Can coding boot camps help more talented women get a foothold in the tech industry?
It is a widely acknowledged fact that many industries suffer from endemic lack of diversity, and that efforts to tip the scales the other way often run into resistance. Such was the case, for example, when Google Employee James Damore claimed that the reasons behind the high level of gender inequality in the technology industry were biological rather than cultural.
To gain some perspective into the real roots of the problem, however, it is helpful to hear from people who have not only managed to overcome such barriers, but thrive in industries such as tech.
One such person is Haibei ‘Happy’ Wang, a former Front-end Engineer at PayPal and current Vice-President of Engineering at Silicon Valley tech company Globality, which has just received a $100 million investment from SoftBank to scale up its cutting edge work in artificial intelligence and business sourcing. She has been working in Silicon Valley for the past two decades, and she tells me that during that time she’s also seen some positive change.
Only 12% of engineering staff at the 84 top tech firms are female, yet Happy reflects that there are many more opportunities available to women now, compared to her early career days as an engineer, when she invariably reported to male managers. The last decade, however, has seen a big shift towards promoting women into leadership roles, which means we’re seeing women in C-level roles, which was very rare in the past.
One trend she believes has been pivotal in this change has been the popularity of coding ‘boot-camps’ specifically targeted at women. These camps help address the fundamental issue that inequality in the industry is a question not only of demand, but also of supply, as some start-up founders report difficulties in recruiting female members for their teams in spite of their best efforts.
It is also important for companies to provide opportunities for female employees to transition to different roles during their careers, she says, recounting how she’s helped non-engineers become engineers by giving them on-the-job learning opportunities and constantly challenging them to go beyond their comfort zone. The other part of that, she acknowledges, is for women to also move past culturally-enforced norms that mean they are often more hesitant to put their views forward in fear of seeming overly aggressive or ambitious.
The industry as a whole needs to realize that achieving meaningful equality is never going to be an easy process, and there isn’t one quick fix to a problem that is so deeply ingrained into industry practices. “I’ve noticed that some companies are proud of their overall male-to-female employee ratios, but if you dig deeper, you find that many women are employed at much lower levels than their male colleagues are. It’s almost like a pyramid, and very few women can make it to the top.”