Why Should We Increase Women’s Participation in Technology, and How To Start Coding

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By Adda Birnir (Co-Founder & Front-End Developer, Balance Media)

A week ago, I read a letter to the editor in the New York Times penned by Dr. Jane Margolis, a researcher at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

In her letter, Dr. Margolis expressed the importance of continuing to support the participation of women and minorities in Computer Science, especially in light of the increased interest in the field.

As Dr. Margolis writes, “Without continuing, concerted efforts…to increase the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in computer science, the latest surge in interest may risk worsening the persistent representational disparities.” (Read the whole letter here).

Balance is a woman owned technology company.

Her letter spurred me to make explicit something that we hope is implicit in everything Balance Media does. Our company is currently in the process of making a series of cheat sheets aimed at helping women gain fluency in tech terminology, and this process has given us renewed cause to articulate why exactly we are invested in bringing more women into the tech sphere. As you well know, technology has an enormous impact on our daily lives. Technology is our avenue for news and how we communicate with our friends, colleagues, and family. Technology helps us run our companies, do our shopping, figure out what ails us, this list goes on. And as 50% of the population and by extension, 50% of users (give or take) women have a big stake in that technology. So it naturally follows that they should be influencing it from the inside out.

Declining Numbers of Women in Technology

And yet according to a 2010 study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women’s participation in computer related jobs has been on a steady decline since its high in 1991 (WHAT?!?!?!) (Source: Readwriteweb).

Although its hard to get exact numbers on women’s participation, including administrative roles, women are estimated to comprise between 10-30% of the tech workforce, though only 8% of tech start-up founders (Sources: New York Times and Geekfeminism).

Lack of women’s participation in tech is a problem for two reasons:

#1: When any industry leaves such a large group out of the conversation, innovation suffers.

It’s good for everyone to have more women in the conversation. More women means more voices, more experience, more diversity, and more innovative ideas to solve the problem.

#2: When women don’t have tech skills they suffer.

Technological fluency is the gateway to so many things, representation, media, organizing, businesses, banking, jobs, etc. etc. For women to be equal participants with equal opportunities and equal access to power (money, fame…), women need to be able to talk tech speak.

In the long term, we need more women to write code. I agree with Alan Cooper that the best way to get more women coding is to show them how they can use code to make useful things. Rather then re-state his excellent points, I encourage you all to read his blog post “The Feminine Side”.

In the short term, we need women to want to participate in the conversation and feel empowered to do so, even if they don’t write code (yet!).

Are you a woman wanting to learn more?

Good news! There are lots of amazing resources out there wanting to teach you.

Here is a short list of some of the women-friendly tech resources I know about.

  • DevChix (International mailing list)
  • Girl Develop It (Inexpensive classes in Philly, NYC, Columbus, Austin & Sydney)
  • Women 2.0 (Global network that supports women founders & entrepreneurs)
  • RailsGirls (Rails workshop in Helsinki, Finland)
  • Systers (International mailing list)
  • Girls in Tech (Education & Events, all over)
  • RailsBridge (Intro to Rails for everyone, especially girls)

This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you know of some cool organization that’s missing shoot me an email at adda@balance.coop and I will be more than happy to make amends.

I am compiling many more resources in a Google spreadsheet, feel free to peruse here.

Also, wherever you are, I encourage you to search on MeetUp for a group near you.

This post was originally posted at www.balance.coop.

About the guest blogger: Adda Birnir is a front-end developer and co-founder with Kate Reyes Balance Media, a women-led client services and product development company based in New York. Her principal interests are digital media, progressive journalism, art, and infographics. Check out her website at www.addabjork.com. Follow her on Twitter at @addabjork.