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Why Don't Women Code?

Written by: Milly Welsh
Published: May 2015

I want you to close you eyes and visualize a "programmer." You know, someone who writes computer code for a living. Let me guess, in your mind you see a thin white male with thick glasses and a pocket protector. You almost definitely are not visualizing a 5'2 mother of three. To be honest I don't often describe myself as a programmer, even though I spend upwards of 65% - 70% of my working time writing code for websites and mobile apps. I tend to like the term developer better, but no matter what term you use to describe it, the truth is being a girl who writes code can be an awfully lonely experience. Current statistics say about 10-12% of coders are female and, from my own personal experience, that seems accurate. I’m a freelancer so I don't always work with others, but when I do, they are almost always male. To the point that I’m actually having a hard time coming up with more than a couple of women programmers I’ve encountered. 

Women Coders in History:

The sad part in all this is that the percentage of female coders has actually gone down dramatically while gender equality in most other occupations has risen. Back in the late 50's early 60's, believe it or not most coders were women. In fact the first modern programing language COBOL was created by Grace Murray Hooper in 1959. Back then coding and software wasn't deemed to be as important as the hardware side of things and therefore was considered "women's work." Even back in the 1980’s up to 30% of women were doing computer science jobs, much more than the 12% today.

So what’s going on?

Are there actually people out there going up to young girls and telling them that tech isn't for them? In some cases the answer is yes. In doing some googling for this article, I did read some women’s accounts where teachers were telling them to drop a programming class because they would surely quit anyway and they were taking spots away from deserving boys! In general though, I think it’s a lot more subtle than that. I feel this issue largely boils down to perception. Tech as a rule is perceived as more male, the same way dance is perceived as more female.

It can also come down to the culture around programming and tech. The bottom line is it’s just hard to be the only female in a group. The last few summers I've signed up my daughter Jillian for Lego Robotics Camp. Interestingly enough, both of the instructors of the camp are female, yet all the campers were boys (except for an instructor’s niece who was a bit older). Jillian isn't usually shy and she's very good at all things technology but, the first few days of the class, I could tell she was nervous. She did fine in the camp and is attending again this year but do I think she would be more comfortable with a few more female campers in the mix? Definitely yes!

Why There Should Be More Women in Programming?

Again in a Google search I came upon a blog post of sorts discussing why women don't do more programming and the author basically said that since programming takes focus and patients, of course men are better at it! Um, seriously, has that guy ever met any women? Now I don't like to put all women in one boat and all men in the other but I have to say that the statement floored me in its inaccuracy. In fact it's quite the opposite. Historically, women have been the gender most responsible for child rearing and, as the mother of three, I can vouch for exactly how much patience that job requires! Women also tend to be more collaborative. We would rather to work together to come up with the best solution opposed to arguing with our colleagues about who’s right.

Women come with different life experiences and preferences too. How often have you used a software or application and thought, this would work so much better if...Well I think more inclusion of women and minorities frankly would go a long way in making software that’s easier to use. As developers, we make a lot of assumptions when developing an application. Increasing diversity would definitely result in applications that work better for everyone.

What We Can Do To Change The Gender Bias

I've thought a lot about this, especially as a mother of all girls. The only way to fix the perception problem is to show young girls how much joy and excitement comes from dreaming up what you want an application to do, figuring out how to write the code in order to get it to work, and seeing it actually work the way you envisioned. It feels like Christmas morning and, after you accomplish it once, your mind becomes pregnant with all the possibilities of what could be built next time.

I know that not every girl will feel exactly like I described above but I think that, even if girls can become more educated on how coding actually works and realize that it isn’t just for genius nerdy guys living in their mom's basement, that’s a pretty good start.

 As a woman who writes code, I feel a lot of responsibility to share what I know. I’ve put some thought into potentially starting an all girls’ coding group that helps girls actually build something tangible like a mobile app. Do you have any ideas on how to get more girls in technology? If so, I’d love to hear them! Make sure to leave a comment below.

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh is the Priority Learning webmaster and Owner/Operator of Zebralove Web Solutions, a web development company located in southern Maine.
Zebralove Web Solutions