The room was full of keyboards tapping when we entered the reception of Truecaller’s headquarters on a Sunday morning. A winter coat was laying next to a backpack that had a sewn on patch reading “Coding is my cardio.”
Programmers were sitting on oversized bean bags or huddled in meeting rooms discussing challenges. Everywhere you looked was a programmer enthralled in their black screens with colorful code. This would be the lair of the women coders of Pink Programming for the next six hours.
We opened our doors and laptops to the women of Pink Programming because we simply support having more women in tech, and we’re building our future towards gender-ratio equality in our own engineering teams. With a lack of women in technology and the student ratio of male-female engineers in programs unequal, more than ever is it important for companies to encourage growth and provide challenges in tech for all genders. We want to create an environment where gender equality is supported and promoted.
So, we sat down with some of the mentors and students at Pink Programming to understand more about the tech scene from a woman’s perspective. Our characters in our story are Mariana, Liza, who are both mentors leading the pack, Negin, who is a student at KTH, and Aleksandra, a blogger who is learning to code.
When did you realize you wanted to be a developer?
Mariana (mentor): How do you define a developer? I think someone is a developer as soon as they start writing code. Personally, it was at a very young age – I don’t know when exactly that was.
Liza (mentor): I finished my bachelor in Natural Language Processing at The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). I was writing programs to recognize people based on their typing patterns. I originally studied industrial management, with an emphasis in computer science, but found I didn’t want to manage at all – I wanted to program. You see the results quickly. I like that fast response.
Negin (programmer): I started learning statistics programming at Stockholm University. I found it simple, so I wanted to learn more. That’s when I applied to KTH in information technology to learn java.
Aleksandra (programmer): Always liked it, but because females are not encouraged back in Macedonia, I never tried. So now we have the time and opportunity. It’s just a piece of the puzzle that came into my life.
Have you met any obstacles of your gender in programming?
When we asked this question, we got many of the women looking around at each other until one blurted “weird interviews.” This was followed by agreement and some awkward laughter, obviously indicating similar experiences.
“Oh, so you’re a girl? How come you want to program? This isn’t something you say in an interview in the first place, but would this question ever be asked towards a male candidate? It was asked to me.”
Mariana: The interactions – where people would automatically ask male colleagues instead of me for the answer. It happens at tech conferences, too – I was at a booth for some product, and my friend [who is male] got a t-shirt [from the company]. They said something like “does your girlfriend want one?”
Do you feel like you have to prove something more than if you were male?
Mariana: I have that feeling, and to be honest, I have a hard time convincing an entire audience to do something sometimes. Males can treat you differently without even noticing, and say things without knowing that is female-directed. The reaction is “it was a joke, or it wasn’t such a big deal, or it wasn’t my intention…it’s like death by paper cuts. I started to become doubtful of my own work. But after reading more about these challenges, I started recognizing things in my day to day life that has been said. I don’t consider it mistreatment, but it is the small things.
“…it’s like death by paper cuts.”
How can we change the perception of females in engineering?
Liza: Right now the norm in tech [in Sweden] is a white male, and the norm has to change to include a lot of different people. Companies can’t just say “we want more females,” and then when you ask them what are they doing to contribute to that, they have no answer.
Mariana: Segregation programs are good for support groups and building confidence, but if things are going to change, men need to be educated as well. If they don’t change their perspectives and create an inclusive environment in understanding what they do is not inclusive, it will be hard to see a change. If they don’t let us in, we see resistance.
Our interviewees had some advice on how to design company cultures to be more inclusive. Here are a few examples:
- Have a woman part of the interviewing process when hiring other women
- Change everyday lingo and attitudes to be inclusive. For example, these words are male-specific, and shouldn’t be used with mixed groups, or assuming a position is a man’s: “Hey guys,” “Businessman,” “Salesman” or using only pronouns like “he or him” when giving examples.
- Allow women to be more visual within the company (company presentations, feedback, board meetings, career pages, team leadership)
- If you have events, save a select number of tickets for women to balance the ratio