for raising awareness of female tech role models, spearheaded by computing pioneer (and this website’s namesake) Ada Lovelace.

The 19th century mathematician and STEM trailblazer seems like a natural choice as a role model. Often described as the world’s first ever computer programmer, Lovelace is best known for her work on Charles Babbage’s mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine and was the first person to realise the machine’s potential, far beyond number-crunching, to create music and art:

“She envisioned computer science as we now understand it, and saw how useful a computer would be to future mathematicians and scientists,” said Suw, adding:

No one else at that time, in the mid-1800s, had that kind of imagination or foresight.

Success stories “hugely important”

Ada Lovelace Day is all about celebrating those who inspire us. Suw says role models are “hugely important”, and she’s backed up on this by research showing that women actually need role models and success stories more than men do. 

The stories that we tell about other women inform the stories we tell ourselves about our own capabilities and futures.

In 2009, thousands took part in the first ever Ada Lovelace Day by blogging about a woman they admire. Seven years on, the day has grown into a fully fledged science cabaret evening: Ada Lovelace Day Live in London.

This year, speakers include design engineer Yewande Akinola, planetary physicist Dr Sheila Kanani, science writer Dr Kat Arney, developer Jenny Duckett, mathematician Dr Sara Santos, computational biologist Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, and climate scientist Dr Anna Jones.

“Essential for girls to see”

“It’s an amazing opportunity to see the breadth of work that’s happening in the UK, something I think is often hidden away because the media are only interested in certainly types of STEM news stories,” said Suw.

The cabaret takes place in London, but Ada Lovelace Day events are being held worldwide. If you’re not close to one, Suw encourages women in STEM to celebrate simply by talking to their daughters, granddaughters or nieces:

It’s essential for girls to see that they have a future in STEM, and for women to see that they can progress in STEM careers all the way to the top.

 

(Featured photo: Paul Clarke)

How altruism can help to get more women in STEM

NigeriaGirlsRIGHT

Altruism can play a role in making science, technology, engineering and mathematics more accessible to women.

Anne-Marie Imafidon, assistant vice-president at Deutsche Bank and founder of Stemettes, an organization to inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM areas, points out that, besides creativity, it is key to show women they are able to solve problems by using technology.

Imafidon says women can be great problem-solvers when empowered by STEM knowledge.

To make her point, the executive mentions initiatives such as the group of four girls in Nigeria that created a machine to convert urine into electricity and the three Irish girls who developed a project to tackle the global food crisis.

Listen to the Stemettes’ founder talking about the topic:

When asked why the tech industry should be aware of the gender gap, she says that all industries would benefit from having a more diverse workforce.

“We have big problems. And no offense, while the guys are chasing billions by making apps, you have to have someone who is actually using the great technology that we have to solve the problems we have, whether they are hunger, illiteracy or infrastructure.”

Listen to her talking about gender equality here:

More from this article

If you would like to know about the examples Imafidon mentioned in her interview, here are the links:

Meet the 11-year-old inventor of the ‘unbreakable cup

This woman invented a way to run 30 lab tests on only one drop of blood

Featured image: Nigeria girls that created a machine to convert urine into electricity. Credit to Erik Hersman

What happens in a workplace with almost only men?

bros

What’s it like to have almost only male colleagues? As in the rest of the tech industry, there are very few female academics in computer science.

To find out what that does to a workplace, we spoke to Dr Simone Stumpf about her experiences. She told us the gender balance is certainly something she is ‘aware of’.

Dr Stumpf works at the computer science department at City University London. A scrape of the university website showed that only 7 of the 41 academics in that department were female. That’s 17%. The other 34, including the head of the department, are male.

“17% is actually relatively high”

This is lower even than several major tech companies, but nothing unusual for the world of STEM in academia.

“You could look at it the other way around, and look at the usual intake into computing,” argued Dr Stumpf.

“17% is actually relatively high, ironically, because the female intake among undergraduates who go on to a Ph D is actually quite appalling. Nationally, not just here,” she said.

The undergraduate intake into computer science hovers just over 17%, but declines further at a postgraduate level.

“Casually misogynistic” programming culture

When we asked about the work environment in the programming world outside academia, Dr Stumpf brought up the casually misogynistic ‘brogrammer culture’ which leaves women excluded.

The idea of programmers having to go into a darkened room and refuse to emerge for days on end is still prevalent, according to Dr Stumpf.

“And programming is something that you can’t just dip into and dip out when the muse kisses you. You have to dedicate some time to understanding the code, so you have to have a sustained effort,” she said, adding:

“But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend 24 hours living on beer and pizza.”

“Have to take the fear away”

Dr Stumpf was inspired to go into computer science early on, as she sat in her school computer lab programming in Basic back in the 80s, and says that it was the problem-solving that attracted her to it from the start.

“It was that sense that I could get things to work, figure out what to do about it, and then solve that problem using a computer program.”

She believes society is still dissuading women from choosing this field, and that we need to change our attitudes. When we asked her how this could change, she said that a lot of it is about ‘taking the fear away’.

(Photo of Dreamhack 2012 by Kelly Kline/Flickr.)

Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates on the “varied” abuse women face online

Laura Bates addresses the audience of A Web for Her | Credit: Keila Guimarães

Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, has been a prominent campaigner for diversity and equality in the technology industry. Because of this, she has also seen her fair share of online abuse.

She was part of a panel discussion at South Bank’s Web We Want Festival, called A Web For Her. It asks a simple question: what would the Web look like if it was run by women?

After the event, we caught up with Laura to ask her why it’s important to have true online equality.

She said that she’s been the victim of a lot of online abuse, and claimed that “abuse is much more varied than people realise.”

It varies from discounting women’s articles, getting abusive comments instead of constructive arguments, and being less likely to be retweeted and followed on Twitter.

“It goes all the way up the spectrum to really serious abuse. A lot of the stuff that I get falls into a middle-ground category, where I don’t think I should report it to the police, but it still completely refuses to see you as a human being”.

Women in communities

With this in mind, I asked Laura why it’s still important that she risks such abuse and threats by going out there on online communities.

The panel discussion focused on the the fact that there’s a lot animosity towards women within within the technology industry, and asked how we can persuade women to challenge and overcome such resistance.

The advantages of women in tech

I asked Laura afterwards what the advantages would be once this has been achieved. As she said in the event, “no matter how anti-feminist you are, you cannot believe that the statistics represent a true indication of where talent lies.”

Advice for women in tech

If you were to give a woman aiming to start a tech-related career or project, what would the one piece of advice be?

Laura’s answer was immediate: network. She urged women to get together with like-minded people to improve the industry towards a more progressive future.

4 tips to get you started with coding

FotorCreated

It has been said that learning to code will be as crucial as being literate in the near future.

While there is a debate if that is true or pure exaggeration, more and more jobs in the media industry are demanding coding skills and more people are trying to push themselves to learn simpler languages such as HTML and CSS.

The question many beginners have is: where to start? Project Ada had a chat with Alison Benjamin, a web developer at the Frontline Club, who got into programming mainly by teaching herself.

“I have a non-traditional tech background; I did my BA in Arts and focused on information systems during my masters in Library and Information Science, but a lot of things were self-taught. I was lucky enough to have people all around me that would help me to learn,” she says.

Alison Benjamin, web developer at the Frontline Club

Alison Benjamin, web developer at the Frontline Club

 

At the end of her masters at the University of Toronto, Benjamin got Google Summer of Code grants in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, she left Canada to take up a job at the Frontline Club, where she is responsible for developing the Frontline Club’s Web properties and its digital strategy.

If you are interested in learning to code, but have no clue where to start, here are her tips to break into the world of programming:

 

 

Teach yourself online

“There a lot of resources online. MIT OpenCourseWare puts university-level computer science classes online. Codecademy and Code School are aimed at beginners and deliver lessons via a game-like pedagogy. It is like learning languages.”

Go out and meet people

“Going to places like Hacks/ Hackers and asking questions is good. You might approach people and say ‘I’d like to contribute to these projects, my skills are A, B and C and I would like to learn X, Y and Z’. There are many people willing to talk about their experience in development, in journalism or in both. That may be a way forward.”

Start a website

“Do pragmatic things like building a website. Start doing your own maps and graphs, put your work on the web on platforms such as GitHub and see if that works for you.”

Use your spare time to learn something new

“In my spare time I do a couple of development projects. At the moment, I am interested in D3. This is a really popular JavaScript library that allows you to visualize data using SVG, JavaScript, HTML and CSS. It is extremely powerful and you can make visualisations with CSV spreadsheets or geographical data as a source. You can build everything, from charts to animations.

“The great thing about D3 is the rich community behind it. People post the code and datasets behind their projects on GitHub and in gists. You see something and think ‘this is a cool project. How did they get here?’ and you can go and see what is behind the visualisation.”

How can playing cards combat gender inequality?

cards

Can playing cards help combat gender inequality in tech? The internet certainly seems to feel that way, as a Kickstarter campaign to make card decks promoting promoting women in computing raised over $15,000 from over 350 backers.

Jessica Dickinson Goodman, one of the card deck’s creators, was overwhelmed by the response.

“I knew something special was happening when we reached that $3,000 goal in the first 2 days. We’re now at 400% of funding and climbing,” she told Project Ada on Friday.

In its last 24 hours, the Kickstarter campaign raised another $1,000 to land on just over $15,000.

The idea is to promote the many women who’ve been leaders in computer science, from Project Ada’s own namesake Ada Lovelace, to Grace Hopper, inventor of the first compiler for programming languages – and credited with the term ‘debugging’.

Ada Lovelace

Photo: Wikimedia

According to the creators, no enough of women’s contributions to the tech industry are remembered. The card deck is a way to promote role models for today and tomorrow’s women in computing.

“When I was a little girl, my Mom gave me a deck of cards with names and stories of women who fought in the American Civil War. I played a lot of Hearts and Poker growing up, and those cards were a constant reminder that women change history,” Jessica Dickinson Goodman said.

Notable Women in Computing card deckShe created the card decks along with her mother Katy Dickinson, and sponsors Everwise and Duke University. The Kickstarter campaign was launched to get the playing cards into their second edition – and in less than a month has already quadrupled its goal of $3,000.

The back of every card includes the text ‘Keep our history: Create or expand a Wikipedia page for a notable woman in computing.’  Indeed, getting more women onto Wikipedia was an important goal for the creators.

Less than 1 in 10 Wikipedia editors are female, a 2011 survey from the Wikimedia Foundation showed, and the gender gap hasn’t closed since.

“I figure if Donald Trump has 12,000 words dedicated to him on Wikipedia then Chieko Asakawa, a leader in accessibility research and a role-model in the visually impaired technical community, deserves at least as many,” Jessica Dickinson Goodman said.

Read more about all the women included here.