We talked with Women Who Code founder and CEO Alaina Percival about the past, present, and future of women in tech.
You launched WWCode in 2011. What was the need then, and how has the women-in-tech ecosystem changed since?
Women Who Code started as a meet-up group for women in the industry to get together outside of other tech events, which are predominantly attended by men. We started to notice that while there was a lot of great media support for school aged girls and women to learn coding, we were this community already in our careers and for the most part in technical careers.
The data was showing that women like us were leaving the industry at a rate of 56%, so we saw a huge opportunity to elevate the voice and needs of women in industry to create a better environment for women, as well as for the young women and girls to come in the future.
What are your biggest initiatives this year?
Women currently represent under 5% at the engineering executive level. Changing the face of success in the technology industry is going to require an approach where we recognize the talents and accomplishments of talented engineers, while also believing in and empowering those who might be struggling to reach the next level in their careers.
At Women Who Code, our strategy is to work with both individuals and companies to help institute initiatives where talented women are given the chance to succeed, and are then celebrated when they achieve. This creates a positive cycle reshaping a rapidly growing and changing industry and builds role models to help those coming after.
What do you think are the largest hurdles women in tech face in 2017?
We like to focus on the opportunities. Women have always faced hurdles, and right now that isn’t stopping us from contributing to the innovations that fuel our modern world. Despite problems with perception, bias, and unfair practices, we continue to succeed in tech, holding leadership positions, developing companies, and shaping the future of the industry. Our goal is to increase world awareness of this fact, so that we can start to fundamentally shift the way that people see technology on the whole.
With your large global reach, what do you see happening in regions around the world?
Each Women Who Code Network is a local ecosystem, with a culture and a process that is informed by the surrounding community, as well as the directors, leaders and members that make up the group. That means, each city is adaptable to develops its own market niche specialities, whether it be specific languages, types of tech, or even a specific set of events. This is tied together by WWCode HQ Global, which provides a philosophical underpinning of core values and beliefs that are fundamental to the entire organization.
If you could change one single stat, which one would it be?
We would see women representative at the technical executive and technical leadership level, but the gender gap in tech isn’t about a single statistic. It’s a holistic issue that stems from faulty biases and outdated practices. While the numbers are important benchmarks for measuring success, it is more effective to focus on the culture that is underlying these issues. This can be done by supporting women engineers both holistically and on a personal level, in order to change the perception of the industry through their success and the celebration of those successes.
It was recently Equal Pay Day. What major things do you feel need to happen in order to start moving the needle here?
Companies need to commit to eliminating the wage gap by having a number of practices that they can institute which have been shown to be effective. Regular auditing is one important method, as it can pinpoint and reveal salary discrimination and promotion rate discrepancies. Releasing those reports also creates an external pressure on the organization to improve, while calling on others in the industry to do the same, and giving them a guideline on how to accomplish those goal.
One area within discussion around women in tech getting attention recently is around older women, 40+ or 50+, using coding classes or bootcamps as a career advancement or as a way to reenter the job market. Thoughts?
Women Who Code actively works to provide coding school scholarships and educational opportunities to our members as a way of helping them stay up to date with the latest trends, reenter the workforce after a hiatus, or achieve new professional goals. 56% of all women working in tech will leave their jobs mid career, when they are most profitable to the companies employing them. This is often due to a feeling of stagnation, or a cultural problem that restricts them from achieving a sense of accomplishment. Through education we hope to empower those women to not only stay in tech, but to succeed, to conquer, and to set the course of their own destinies.
Alaina Percival is Chief Executive Officer of Women Who Code, a global nonprofit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers. Under Alaina’s leadership, Women Who Code has grown to serve more than 80,000 women in 20 countries and 60 cities across the globe. This thriving movement offers more than 1,500 free technical and leadership events, per year. In addition to her role at Women Who Code, Percival is an accomplished tech speaker, appearing at WSJ.d Live, Belfast Technology Conference, Grace Hopper, Columbia University’s Social Enterprise, MIT’s Venture Capital and Innovation Conference and more. Alaina has been interviewed by Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Wired, and other publications across the globe to share her expertise on best practices for increasing diversity in tech.
Prior to Women Who Code, Alaina worked at PUMA’s headquarters in Germany, as well as Riviera Partners and Snip.it, acquired by Yahoo. Alaina is also a CodePath Advisor.
And if you’ll be in San Francisco this coming weekend…
EVENT: On Saturday April 29, WWCode is hosting Women Who Code CONNECT SF, an all-day conference at the Twitter building in San Francisco.
Featured speakers include Dr. Mona-Lisa Pinkney, Sr. Director at Nike, Cynthia Maxwell, VP of Engineering at Slack, and Merline Saintil, Head of Operations at Intuit.