Seattle is a U.S. tech capital, yet it has one of the widest tech gender gaps in the country. Producer Stacey Jenkins takes a look at the city's computer programming industry, and efforts being made to increase its dismal participation rates among women.
Seattle – Seattle is at the center of a new tech boom. Glossy new office buildings and digital start-up companies are everywhere. Geekwire Magazine has dubbed the city the new “Cloud Capital of the World.”
The economic growth is positive, but who’s benefitting from the growth is a little concerning. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, Seattle has the widest pay gender gap of the top 50 metro cities in the US. The study reports that women in the Seattle area are paid 73 cents for every dollar paid to men in the area, amounting to a yearly gap of $16,346 between men and women who work full-time.
Participation rates leave a wide gap as well. The nation’s leading tech companies are required to release their diversity reports each year. The reports disclose participation rates among men and women in the industry. These companies include Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple.
* Amazon did not release a gender breakdown for tech jobs.
When you look at the participation rates in non-tech jobs, women represent around 45% of all employees in the companies above.
But when you look at female participation rates in tech-specific jobs at these companies, those numbers dip to an average of 15% (see above graph).
Heather Wade is a technical product manager at Tune, a mobile marketing tech company in Seattle. “I have to say I feel that things are better now than they were 8 or 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’re there – we still have progress we can make."
Heather has worked as a computer programmer for over a decade. Computer programming has one of the lowest participation rates among women in the tech industry. Heather says that in past jobs, she was often the only female in her department and sexism was rampant. Inappropriate internet searches, sexist jokes and demeaning statements were the norm. When she was promoted, she experienced backlash for her efforts in management as well.
“I think there’s a tendency to perceive women in leadership as bossy, “ she said. “In a previous role when I was firm with the engineering team, I was taken aside and told that I was managing like a field marshal and maybe I could tone it down and be a little gentler with people – but all I was doing was trying to get people to meet deadlines,” she said laughing.
Computer programming is one of the highest paid industries in the tech world. It also has one of the highest growth rates. The late nineties to the early 2000's saw a significant increase in tech jobs during the "dot-com bubble", however, it was primarily men that filled these jobs (see graph below). The national growth rate for software developers, for example, is projected at over 200,000 new jobs in the next decade. Experts say that tech companies would be wise to reduce the gender gap in pay, and in participation rates.
Trish Millines Dziko was the first Senior Diversity Administrator at Microsoft, where she worked from 1988 to 1996 as a computer programmer.
Dziko says that in order to truly close the gender gap, leadership and managers need to change a culture that they helped create, as demonstrated by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, and his recent blunder when asked about women seeking raises.
“Really, it’s about getting them to see a different way they can push from the top and listen from the bottom,” said Dziko. “Listen to what women and people of color are saying about what it’s like to work in that company and figure out what are the things that you can change today”.
“Listen to what women and people of color are saying about what it’s like to work in that company and figure out what are the things that you can change today”.
Dziko made a change in 1996 when she left Microsoft to create TAF, which stands for Technology Access Foundation. TAF is dedicated to STEM education for underserved populations. Dziko says in addition to changing leadership attitudes, getting girls interested in technology at an early age is key to helping them stay with it later in life.
“If you look at studies, it shows girls are interested in math and science all the way up through 3rd or 4th grade, so catching that and showing kids that STEM and programming...you can still do that stuff and you can still be interested in that stuff,” she said. “Nobody’s going to treat you differently, and by the way it’s going to get you a much better career in the long run”.
The news of getting girls to code has spread, and after-school coding classes for kids has become a big trend in just the past couple of years. Eric Fredrickson teaches elementary kids to code in his after school program called Creative Coding for Kids.
“Eighteen months ago it was just me and one assistant and now we have 21 teachers, and we’re in 16 schools. The demand and response from the parents has been so positive,” said Fredrickson.
Fredrickson has been a coder himself since the 1990’s. He founded Creative Coding for Kids after his daughter became interested in coding and wanted to take a class.
“At the elementary age, there isn’t a lot of bullying, and boys and girls aren’t out to prove anything to each other as much,” he said. “It's a much more comfortable and supportive environment, which is why it’s so important to start them young.”
11-year-old Nyah Curcuruto is one of only two girls in Fredrickson’s class at Queen Anne Elementary. She loves the class and said the absence of girls doesn’t bother her at all. “To be honest, I feel like I just fit in with the guys, because I’m in a whole room with them and they’re making me feel so welcome, like I’m not just a girl doing coding that’s different from everyone else,” she said. “They’re making me feel like I’m part of a family.”
The culture shift in coding is not just limited to grade school. Heather Wade credits the young cofounders of Tune, Lee and Lucas Brown, for changes in her workplace.
“I think at Tune I don’t feel like there’s a differentiation if you’re a female or a male – we’re all just Tune employees,” said Wade. “I think that having new blood in the industry is what’s going to change the game. They (leadership) don’t have a lot of the perceptions that people 10 or 20 years older than them would have. So when they address women in the workplace they address them as equals and I think that does drip down through the ranks.” She said.
Wade is also doing her part to entice more women to enter the world of computer programming. She runs the Seattle chapter of “Girl Develop It”, an organization that offers affordable classes and weekend study groups.
Wade says she enjoys seeing more women entering the field, and hopes more younger girls consider it as a future opportunity as well.
“I think the best way to sell technology to girls right now is to point out that they interact with technology every day," says Wade. “The games that they play, their mobile devices, Instagram, Pinterest - all these things that girls are consumers of - if you can show them how they interact with technology on a day-to-day basis and what the potential is, and they start creating that themselves, it opens up new doors for them.”
Stacey Jenkins is the Managing Producer of What's Good 206. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.
Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.More stories by Stacey Jenkins