I love to program -- I discovered that about myself a few years ago. Beforehand, I only KNEW how to program. But then I discovered the power programming gives you to create things, and even help your surroundings. Like I helped my parents build a site for their business. So now, I can surely say, that I love programming. Heck, I even married a very talented programmer.
But despite all the pleasure I derive from my profession, I feel lonely sometimes. True, there are millions of programmers all over the world. I also know I am not the only one who prefers coding over going to the movies, taking a walk, eating or sleeping.
Why do I feel this way?
My loneliness is a gendered loneliness, as there are not many women in my field. For sure, there are women who study computer science in high school or at the university, and some even work as programmers. But they are very, very few. Different studies show that the portion of men programmers is 80-90 percent. That means women and other gender identities are only 10-20 percent!
Why is that? I conducted some research and found 5 main reasons why there are not enough women who I can talk to about the butterflies in my stomach.
1. We don't feel confident enough, professionally.
I once asked the women programmers at a previous workplace, where I was a team leader and also trained programmers, to rate their professional abilities compared to the others in their team. Not one woman placed herself first.
Studies show that women underestimate their abilities and performance while men overestimate theirs. As a result, we're intimidated by negotiating for our salaries, we often feel like impostors and we don't apply for positions unless we are sure we are 100 percent qualified for the position. Men don't act this way, and therefore they are more present in positions that are considered highly professional, like programming.
The reason this happens is that women are less encouraged throughout their lifetime to succeed professionally, and are considered less professional than men.
We need to change the way society treats women. But on a personal level, each one of us can and should be aware that we are less confident about our abilities compared to how good we really are. We should empower each other and we should flaunt our abilities, because we're awesome.
2. We are taught that being a mother is more important than building our career.
One of the reasons we are considered less professional, is that society sees our primary job as being mothers. While different countries encourage motherhood in different ways and provide different social benefits, most places still socially construct women into being a mother first, and a career woman second.
Being a mother is a very positive identity, if one wants to be a mother. But the problem is that compared to fathers, women need to and are expected to dedicate more time to parenting than men. This results in less promotions, less pay and women choosing more flexible jobs that are usually less prestigious.
Since working as a programmer requires putting in lots of hours, women are hesitant to work in the field for fear of the difficulties of juggling family life and work life, and employers are more hesitant in hiring women.
Laws should be changed, but companies should also provide the same conditions to mothers and fathers and promote parenthood-friendly policies.
3. We feel left out of the male culture.
According to "Elephant in the Valley", a survey of over 200 women from the San Francisco Bay area from last year, 66 percent of women feel excluded from social and networking opportunities because of gender. Stories include business or social events at bars and restaurants that objectify women, male bonding rituals such as head shaving and events only men are invited to.
At my current workplace I've never felt excluded -- I work out with the guys, play laser tag and compete in playstation tournaments with them. In fact, the only difference is that I walk around in a sweatshirt, because the air conditioning in our office is always on full power, and that my co-workers ask me to bring them cakes, but that's only because I'm a great cook.
While many work environments resemble mine, many resemble those described above. In a male-dominated environment, which programming is, it is important to be aware of any practices that might make women feel excluded. But even before that, it is important to create an environment that encourages women to join the team.
4. We are subjugated to sexual harassment.
A lot has been said and written about sexual harassments at the workplace. Because women might feel intimidated by working mostly with men, it's important to create a safe work environment for them. The best way to do this is to add more women to the team that balance out the genders. Until that's done, stress the importance of women feeling safe and be sure everyone treats women as equals.
5. We are taught to work in "feminine" jobs.
From the time we are born, baby girls and women are covered in pink, dressed up as princesses and taught to be pretty and nurturing. Though there is nothing wrong with any of these, they stand in contrast to what boys are taught -- to study subjects that later on transform into high-paying professions, to challenge themselves and to reach for the stars.
15-20 years after elementary school, we can see the effects of these teachings -- more women working in nurturing jobs, like teaching and nursing, and more men in programming and managing. Even women in the hi-tech industry work more in design, marketing and sales rather than other positions.
If we want more women to become programmers, we need more girls to dream about it. One good way to do that is with Mattel's Game Developer Barbie, who codes. Instead of looking at Barbie and aiming at being thin and blond like her, now girls can aim at coding and creating like her. Additional ways are extra-curriculum activities teaching girls and teenagers about coding, and raising awareness to gender differences in the classroom.
What More Can We Do?
To deal with these problems it is important to raise awareness. It's also important to empower women by making sure they know there is nothing they can't do. As a woman who programs in a mostly-male company, I can tell you that there isn't a thing we can't do. We can program just like men and even better than them. If you want to code-code, don't let anyone else talk.
But we also need to provide women with tools to break through boundaries. Otherwise, only saying "you can do it" could leave many women frustrated. Organizations like She Codes, which teach women to code, do just that. I also help encourage my workplace to bring in more women developers. I hope that in a few years, this article seems out of date. To make that happen -- please share.