Gender Equality in Tech


By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of Marta Manso.

Despite the fact that women represent almost half (47 percent) of the workforce, they hold just 25 percent of jobs related to technology or computers. In addition, women today only make up 12 percent of all computer science graduates. Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education to one million women by the year 2020 in order to reach gender equality in the technology field.

Girls Who Code is a program designed to teach computer science to young women throughout the country. The intention behind the program is to expose more women to computer science education at a young age so more women will be encouraged to pursue careers in technology or engineering. The organization is actively working to lessen the gender gap in the field of technology.

Girls Who Code originally began in 2012 with its Summer Immersion Program in New York City. Within a year, the organization developed eight additional programs, spanning five cities across the country. The program has proven extremely successful: in a survey of graduates, 99 percent say that they are considering pursuing a career in technology.

The Summer Immersion Program involves seven weeks of intensive learning in computer science, robotics, algorithms, web design, and mobile development. The program encompasses a hands-on approach to education, allowing participants to build their own products and develop creative solutions. While a portion of the learning takes place in a classroom, there are also lectures, demos, and workshops that supplement the lessons. These are led by successful female entrepreneurs, CEOs, developers, and designers who serve as mentors to the participants throughout the program.

Girls Who Code aims to equip young women with both a strong foundation of computer science as well as the necessary skills required to inspire change in their schools and communities. Participants learn how to speak before a large audience, pitch product ideas, and teach others.

Sophie Houser, 17, and Andy Gonzales, 16, invented a video game while involved with the Summer Immersion Program. The game is called Tampon Run, challenging the social stigma that most video game players are male. In fact, a recent report found that males and females are almost equally represented among video game players in 2014. Video game developers however are 76 percent male.

Tampon Run is a video game that confronts the “taboo surrounding menstruation” by having the main character shoot tampons at her enemies. It begs the question as to why guns and violence have been ubiquitously integrated into entertainment, yet aspects of feminine reality–tampons, periods, and women ceasing to be embarrassed by such things–still manage to shock people.

A mobile version of Tampon Run is currently being developed for the iPhone.

BreakThru Radio (BTR) had the opportunity to talk with the young creators of the video game.

BTR: What made you think of the idea for Tampon Run?

Andy Gonzales (AG): While at Girls Who Code, I often expressed interest in making a video game. I actually wanted to target the hypersexualization of women in video games, which is also a super prevalent issue. Sophie [Houser] was into the idea of using video games as a platform for social change and hopped on board.

BTR: What was your experience with the project Girls Who Code?

Sophie Houser (SH): I had never coded before my experience with Girls Who Code. The 19 other girls in the program and I sat around a table everyday coding slot machines and fish tanks. Everyday we failed, everyday we were frustrated together, but everyday we also succeeded. It was empowering to use code to build something from nothing. Girls Who Code also instilled a “can do” attitude in us since the beginning.

BTR: What sort of gender dynamics, whether related to equality or inequality, do you feel exist in the technology industry?

AG: Even as an outsider [to the tech industry] one can see the dynamics between genders. Silicon Valley is known for its super established bro-tastic community. It’s hard for women to climb the ladder.

BTR: What advice do you have for young girls hoping to pursue a career in technology?

SH: Don’t be scared to speak up and follow your passions, even if that means deviating from the norm. Find a program like Girls Who Code near you.

BTR also had the chance to speak to another thriving member of the tech industry, Amy Batallones, who is in a leadership development program of a Fortune 500 energy company in the New York area.

BTR: Were you involved in any STEM-type programs as a young girl?

Amy Batallones (AB): I was part of this program [since elementary school] that supported students who showed high potential, particularly in the maths and sciences. Through this program, I was able to explore subjects that we didn’t really touch on in school. When I was in eighth grade, I worked with a small team that created a working model of a sustainable future city. That program really helped develop my passion for STEM subjects in a supportive environment.

BTR: What was the first inclination where you felt you could be successful working in the technology field?

AB: I think the gears really started turning when I took this computer science class in high school. I took the course with one of my best friends who also had an affinity toward computers. We always raced through the projects to see who could get through them faster and better. By the time the course was over, I realized how much fun I was having while learning this stuff, so I figured, why stop now?

BTR: What is a typical day at work like for you?

AB: I’m in a year and a half long management and leadership development program for newly graduated students at my company. The unique thing is that you get rotations in positions that you are totally unfamiliar with. I’m a computer science major, but right now, I am working with engineers who design the electrical grid. The other day, I was visiting crews who were doing electrical work underneath the Queensboro Bridge. I finish the program at the end of the year and I hope to be working with cyber security for the company so my days will be more structured at that point. I don’t really have a typical work day right now.

BTR: What sort of gender dynamics, whether related to equality or inequality, do you feel exist in the technology industry?

AB: There is always the issue that people in the workplace intentionally give us a hard time. However, the flip side anxiety is that we are given too easy of a time or people have lower expectations of us because of our gender. Sometimes it is hard to truly feel proud of your accomplishments or feel confident in your abilities when you are afraid that people are going easy on you for being a girl. It is important that women are equally as challenged in the industry so that we can feel deserving and proud of our accomplishments.

BTR: What advice do you have for young girls hoping to pursue a career in technology?

AB: Look for scholarships, grants, competitions, and events tailored to helping girls get into the technology field. When I was in college, I received a research grant specifically for women conducting academic research, and it gave me the monetary support to live in NYC while I conducted my research. The support from that grant gave me a lot of confidence in my capabilities and from there I gained the momentum for continued success. These types of programs can help boost confidence for girls and are great ways to network with other women in technology.