The first real-life project I programmed was a children’s book stand with sound and LED lights triggered by a motion sensor. I built everything from scratch, including molding the plastic stand, but the programmable parts and design were the things I was most proud of. I was a teenager looking for an idea for a school project, and I designed it for use in libraries and youth groups to encourage reading. In hindsight, I’m sure the rudimentary sound effects when you removed the book would have been super annoying to other readers!
This is something I completely forgot about until I stumbled into a career in technology and found myself working on growing a large community of free coding clubs for young people. During that time, I remembered how much I enjoyed creating and building.
Consumers vs. Creators
In the US, women control or influence 85% of consumer spending, and in 61% of all consumer electronic purchases, a woman either initiated the purchase or was involved in the purchase process. However, when it comes to creating and influencing the decisions in making these products, we lag behind.
As of early 2023, women currently hold 26.7% of technology jobs. Notably, compared to entry-level roles, roles higher up in the org chart (like CTOs or Heads of Engineering) have an even lower representation of women. Women’s participation in computing has declined since peak levels of women studying computer science in the 1980s and was even featured as a hot topic in Cosmopolitan in 1967.
We also know that inclusive and diverse companies are more likely to be innovative, and McKinsey found that corporations that identified as more diverse and inclusive outperform their competitors by 35%.
So, why the misbalance? It’s evident that, ultimately, having a diverse team means better business results. Typically, this can drill down to two problems; attraction and retention of women and underrepresented talent in tech.
There are many proven tactics and strategies along the pipeline, including promoting active role modeling, creating safe environments for women, and providing mentorship.
The language of imposter syndrome
In my personal experience, a lack of confidence and a fear of the unknown – imposter syndrome – can prevent women and underrepresented groups from joining or staying in a technology company, even in a technology-adjacent role such as sales, support, account management, or community management.
After joining my first tech role, I had to clear the hurdle of teaching kids basic programming concepts alongside my (more qualified) work colleagues, which helped instill my belief that anyone can code. That is, once you get comfortable that a 12-year-old is most probably going to outpace your programming abilities rapidly. Over time, I found myself working more with our developers from a product perspective on our internal tooling and spending a lot of time with our technical community, understanding their world. All these experiences increased my confidence and allowed me to expand my vocabulary of technical terms, which I think can be daunting from an outsider’s perspective.
Despite my growing confidence and technical abilities, I didn’t notice I was doing myself a disservice in describing my abilities or articulating that I belonged in the tech world until a colleague pointed out how important language was. Over the years, she had heard a lot of people doubting their abilities, saying reductive things like ‘I don’t know how to code’ or ‘I am not a programmer.’ She caveated that while you may not be a ‘Professional Programmer’, anyone can learn how to code or become a programmer, no matter how big or small the program.
In this role and subsequent roles I’ve had, I’ve almost always heard women I worked with say something like, ‘I’m not technical but…’, minimalizing their presence before articulating an extremely important problem/flaw or a possible solution to a technical issue. It’s a very small thing, but recognizing that using logic and reasoning, as well as problem-solving, does make you technical and understanding that anyone can learn to code will help you create or maintain that sense of belonging in the technology industry. I’ve fallen victim to this flawed heuristic while talking to a group of professional developers about a problem our users are facing. In recent years, I’ve tried to stamp this out, but no one is perfect.
Sometimes you can also be out of your depth technically, and it’s ok to acknowledge that too. You won’t catch me talking about our microservices or AI models anytime soon!
While I don’t want to be a professional developer (at least for now), I know that my work with our technical community and my prior experience building digital experiences puts me at a unique advantage to see some of our product problems and possible solutions. I believe everyone has some technical or creative mindset that can add value to building digital products, but you need to believe that about yourself too, and encourage others around you to change how they think about their abilities!
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